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TOSCA. Improving response to maritime accidents

Oil spills are a serious threat for marine ecosystems. The decisions taken just after the accident are crucial in minimizing the effects. Very often, these decisions depend on the forecast for oil spill movement. The question then is, are good enough the current models for oil spill forecasts? Is it possible to improve them?

 

A maritime incident. Image from the web of Tosca project.That’s the issue of TOSCA, an European project where 12 partners from 4 countries are involved: Spain, France, Italy and Greece, including as partners research centers, local authorities and rescue services.

At the CSIC, the partners are the teams led by scientist Emilio García, at the Instituto de Ciencias del Mar, and the team led by Alejandro Orfila, at the Instituto Mediterraneo de Estudio Avanzados.

The TOSCA project is managed by the PACA Sea Innovation & Business Cluster - Toulon Var Technologies (PMP-TVT) and scientifically coordinated by the Mediterranean Institute of Oceanography (MIO) - Toulon University.

Geographical Information System

The main objective of TOSCA is to develop a Geographical Information System (GIS) to enable the accurate forecasting of accidental spills and help in the decision making. The system will help to improve the strategies for the rescue of victims.

The Gis will include different components. Most relevant are: a system to forecast the spill evolution, now in development; the data from a radar network on the Mediterranean coast; and the implementation of a new algorithm that improves the measurements from the radars. Also, different buoys are being evaluated in TOSCA, as a tool for forecasting.

Forecasting model

One tool to be developed is a forecasting software that enables the prediction of an oil spill movement on a Mediterranean map.  The software, which will be available on a web site, calculates the oil dispersion probability and its trajectory based on the wave’s movement, the sea currents and the wind.

“Only with these variables is it possible to forecast quite well the oil spill trajectory”, explains Emilio Garcia, at CSIC. Nevertheless, “the tool doesn’t take into account the transformation process of the oil: its emulsification, evaporation or decomposition in other products”. That’s why the tool will be especially useful in the case of spills that remain on the water a long time.

The software is partially based on the sea surface speed. This knowledge is offered by some oceanic models. Nowadays there are some of them working, such as the one developed by the project ESEOO or the NOAA’s model, the NCOM.

The striking thing is that these models don’t always give the same predictions. Understanding this is another relevant issue of the project. As Emilio Garcia explains, “we are comparing the different models used by marine rescue teams; we analyze and try to understand when and why the models are giving different results”.   

Improving radars use

Coastal radars receive information of the currents speed on the sea surface. Radars cover the sea by areas of 50 x 50 kilometres. Because the radars are placed on the land, they can only cover areas close to the coast.

“Usually, data offered by radars are useful and accurate, but sometimes they have problems and inconsistencies. In TOSCA we try to put right these errors combining the trajectory of the boys with the radar”, explains Emilio García. This correction has been transformed into an algorithm called LAVA (LAgrangian Variational Analysis). The algorithm will be applied in the GIS, in order to improve the data offered by the radars from the four countries. As a matter of fact, including all the radar data in the GIS is one of the issues of the TOSCA project.

Nowadays the radars have not a coordinated management and they are poorly used in the management of oil spills.  “The issue is to establish a network to facilitate the access to all radar information through the GIS”, says Emilio Garcia. “We want to show the Administration that these radars are useful and profitable for the management of accidents and to improve the rescue strategies of people and ships”.

Tracking a buoy. Tosca ProjectBuoys to track the oil spill

In the case of an accidental oil spill, usually buoys are placed within the spill. With the waves, the wind and the currents, buoys move together with the spill and allow its tracking.

In the TOSCA project, scientists are working in the development of new improved buoys for tracking oil spills. One prototype is being developed at the technological institute TEI-Pireus, and two more are being developed at the CSIC’s Instituto de Ciencias del Mar.

But the buoys strategy can be improved. It is possible not only to place buoys within the oil spill but also far away, in strategic points for obtaining a prediction of the oil spill trajectory in the following hours. That’s why scientists are working on sample strategies related to the topological properties of the sea currents, in order to find out where and when to place the buoys.

Also, because there are different types of buoys, scientists are working to assess how they move and which buoys are more similar in their movement to an oil spill and which ones are better as a forecasting tool.

Common management strategy

Apart from the technology, the TOSCA project will establish recommendations for improving the management plan in case of marine accident. To have a common strategy coordinated between the scientists and the authorities. Not only in the case of marine incidents and oil spills but also for establishing mitigation measures and long term management of the pollution.