Aarhus Universitets segl

No. 495: Environmental Oil Spill Sensitivity Atlas for Northeast Greenland (71º-81.5º N)

Clausen, D.S., Boertmann, D, Johansen, K.L., Potter, S., Myrup, M., Zinglersen, K.B & Mosbech, A. 2022. Environmental Oil Spill Sensitivity Atlas for Northeast Greenland (71º-81.5º N). – Scientific Report from DCE – Danish Centre for Environment and Energy No. 495.


Environmental Oil Spill Sensitivity Atlas for Northeast Geenland (71º-81.5º 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. 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 atlas is to provide an overview of resources vulnerable to oil spills, for example biological elements (fish, birds, marine mammals etc.) and near-shore archaeological sites, and a tool which can contribute to prioritization during oil spill response. The atlas covers the coastal region between 71° N and 81.5° N in East Greenland, including the offshore waters within the Greenland EEZ bordering Icelandic and Svalbard waters.

The following elements are included in the atlas

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

The coastline is divided into 264 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 integrates occurrences of the above- mentioned environmental and cultural elements, taking into account their level of occurrence and their vulnerability to oil contamination. The offshore region of the atlas is divided into 18 smaller areas, for which a similar sensitivity index calculation and ranking has been performed. However, unlike the shoreline segments, the results are here presented on a seasonal basis.


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 coastline segment or within an offshore area enter the index calculation with a general sensitivity value (for the element 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/offshore areas.

As a part of the shoreline sensitivity ranking, 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 action. 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 oil spill sensitivity, the coastal maps of the atlas also show smaller, so-called ‘selected areas’. They are of particular significance in a nature conservation context, they are particularly vulnerable to oil spills and/or are of a size where an effective oil spill response can be per- formed. These areas are selected based on expert judgement.

Based on all the available 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 introduction to the atlas concept and the applied methodology.

Chapter 5 contains a user guide to the maps in Chapter 7 and 8, which supplements the map legends.

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, marine mammals, and human use) that contribute most the sensitivity of the different offshore areas during the different seasons of the year. The maps are accompanied by a detailed description of the species and human use occurrences in the different areas.

Chapter 8 contains detailed coastal information presented in 1:250,000 scale maps. In total, 68 maps show shoreline sensitivities and symbols for the actual 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 68 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 methods.