SEA EMPRESS: How the latest MarineAware tools could have helped

The availability of data and accurate modelling is crucial to forming a rapid and effective response in an emergency. MarineAware enables this in the world of marine pollution. Bringing together a range of capabilities, it provides more accessible and integral decision support to improve users’ preparedness to respond to potentially catastrophic oil spills at sea.

Through their collaboration with 4 Earth Intelligence (4EI), developers at Riskaware have incorporated Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) datasets into MarineAware. The ESIs that 4EI produce use automated satellite image classification methods aligned with international standards to rank the areas of coastline in terms of their sensitivity to marine pollution such as oil spills.

By combining ESI datasets produced by 4EI, and probabilistic modelling based on statistical Monte Carlo methods, MarineAware produces detailed oil spill risk assessments. These assessments can be used to identify the dangers of both real-world and potential oil spills. This uniquely provides users with a prioritisation strategy for dealing with at-risk coastlines, allowing for rapid, well-informed decision-making. By prioritising the protection and clean-up of the most vulnerable areas, users are able to save time, money and resources.

To demonstrate these integrated capabilities, we examine the Sea Empress oil spill which devastated large parts of the coastline of South Wales in 1996. This incident was one of several test cases recently used to validate the accuracy of MarineAware’s oil spill model as part of an Innovate UK funded project, in collaboration with the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). At the time, the Sea Empress was also used as a testbed for early oil spill models which were used to predict the fate, trajectory, and beaching of oil but didn’t offer prioritisation capabilities.

Today, MarineAware takes oil spill modelling to the next level. This article revisits the Sea Empress spill with a new perspective, to determine how MarineAware’s prioritisation strategy could reduce the impact if a similar disaster occurred today.
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