SMHI forecasting tool for oil spills soon to be used in the Black Sea

In the event of an oil spill at sea, it is vital to minimise the time between discovery and start of the decontamination process. Swift forecasts for how the oil will spread help minimise environmental damage and economic consequences.

“In 2007 there was a serious accident on the Black Sea,” says Cecilia Ambjörn, oceanographer at SMHI. “Several ships sank and large quantities of oil and sulphate leaked out.”

The Black Sea, like the Baltic Sea, is a sensitive inland sea used by many oil tankers. Unlike with the Baltic Sea, however, there is no forecasting tool that can project when and where an oil spill would reach the coast. But this will soon no longer be the case, thanks to a collaboration with SMHI.

Forecasting and retro analysis

For the last couple of years SMHI’s forecasting tool for emissions in ocean environments, Seatrack Web, has been used to monitor emissions in the Baltic Sea and the eastern North Sea.

Seatrack Web produces dispersion forecasts for how pollutants, such as oil, move around. This makes it possible to plan decontamination work and also makes the work easier, both at sea and along the coastal stretch that is at risk.

The tool can also be used retrospectively to identify the source of a spill:

“Many illegal oil spills are discovered by other vessels, aircraft or satellites. In these instances we can calculate backwards in time and see which vessel caused the spill,” explains Cecilia Ambjörn.

International co-operation

The forecasting tool is based on an international co-operation, and is being developed by SMHI in collaboration with the Danish Maritime Safety Administration and the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency of Germany. It is currently used by around eighty organisations in the countries around the Baltic Sea, including the eastern North Sea.

The Black Sea Commission comprises seven countries around the Black Sea. The Commission has studied the cross-border collaboration to protect the ocean environment in the Baltic Sea, and therefore contacted SMHI with the aim of using the forecasting tool for oil. They also contacted HELCOM (the Helsinki Commission) to use a functioning collaboration model for the countries around the Black Sea.

"Today the Black Sea Commission is both a part-owner and a co-developer of Seatrack Web,” explains Cecilia Ambjörn. “They will use their own forecasting models for currents, water properties and wind as driving forces for how the oil moves, is mixed into the water and changes its characteristics. They will improve the system to meet needs that are of importance in the Black Sea. These improvements will be of benefit for all other users as well.”

Seatrack Web for the Black Sea is expected to be in service in summer 2011.