Impacts of oil spills on Arctic marine ecosystems: A quantitative and probabilistic risk assessment perspective

Inari Helle, Jussi Antti-Eerikki Mäkinen, Maisa Katariina Nevalainen, Mawuli Afenyo, Jarno Vanhatalo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Oil spills resulting from maritime accidents pose a poorly understood risk to the Arctic environment. We propose a novel probabilistic method to quantitatively assess these risks. Our method accounts for spatiotemporally varying population distributions, the spreading of oil, and seasonally varying species-specific exposure potential and sensitivity to oil. It quantifies risk with explicit uncertainty estimates, enables one to compare risks over large geographic areas, and produces information on a meaningful scale for decision-making. We demonstrate the method by assessing the short-term risks oil spills pose to polar bears, ringed seals, and walrus in the Kara Sea, the western part of the Northern Sea Route. The risks differ considerably between species, spatial locations, and seasons. Our results support current aspirations to ban heavy fuel oil in the Arctic but show that we should not underestimate the risks of lighter oils either, as these oils can pollute larger areas than heavier ones. Our results also highlight the importance of spatially explicit season-specific oil spill risk assessment in the Arctic and that environmental variability and the lack of data are a major source of uncertainty related to the oil spill impacts.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)2112-2121
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 18 Feb 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
  • 1172 Environmental sciences
  • 1171 Geosciences
  • 112 Statistics and probability
  • SEA
  • ICE
  • FATE

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