A Techie Attempt to Solve Arctic Oil Spills
A U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker recently tested a new gadget to help capture spilled oil in icy waters, reports Alaska Dispatch News.
If such a device works as promised, it could help overcome one major source of concern about Arctic oil exploration.
Aqua-Guard’s Triton RotoX is a remote-controlled oil skimmer armed with rotating blades that help prevent the device from getting clogged up with ice. The field tests yielded less-than-stellar results, but the question of how to manage Arctic oil spills remains on many minds as sea ice melts and traffic in the region grows.
Out of Our Depths
Terry Garcia, who led the implementation of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Restoration, enumerates the challenges of responding to an oil spill in U.S. Arctic waters in an op-ed for Newsweek.
He writes : “Our knowledge of the Beaufort Sea is scant at best, and we have little understanding of how the release of oil and oil dispersants would affect the fragile Arctic ecosystem – or, for that matter, how hard it would be to cap a spill if and when it begins. And if we have to break ice to reach such a spill – I guess we’d just have to hope the U.S. Government’s one and only fully functioning ice-breaker isn’t in use somewhere else.”
Garcia, who describes himself as “a conservationist, but … also a realist,” also served on the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. He proposes the following measures: “Before getting the go-ahead to drill, companies should be required to do three things: Demonstrate that they have thoroughly evaluated all risks specific to that environment; commit to taking complete financial responsibility for any necessary cleanup (and show that they have the resources to do so); and prove that they have response and containment capabilities that work in the Arctic, and work quickly – on the order of days, not weeks or months.”
Greenland Briefly Balances Its Ice Budget
The Greenland Ice Sheet may have gained a small amount of ice over the past year, marking what appears to be “a one-year blip in the long-term trend of year-on-year declines over recent decades,” write three Danish Meteorological Institute researchers in Climate Brief.
Heavy snow and rain in the winter and a short, intermittent summer help explain this unusual outcome. That doesn’t change the bigger picture, however, which is that Greenland has lost approximately 3,600 billion tons of ice since 2002, adding about 1cm (about half an inch) to global sea levels as a result.
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- The Washington Post: In a Changing Arctic, a Lone Coast Guard Icebreaker Maneuvers Through Ice and Geopolitics
- High North News: New Icebreakers Further Expand Russia’s Access to Arctic