Sea ice modeling

FY 2021 | 3 – Inform | 21-10-06

Sea ice modeling

Rorik Peterson, UAF
Contract Term: 07/01/21-06/30/22
Award: $30,000

Scope of work:

As traffic and economic development increases in the Arctic, so too does the need to understand the complex dynamics of the ice and its surroundings. In particular, the Arctic is acutely at risk should an arctic oil spill occur. This spill might take the form of an accidental release of crude oil from a subsurface pipeline rupture, or a surface release of diesel from a ship collision or grounding. In any case, the presence of ice complicates the ability of first responders to contain and clean up oil on the water’s surface. If the oil becomes trapped beneath the sea ice, tracking oil slick movement may be impossible given our current knowledge of the subsurface. Once that oil becomes trapped in the ice, it may move several kilometers over the ice season before the ice thaws and the oil reappears. Prolonged exposure to the environment to a contaminant endangers not only the local marine life, but the communities that depend on that marine life for food as well. Some contamination, once grounded on the shoreline, could seep into the soil and remain for decades. Therefore, it is crucial to properly model the interaction between oil and sea ice to better anticipate arctic oil spill slick spreading. However, no current ice/ocean model in the U.S. has this functionality.

Aligning with the Oil Spill Recovery Institute’s (OSRI) mission, and to address the need for a
rapid and efficient response to an Arctic oil spill, this project aims to produce new knowledge
about Arctic sea ice subsurface characteristics. These profile characteristics are used to improve oil fate and transport models, directly affecting first responders’ abilities to respond to an oil spill, determine the overall impact of a spill under ice, and develop the response tactics necessary to mitigate environmental damage from either a sub-surface spill, or a spill that migrates beneath the ice. Better sea ice models, including the subsurface profiles, will enable future researchers to identify the physical impacts of oil trapped at the ice-water boundary, evaluate the short and long-term effects of oil trapped in these profiles, and improve future response and remediation technologies. Lastly, the knowledge developed in this project will enable the expansion of capabilities in Arctic-capable oil spill models, such as the ongoing efforts by the NOAA Office of Response and Restoration to integrate such offerings into their General NOAA Operational Modeling Environment (GNOME).