Detection and quantification of oil under sea ice: the view from below
Traditional measures for detecting oil spills in the open-ocean are both difficult to apply and less effective in ice-covered seas. In view of the increasing levels of commercial activity in the Arctic, there is a growing gap between the potential need to respond to an oil spill in Arctic ice-covered waters and the capability to do so. In particular, there is no robust operational capability to remotely locate oil spilt under or encapsulated within sea ice. To date, most research approaches the problem from on or above the sea ice, and thus they suffer from the need to ‘see’ through the ice and overlying snow. Here we present results from a large-scale tank experiment which demonstrate the detection of oil beneath sea ice, and the quantification of the oil layer thickness is achievable through the combined use of an upward-looking camera and sonar deployed in the water column below a covering of sea ice. This approach using acoustic and visible measurements from below is simple and effective, and potentially transformative with respect to the operational response to oil spills in the Arctic marine environment. These results open up a new direction of research into oil detection in ice-covered seas, as well as describing a new and important role for underwater vehicles as platforms for oil-detecting sensors under Arctic sea ice.