marine environment is considered to be at risk due to the mounting pressures
associated with global warming and increased human activities. Arctic species
are particularly vulnerable with limits on how far north they can move to adapt
to the rise in air and sea temperatures and the decline of sea ice. Increased competition from more southern species migrating north is also expected to
increase pressures on native species.
activity of oil and gas operations in the Arctic provides a real risk of exposure to produced water, drilling cuttings, and accidental oil
spills. A recent review by members of the Working Group on the Biological effects of Contaminants (WGBEC), commissioned by the Norwegian
government, was conducted to determine whether the environmental risks associated
with offshore oil and gas activities, such as produced water discharges, were
significantly larger in the Arctic compared to elsewhere on the Norwegian continental
shelf. Strict regulations were initially put in place for offshore developments
in the Arctic compared to other regions in order to minimise contaminant inputs.
However, research is ongoing to find reasons for claiming that Arctic Sea
ecosystems and organisms are systematically more sensitive to oil and gas
associated contamination than comparable ecosystems.
have also been involved in a recent project focusing on the effectiveness and
environmental effects of different oil spill response methods in a cold climate.
The results were made available to international organizations that plan and
perform cross-border oil spill responses in the Arctic. Laboratory and field
studies were performed including: longitudinal and seasonal baseline studies on
biomarker responses; experimental coastal and offshore burning of oil and assessment
of their effects on biomarker responses; and laboratory exposure of marine
species to different types of oil and dispersants at different salinities and
The results obtained in the laboratory exposures indicated
significant variability in biological responses depending on the oil and
dispersants used as well as on salinity and temperature. In the field,
baselines and responses measured in various biomarkers also vary depending on
geographical location (south-north axis, salinity). The results emphasise the
need for more research and data for realistic risk assessments of oil spills
under different environmental conditions, especially in cold environments where
they are currently sparse.
The Working Group on Biological Effects of Contaminants (WGBEC) examines the biological effects of contaminants in the marine environment, improves understanding and research of such pollutants, and aids international research and monitoring.
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Shoreline experimental in situ burning, carried out as part of the GRACE project. Photo: Ole Geertz-Hansen.