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Copernicus assists in monitoring risks and planning for response to marine pollution

Copernicus Observer


In March 2017, following an armed attack on the oil port of Es Sider in Libya, the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for Mediterranean Sea (REMPEC) activated the Mediterranean Operational Network for the Global Ocean Observing System (MONGOOS) services to simulate the worst-case scenario in the case of a potential oil spill incident.


This simulation, based on data provided by the Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service, in combination with other sources, including local information from REMPEC Focal Points in Libya, providing forecasts on currents and wind, showed that in only 24 hours about 44% of the oil would reach the coast.


This information has proven vital for public authorities to prepare for any risk from accidental marine pollution.



The Mediterranean basin’s coast are shared between 21 countries, with a coastline of 46 000 km. It is also home to around 480 million people living across three continents (Africa, Asia and Europe) and one of the world's busiest shipping routes with about one-third of the world's total merchant shipping sailing its seas each year. Although shipping is, statistically, the least environmentally damaging mode of transport, its environmental impact includes greenhouse gas emissions, sound, and oil pollution.


In 1976, within the framework of the Mediterranean Action Plan of the United Nations Environment Programme, the Contracting Parties to the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean established the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean Sea (REMPEC) administered by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).


Since 2009, in the framework of the Mediterranean Assistance Unit (MAU), this emergency response centre has been assisted by the Mediterranean Operational Network for the Global Ocean Observing System (MONGOOS) for events related to both accidental and voluntary marine pollution from ships. MONGOOS uses Copernicus as one of its data sources. It is currently coordinating a multi-platform observation system (in situ and remote sensing), a Mediterranean basin scale ocean forecasting system and several high-resolution forecasting systems in the Mediterranean sub-basins and coastal zones.


In the event of a pollution incident (or potential risk), the Emergency Response Office (ERO) of MONGOOS provides, within one hour, information on the spill such as forecast of the drift of the oil and detection of areas of the coast more likely to be affected, in order to allow neighbouring countries to define a response strategy.


A recent example in which REMPEC activated the service occurred in March 2017 followed an armed attack on the major Libyan oil port of Es Sider and the neighbouring terminal of Ras Lanuf which created a potential risk of oil spill. REMPEC activated MONGOOS-ERO, in the framework of the MAU, for the preparation of worst-case scenario simulations in the event that a pollution incident would occur from the said terminals.



Fig. 1 - Position of the potential source of pollution in the Libyan coast



ERO simulated a possible oil spill starting on 13 March 2017 at 11.00 (UTC). The forecast of the potential oil spill showed a possible north-west drift of the oil along the Libyan coastline in the following 24 hours. This forecast was based on data provided by the Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service (CMEMS), the Italian Meteorological Office, the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change (CMCC) which is responsible for the Mediterranean Monitoring Forecasting Centre (one essential component of the CMEMS) and the Italian National Group of Operational Oceanography (Gruppo Nazionale di Oceanografia Operativa, INGV-GNOO).



Fig. 2 - Forecasted potential oil spill evolution, for the period of 13/03/17 (at 11.00 UTC) and the following 24h.
Produced by CMCC and INGV-GNOO.



Information from CMEMS included current forecasts, which were very weak on that day date, and mainly directed north-westward along the Libyan coast. The wind was foreseen to blow from east/south-east; turning to north-east the following day. The combination of this information led to the conclusion that substantial oil pollution of the Libyan coastline could be expected as soon as 24 hours after an incident, with 44% of the oil potentially reaching the coast.


This information proved essential to allow public authorities and REMPEC to prepare for any potential oil spill and decide on best countermeasures.


The forecasts of ocean currents provided by Copernicus, along with the wind forecast provided by the Italian Meteorological Office, were both visualised through SeaConditions, a web and a mobile application developed by CMCC making use of state-of-the-art Earth Observation data, and in particular CMEMS data sets, to deliver oceanographic and weather forecasts covering the entire Mediterranean Sea.



Fig. 3 - Ocean surface currents at 12:00 UTC 13/03/17 & their evolution over time at the potential incident location.
Forecasts on currents were provided by the Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service.



Fig. 4 - Wind at 10 meters at 12:00 UTC 13/03/17 & its evolution over time at the potential location of the incident.
Forecasts on winds were provided by the Italian Meteorological Office. Visualisation: SeaConditions.



MONGOOS, which works in close cooperation with REMPEC, was set up to consolidate the marine operational observational and modelling system in the Mediterranean. By using Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service data in its operational activities, MONGOOS is demonstrating the value of establishing a solid marine environmental prediction system for integrated management of open oceans and coastal marine areas.


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