Aarhus Universitets segl

No. 492: Environmental Oil Spill Sensitivity Atlas for Southeast Greenland (56º-71º N)

Johansen, K.L., Boertmann, D., Clausen, D.S., Kyhn, L., Potter, S., Myrup, M., Zinglersen, K.B. & Mosbech, A. 2022. Environmental Oil Spill Sensitivity Atlas for Southeast Greenland (56º-71º N). Scientific Report from DCE – Danish Centre for Environment and Energy No. 492. http://dce2.au.dk/pub/SR492.pdf


Environmental Oil Spill Sensitivity Atlas for Southeast Greenland (56º-71º N)

The work on this atlas was initiated, when oil exploration was ongoing in the sea off Northeast Greenland, and as a part of the preparations for exploratory drilling. Although covering an area far from the granted licence blocks in the Greenland Sea, the atlas was prepared because simulations showed that spilled oil may travel very far from the blocks and potentially contaminate coasts and waters of Southeast Greenland. The exploration blocks have in the meantime been handed back and no activities are expected in the future as the Greenland government announced a stop for oil and gas exploration in June 2021. However, the oil spill sensitivity atlas will remain relevant in relation to accidental oil spills from shipping activities, including transport of oil.

The objective of the project was to provide an overview of resources vulnerable to oil spills, for example biological elements (fish, birds, marine mammals etc.), and a tool which can contribute to oil spill response. The atlas covers the coastal region and offshore areas between 56° N and 71° N in East Greenland, including the waters within the Greenland EEZ bordering Icelandic and Norwegian waters. In the south, the atlas form af continuation of the “Envi- ronmental Oil Spill Sensitivity Atlas for the South Greenland Coastal Zone” issued in 2004.

The following elements are included in the atlas:

  • coastal morphology,
  • oceanography and sea ice,
  • biological elements (fish, birds, marine mammals),
  • human use, i.e. fishing, hunting, tourism,
  • nature conservation areas,
  • cultural heritage sites,
  • logistics and oil spill response methods.

The coastline is divided into segments of approx. 50 km length, which have all been ranked into one of four classes of oil spill sensitivity – extreme, high, moderate or low. The ranking is based on the calculation of a sensitivity index value, which for each segment includes occurrences of the above-mentioned environmental and cultural elements. The method used for calculating the sensitivity index is developed from a Canadian system, which was used in Lancaster Sound (Dickins et al. 1990). The individual occurrences along a seg- ment enter the index calculation with a general sensitivity value (for the ele- ment type), and a value expressing how abundant/important the particular occurrence is. Species occurrences (biological elements) and human use are given most weight in the index calculation and thus have most influence on the final sensitivity ranks of the shoreline segments. The offshore region of the atlas is divided into 17 smaller areas, for which a similar sensitivity index calculation, and ranking has been performed, however the results here are presented on a seasonal basis.

As a part of the project, a classification of the coastline morphology has been conducted based on satellite images and geological maps. Combined with a calculation of shoreline exposure to waves and ice, this was used to establish an index of oil residency on the coast, e.g. oil will reside longer in a protected, fine sediment bay than on a rocky coast directly exposed to heavy wave ac-

tion. This index was also included in the calculation of shoreline sensitivities. In the offshore sensitivity analysis, the oil residency index was based on the degree of ice cover in the different areas during the different seasons of the year.

Besides the general classification of coastal and offshore oil spill sensitivity, the maps of the atlas also show smaller so-called ‘selected areas’. They are of particular significance in a nature conservation context, they are especially vulnerable to oil spills, and/or are of a size where an effective oil spill re- sponse can be performed effectively..

A community-based study was carried out as data source to the present atlas (Flora et al. 2019; 2020). The purpose was a.o. to gain knowledge about impor- tant hunting and wildlife concentration areas. Twenty hunters from Ittoqqor- toormiit and the Tasiilaq area mapped their hunting activities and wildlife observations for a full year, using handheld GPS’es with an app called Pini- ariarneq (hunting trip). The results were used to identify areas of human use and their importance.

Based on all the information, appropriate methods to respond to oil spills (i.e. mechanical collection, dispersion and in situ burning) in the different coastal and offshore areas are proposed.

Chapter 4 contains a general introdution to the atlas concept and the applied methodology. Chapter 5 is a user guide to the main component of the atlas, the maps in Chapter 7 and 8. Before these maps, Chapter 6 provides summary information on physical oceanography, sea ice conditions, ecology, human use and cultural heritage sites in the atlas area.

Chapter 7 contains maps (in scale 1:5.5 mill) of the oil spill sensitivity of the offshore parts of the atlas area, including icons for elements (fish, birds, ma- rine mammals, human use) that contribute most the sensitivity of the differ- ent offshore areas during the different seasons of the year. The maps are ac- companied by a detailed description of the species and human use occurences in the different areas.

Chapter 8 contains detailed coastal information presented in 1:250,000 scale maps. In total, 80 maps show shoreline sensitivities and symbols for the ac- tual elements occurring along the coast (hunting and fishery areas, fish, birds, marine mammals and archaeological sites). The maps also show the so-called selected areas. Each map is accompanied with a description of the biological resources and the human use of the area. Chapter 8 also contains 80 maps showing coastal morphology and logistics elements, and each of these map sheets is accompanied with a description of access and proposed oil spill response method