Oil Spill Detection and Mapping in Low Visibility and Ice

Research Report

Remote Sensing Guide to Oil Spill Detection in Ice-Covered Waters

This guide was developed with the operational user in mind for assessing and selecting appropriate remote sensing technologies and deployment platforms for oil spill detection and surveillance in ice-covered waters. At this time, the prevailing state of knowledge about remote sensor performance is largely based upon field experience gained in temperate climate spills and experimental tests conducted utilizing intentional spills in various ice conditions. This existing body of knowledge is applied to provide the user with a tool to assess the potential performance of various types of sensors against representative oil in ice distributions commonly occurring in the Arctic.

The sensors included are those commercially available at this time that have demonstrated performance in one or more of the oil in ice distributions. The sensors are grouped according to possible deployment platforms (e.g., ice surface, aircraft, vessels, etc.) since the availability of each platform will be a major determinant for the successful use of each remote sensing system. In most Arctic regions, few, if any, airborne sensing systems would be readily accessible, and the use of any aircraft systems under government control may be very restricted or entirely unavailable. There will also be logistical challenges to deploy and support such systems. Therefore, this guide is also intended to assist the user with the planning of a surveillance program with the best suite of sensors and platforms for specific types and amounts of ice, while considering possible oil distributions within the ice.

Remote sensing

Industry already has access to a wide range of space, airborne and surface-imaging systems used from a variety of platforms such as satellites, helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, drones, vessels and drilling platforms. While these systems were originally developed and tested for the “oil on open water scenario”, it was found that many systems could potentially provide effective sensing in a broad range of ice conditions as well.

The overall goal of the remote sensing portion of the JIP is to expand the industry’s remote sensing and monitoring capabilities in darkness and low visibility conditions, in broken ice and under ice. In the first phase of work to address this goal, the JIP sought state-of-knowledge reports for remote sensing capabilities above and below the ice.

Addressing recommendations from Phase 1, this report covers the second phase of this project and details the laboratory experiments that were carried out, to detect oil using a suite of potential sensors together with a modelling effort to infer how those sensors may perform in the field.

Report on Oil Spill Detection and Mapping in Low Visibility and Ice: Surface Remote Sensing

Previous industry-supported research has identified a number of technologies that, under certain conditions, can detect oil on the surface, trapped within and under ice. However, at present our knowl­edge of which sensor (airborne or subsea platforms) will work best under different situations of oil in ice is at an early stage and it is important to expand industry’s capabilities in this area.

The report evaluates the current state of technology and confirms that there are are several technologies that exist today capable of, or having the potential for, effective sensing in a broad range of ice and environmental conditions that would be experienced in the Arctic.

Report on Oil Spill Detection and Mapping in Low Visibility and Ice: Under-Sea Remote Sensing

To-date, the vast majority of remote sensing techniques developed for oil detection in ice-covered waters have focused on airborne or on-ice systems.

While some of these methods have been moderately successful in detecting oil in ice covered seas, sensors mounted on unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) hold the potential to overcome some of the constraints encountered with airborne or surface based methods. This potential needed to be explored.

The report results confirm that unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) have been successfully operating in ice-covered waters and are now a viable technology for under sea ice operations.

UUVs, and especially autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), have the dual advantages of being deployable in a range of ice and weather conditions and are likely the most promising underwater platform for oil spill detection.