Ocean Currents » U.S. Arctic Research Commission http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Wed, 26 Apr 2017 18:18:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Commission releases report on Arctic oil spill research http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/12/05/commission-releases-report-on-arctic-oil-spill-research/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/12/05/commission-releases-report-on-arctic-oil-spill-research/#comments Wed, 05 Dec 2012 18:16:01 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=3762

Walrus cow with calf on ice. Credit: U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska Region

Last month, the United States Arctic Research Commission released a report containing an inventory of ongoing research activities and a series of recommendations regarding oil spills in Arctic waters. The report shows that governments, industry, nonprofit organizations, and others are engaged in a range of Arctic oil spill research development activities. At the same time, however, the report’s recommendations show that much more work is needed to improve oil spill preparedness and response capabilities in the Arctic.

The Arctic Research Commission is an independent federal agency established by the Arctic Research and Policy Act of 1984. Among other things, the Commission is tasked with establishing policy, priorities, and goals to support a plan for scientific research in the Arctic; promoting cooperation and collaboration among federal agencies active in Arctic research; assisting in the development of a five-year Arctic research plan; and working with Arctic residents, international research programs, and others to develop a broad perspective on Arctic research needs.

The Commission’s November report contains an inventory of past and ongoing research efforts related to oil spills in Arctic waters. The Commission notes that this work “provides a credible foundation for applied research and engineering designs” and “developing more effective response and recovery techniques.”

But the report makes clear that the existing oil spill research is not sufficient. The Commission report highlights the need for further exploration of spill preparedness, spill response effectiveness, and damage assessment. More specifically, the Commission notes that additional research is needed on a host of topics, including issues such as:

- Establishment of environmental baseline conditions;

- Assessment of environmentally sensitive areas;

- Development of oil detection and mapping techniques and modeling of oil spills in, under, and within icy or ice-covered waters;

- Determination of the impacts of response techniques such as burning spilled oil and use of chemical dispersants and “herders”; and

- Assessment of impacts of Arctic oil spills on humans and wildlife.

The Arctic Research Commission’s report ends with a series of recommendations for additional research on spill delineation and mitigation, response technologies for cleanup and recovery of spilled oil, and the fate of oil and its effects on the environment. These recommendations span several pages and include topics that are fundamental to oil spill prevention and recovery in Arctic waters.

If nothing else, the Commission’s recommendations make clear that there are still significant gaps in our understanding of the behavior of oil in icy waters and oil’s impacts on the Arctic environment. They also make clear that there are significant limitations on our ability to prevent and respond effectively to oil spills in the Arctic Ocean. Oil companies who wish to drill in the Arctic–and the government agencies that regulate such activities–should acknowledge these information gaps and be realistic about the limited capabilities of response systems proposed for use in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

Damage from a major oil spill in the Arctic Ocean could be catastrophic. That’s why Ocean Conservancy opposes Shell’s plans to drill for oil in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in 2013. Instead of moving ahead with risky offshore drilling in the Arctic, scientists need to develop a better understanding of the Arctic ecosystem, federal agencies need to identify and protect important ecological and subsistence areas, and oil companies need to demonstrate that they can effectively clean up a major oil spill under Arctic conditions.

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Smarter Arctic Choices Begin With More Arctic Science http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/09/21/smarter-arctic-choices-begin-with-more-arctic-science/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/09/21/smarter-arctic-choices-begin-with-more-arctic-science/#comments Fri, 21 Sep 2012 21:01:48 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=3064
Today, Alaska Senator Mark Begich introduced important new legislation that would establish a permanent program to conduct research, monitoring, and observing activities in the Arctic. If passed, Senator Begich’s bill could lead to significant advances in Arctic science that can then be used to support decisions about the management of a region that is crucial not only to the people who live there, but to the world.

Senator Begich’s bill – the Arctic Research, Monitoring, and Observing Act of 2012 – recognizes that the Arctic is undergoing profound changes. Temperatures in the Arctic are warming at twice the rate of the global average, seasonal sea ice is diminishing rapidly, and there is increased interest in oil exploration, commercial fishing, shipping, and tourism. As the legislation acknowledges, however, lack of integration and coordination among existing Arctic research and science programs has limited our ability to understand the important changes that are taking place in the Arctic. And our understanding of the Arctic marine ecosystem, which provides irreplaceable benefits, is further hampered by a lack of reliable baseline data, critical science gaps, and limited documentation and application/use of traditional knowledge. In addition to urgently needed baseline data and analysis of ecosystem functions in Arctic marine waters, the legislation would enable the gathering of information about subsistence resources and patterns of use in local economies, which are essential to the people and cultures coastal communities in the Arctic.

Senator Begich’s bill takes several steps to address these problems. First, it calls on the U.S. Arctic Research Commission to establish a national Arctic research program plan to help coordinate scientific research activities in the region. Second, it funds a merit-based grant program that will support new scientific research and field-work in the Arctic. Third, the bill provides funding to establish and support long-term ocean observing systems and monitoring programs in the Arctic Ocean, Bering Sea, and North Pacific.

If these provisions become law and are implemented correctly, they could function as a long-term, integrated science and monitoring program for the Arctic, something that Ocean Conservancy has long advocated. A coordinated research program would help fill important gaps in our knowledge of Arctic ecosystems and identify areas that are especially important to the functioning of the marine ecosystem. Just as important, a long-term monitoring and observing program would help us understand how the region is responding to climate change and industrial development.

This kind of understanding gives policy-makers, decision-makers and stakeholders the knowledge they need to make informed choices about activities such as oil exploration, shipping, and commercial fishing. It can also inform decisions about conservation. For instance, as scientists gain more knowledge about the Arctic marine ecosystem and as they integrate and synthesize that knowledge they will be better able to identify critical areas that should be protected from development activities. And that will help ensure that the Arctic Ocean remains an intact and productive ecosystem well into the future.

Federal agencies are already making management decisions that will have significant impacts on the future of the Arctic Ocean. Americans want those decisions to be based on sound science and to ensure sustainable uses of our ocean resources for this and future generations. The Arctic research, monitoring, and observing activities addressed by Senator Begich’s bill would take an essential step toward that goal.

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