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Oil Spill Hazards & GIS

by Matt on May 22, 2015

After my speech at a conference regarding GIS and Damage Assessment, an individual walked up to me and asked me, “How could you could model, monitor, and mitigate oil spill hazards using GIS?”
Oil spill hazards wasn’t something I had spoken about during the speech, nor something I was given as a project in my professional career. Being a GIS nerd, it’s easy to say that I was quite intrigued by the question. Every company, non-profit, municipality, county, and state can have a different focuses for GIS projects and since GIS has so much value in every situation, it seemed that now, would be a fantastic time to branch out from what I’ve centered my GIS education and career around and be able to answer that gentlemen’s question regarding how GIS can help model, monitor, and mitigate oil spill hazards. So much so, I even skipped the Game of Thrones premiere to figure this out in detail (anyone who knows me knows how serious this is).
When the release of crude oil into any environment happens it can be detrimental to any eco-system. Animals may perish, natural habitats destroyed, and humans may get ill.
To go on a quick tangent that I swear will come back around, when a client uses IDAM™ (Integrated Damage Assessment Model) part of what they do is assess the damage to a house. IDAM™ knows the value of the house and even more so IDAM™ will know the value of if there is either minor or major damage to a house. Just like these known values of these houses the value and vulnerability of animals, habitats, and illness in humans is something we can estimate which makes it measurable and when you can measure something…heavenly data is available!
Value is the inventory of an element and “vulnerability is the degree of loss to each element should a hazard of a given severity occur” (Cole P. 2008). A good way to think of value is to think of type and number of fish in an area. For vulnerability experts know how different types of environments will be affected by oil. Exposed rock on the coast no cleanup necessary, whereas, mangroves oil may persist for years (Gundlach and Hayes 1978). We know which type is more vulnerable.
After the event of an oil spill, GIS can be used to model areas that will affect humans, know value of the elements affected, which areas are more sensitive to oil, which areas will be affected most, prioritization of clean-up activities and many more. How can it do this? It arranges by integrating and arranging data that include but not limited to: fishery areas, bathymetric, oil/gas onshore and offshore infrastructure, currents, winds, shipping lanes, coastline, aquifers, known seepage and condenses this into an easy to understand map.
GIS can be a very powerful tool for the most important layer in this event, the effective monitoring of the oil spill. Using remotely sensed layers (NOAA, MODIS Terra & Aqua) and situational data available (currents, winds, rain, clouds, temperature, sea surface temperature) to input into a GIS system will help us create a spatio-temporal (space and time) oil spill map. We can use GIS to know where the spill is, where it will be, and guide us in knowing how large it may be. Information that is passed along to experts and decision makers to help guide the recovery process.
The potential benefits of GIS regarding oil spill mitigation are two-fold.
First, as we keep gathering real time information on these events GIS will start to allow for an optimized, cost-effective mitigation strategies. We will start to understand which practices have worked best and why. Second, it allows experts to identify potential disastrous hazards and allow an avenue to the identification of specialized research into these hazards. If we know where the mightiest of the threats are we can work to eliminate them.
GIS has endless amounts of very particular helpful strategies and tools. It’s my own thought that in funding in GIS technology, the effects of any types of disasters on the environment can be reduced greatly on any type of municipality, county or state.
This is my answer to the gentlemen who asked me how one would model, monitor and mitigate oil spill hazards using GIS. I hope better late than never applies in the situation, because it sure does when being it comes to watching Game of Thrones