Oil Spill Detection and Mapping in Low Visibility and Ice

Scope of Work

The overall goal of this project is to expand the industry’s remote-sensing and monitoring capabilities in darkness and low visibility in broken ice and under ice, and to detect and track subsea plumes that can develop if dispersants are used to control continuous subsea releases. The phase one technical assessment is complete and two research reports are available on the JIP website. The first entitled: “Oil Spill Detection and Mapping in Low Visibility and Ice: Surface Remote Sensing” defined the state-of-knowledge for surface remote sensing technologies to monitor oil under varying conditions of ice and visibility.  The second “Oil Spill Detection and Mapping in Low Visibility and Ice: Subsea Remote Sensing” defined state-of-the-art subsea remote sensing technologies for use in monitoring oil under varying conditions of ice and visibility.

The JIP utilised the two technical assessments and developed an experimental test program to identify and qualify the most promising sensors and platforms capable of determining the presence and mapping the extent of oil on, in, and under ice.  Phase two research experiments are being conducted to test and evaluate the performance of various surface and subsea remote sensing technologies with crude oil on, encapsulated in, and under ice, in conditions that include low visibility.

The experiments are taking place at the climate controlled test basin at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) located in Hanover, New Hampshire, USA.  The Prince William Sound – Oil Spill Recovery Institute (OSRI), Cordova, Alaska, USA is the phase two contractor. The CRREL test programme will constitute the first time that an array of above surface and subsea sensors is deployed under controlled conditions and simultaneous multi-sensor data collected from initial growth of sea ice through its melt.

To start the experiments, the air and water temperature in the test facility was cooled to initiate ice growth.  Once the ice layer was formed, the team began injecting Alaska North Slope crude oil at specific ice thicknesses into a series of fourteen oil containment hoops. This design allows for testing ranging from frazil (new) ice mixed with oil at the very beginning of the growth process, to columnar ice 80 cm thick, at the end. The oil thickness will vary from a few millimetres to 5 cm. The above and below-ice sensors will monitor the injections of oil under the various test conditions, as well as the encapsulation and eventual melt-out of the oil and ice.  Throughout the experiments, the team will extrapolate measurements from the sensors to analyse the performance of the instruments and model their performance in a wide range of field conditions. The model results are key to understanding the future potential of the different sensors under real world conditions. Specifically, the experiments aim to:

  • Acquire spectral, hydro-acoustic, thermal and electromagnetic signatures of oil on, within, and underneath a solid ice sheet.
  • Determine the capabilities of various sensors to detect oil in a specific ice environment created in the test tank.
  • Specify design parameters for improved arctic sensors in the future.
  • Recommend the most effective sensor suite for detecting oil in the ice environment, based on modelling the expected sensor performance in a wider range of real life scenarios.