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Energy, Climate change, Environment

Assessing oil spill sensitivity in unsheltered coastal environments

10 Oct 2018

This project was carried out by two authors. First author represents  Klaipeda University, a national and Baltic Region leader in the field of marine sciences.  The second represents the Environmental Management Centre (EMC), an interdisciplinary research centre of Mykolas Romeris University.  EMC’s activities focus on environmental research, the development of novel projects, co-operation with local authorities and private institutions and environmental education.

Both authors were attempting to characterize the physical and biological sensitivity of unsheltered coastal environments to oil spills. The study area comprised over 237 km of Lithuanian and Russian coastline. The authors therefore required as much information as possible on the marine environment, in order to determine the potential for natural “clean-up” processes and the overall vulnerability analysis, including data on seabed habitats and their associated substrate type and exposure to oceanographic processes, such as wave and tidal influences.  As the study area was transboundary across two countries, it was important to find data in a format that could be easily interpreted and applied to multiple study areas.

EMODnet Seabed Habitats' EUSeaMap provided a broad-scale habitat map of the Baltic Sea, including data on wave exposure, habitat type and substrate type. This information fed into the calculations determining the sensitivity index of each coastal segment to identify areas of particularly high sensitivity and those which may be more resistant to the impacts of oil spills. The users commented on the benefits of having freely available resources, which were harmonised and of high resolution. Due to the data being classified according to the EUNIS system the information was able to be used for transboundary assessments.  The availability of this product therefore saved the users on time, financial and resource costs.

Using pre-existing oil spill simulation the authors were able to map a sensitivity index across the Russian – Lithuanian coastline, highlighting the areas at greatest risk. The study also demonstrated the importance of harmonised datasets for transboundary oil spill impact assessments. This indicates the potential use of EMODnet in future studies of a similar nature, such as looking into the impacts of other pollutants or in other areas within European waters where such data is available.