24 October 2017

What would an oil spill mean for the Arctic?

Options Winter 2017/18: 2017 YSSP participant Maisa Nevalainen explores how an oil spill would affect vulnerable Arctic wildlife.

© IIASA

© IIASA

As climate change warms the planet, it is the Arctic where the effects are most pronounced. According to reports, the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. That in itself is a cause for concern. However, as the region increasingly becomes ice-free in summer, making shipping and other activities possible,
another threat looms large: an oil spill.

An oil spill in the Arctic could be particularly dangerous because of the region’s sensitive ecosystem and harsh climatic conditions, which make a cleanup next to impossible. With an increase in maritime traffic and an interest in the region’s untapped petroleum reserves, the likelihood of an oil spill increases significantly.

Maisa Nevalainen, as part of the 2017 Young Scientists Summer Program (YSSP), worked to assess the extent of the risk posed by oil spills in the Arctic marine areas.

Researchers don’t know how vulnerable Arctic species would be to a spill, and which species would be affected more than others. Nevalainen, as part of her study at IIASA, developed an index-based approach for estimating the vulnerability (an animal’s probability of coming into contact with oil) and sensitivity (probability of dying because of oiling) of key Arctic functional groups of similar species.

While the work is still ongoing, Nevalainen has found that impacts of an oil spill vary widely depending on species. “Depending on the extent of the spill and the ecosystem in the nearby areas, a spill can lead to anything from an unfortunate incident to a terrible disaster,” she says.

Text by Parul Tewari


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Last edited: 10 November 2017

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Options Winter 2017/18

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