The fate of oil spills in the Arctic

The fate of oil spills in the Arctic

Top image: In situ oil burning test in Van Mijenfjorden. Photo: Liv-Guri Faksness.

In a PhD thesis by Liv-Guri Faksness new information about what happens with oil spills in an Arctic environment is revealed. Her experiments show that the air temperature in the period before the oil spill is important for the leakage degree of water soluble oil components in the ice. Faksness will defend her thesis on 19 January 2008 at UNIS.

14 January 2008
Press release from the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) and the University of Bergen

”Weathering of oil under Arctic conditions. Distribution and toxicity of water soluble oil components dissolving in seawater and migrating through sea ice. A combined laboratory and field study” is the title of the PhD thesis by Liv-Guri Faksness.

To meet the challenges that both the oil industry and the government face in connection to oil production and more transport of oil in the North, it is important to increase our knowledge about both the effects of oil spills in environmentally vulnerable locations and possible counter measurements for reducing the damages.

Distribution and toxicity
Faksness’ PhD thesis from the University in Bergen and the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) reveals new knowledge about the fate of marine oil spills in Arctic conditions. The main focus is on the distribution and the toxicity of water soluble components from oil spills in the sea (lab study) and oil in sea ice (field study).

The water soluble oil components could potentially produce significant damages on life in the water column and in the ice after an oil spill. The water soluble oil fraction of 22 types of oil is characterized, and shows a great variety in the chemical composition and toxicity for the different oil types.

Field studies to examine the distribution of the water soluble oil components from oil frozen in sea ice was conducted over three field seasons (2004-2006) under very varied weather and ice conditions. The experiments were conducted in the van Mijenfjorden in Svalbard from February through June.

Air temperature important
The experiments show that the air temperature in the period before the oil spill is important for the leakage degree of water soluble oil components in the ice. The results from the three field seasons show that the transport of water soluble oil components mainly go through the brine channels in the ice. When the air temperature is high, the ice is more porous and thus more susceptible for leakages, and when the air temperature is low, oil leakages into the ice will take longer time.

The contents of the bioavailable water soluble oil components and their estimated acute toxicity for the ice fauna in the brine channels were estimated. The predictions indicated that the concentration in the brine channels could be acutely toxic for the ice fauna and potentially toxic oil components could enter the Arctic marine food chain.

The thesis will be defended at UNIS on 19 January. Liv-Guri Faksness will give a trial lecture called: ”Overview of biological and chemical methods to monitor exposure to and effects of oil components in marine fauna” the same day at UNIS.

Liv-Guri Faksness

Liv-Guri Faksness

About the candidate
Liv-Guri Faksness is from Trondheim. She holds a Cand. Scient degree in chemistry from the University in Trondheim (1989) and has since worked at SINTEF in Trondheim.

Faksness started her PhD degree at the University in Bergen in 2004, but most of her PhD work has been done at the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS). Her PhD study involved cooperation with SINTEF, as part of a large research project funded by the Norwegian Research Council, Statoil and Hydro. Faksness is now working at SINTEF Materials and Chemistry.

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