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Status of Stocks & Multispecies Assessment Program

Libby Logerwell Completes Rotational Assignment with National Ocean Service on Oil Spill Impacts in the Arctic

libby
Libby at the Arctic Ocean shore in Barrow, Alaska, in March 2011.
 
 

Libby Logerwell, researcher in the Status of Stocks and Multispecies Assessment (SSMA) program, recently completed a 6-month rotational assignment with the Office of Response and Restoration’s (OR&R) Assessment and Restoration Division . Her interest in the assignment grew out of her participation in a (workshop on Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) in the Arctic . Natural Resource Damage Assessment is the process of determining what effects an oil spill has on the environment (including natural resources that humans use) and what restoration projects are needed to restore the system to the way it was before the spill. The workshop findings showed that the same kind of data are needed to assess environmental damage after an oil spill as is needed for monitoring the effects of climate change and fishing.

Libby worked on two projects: 1) the formation of a Joint Assessment Team (JAT) for Arctic Alaska and 2) a conceptual model of oil impacts on Arctic habitats and wildlife. Both projects are described below.

Joint Assessment Team (JAT)
The JAT is an informal group of state and federal trustees who act on behalf of the public to assess environmental damage and plan restoration projects and oil industry representatives. The goal of the JAT is to build trust and develop good communication so that if an oil spill occurs all interested parties can work together quickly and efficiently. See (http://www.darrp.noaa.gov/partner/cap/relate.html) for more information on JATs in other regions. The JAT met several times in the last few months to discuss the team mission and to determine what activities are priorities for the near future. For example, the JAT plans to refine a conceptual model on oil impacts (see below), develop data collection recommendations based on that model, participate in an upcoming oil spill drill, and reach out to local Arctic communities.

Conceptual Model of Oil Impacts
If there were an oil spill in the Arctic, one of the first tasks would be to determine what wildlife or habitats could be affected. One way to get a handle on this question is to build a conceptual model that lays out all the possible ways oil could move through the marine environment and all the different things that could be exposed to oil. Libby worked with personnel in ORR to build a first draft of such a model. It has been submitted for publication in the proceedings of a seminar to be held in Calgary, Alberta, this fall. The model is a simple flow chart showing how fish, invertebrates, birds, and marine mammals could be exposed to oil at the surface of the ocean, in the water column, and/or on the bottom (Fig. 5). The results of the model-building exercise showed that although there is a lot of information for some wildlife groups in some areas, more information is needed for others. For example, not much is known about fish eggs and larvae from the Beaufort Sea. This is particularly important because the surface waters where fish eggs and larvae are found is likely to be impacted by surface spills related to shipping, one of the higher risks in the Arctic. Also, more data is needed on the toxic effects of oil on Arctic fish, especially Arctic cod, which are food for other fish, marine mammals, and seabirds and so are a key part of Arctic food webs.

By Libby Logerwell
 


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