Skip to main content

Academia and marine research institutions join forces to protect the Eastern Mediterranean Sea from oil spills

17 November 2016

OIl rig
An ocean oil rig - Image from

A new study led by Cardiff University shows that oil slicks in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea can reach the coast in 1 to 20 days.

Marine pollution in the European Seas is regulated by multiple institutions and conventions, to which experts at Cardiff University are contributing actively to their inception and development.

New mathematical and geological models have recently been combined to assess the impact of maritime accidents in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, and the time necessary to initiate mitigation and cleaning works by civil protection authorities.

With the help of the Technological Educational Institute in Crete and the Oceanographic Centre of the University of Cyprus, geological and bathymetric data are being used in the development of new mathematically models to understand the time that oil spills take to reach the coast, for selected accident scenarios. Part of this work, funded by the European Commission consortium Nereids and other EU projects, was recently published on Scientific Reports to help civil protection authorities in the management of future oil spill accidents.

The key driver of Cardiff’s efforts results from the recent expansion of the Suez Canal, and adjacent oil and gas terminals, to accommodate large tankers with deadweight above 500,000 tonnes. Well before the opening of a second, larger Suez Canal, an average of more than 1000 minor spills are usually recorded every year by European institutions monitoring the Mediterranean Sea.

Together with the discovery of some of the large gas fields in the world offshore Egypt, Cyprus and Israel, the European Commission is involved in the intense training of civil protection authorities in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

For the first time, experts at Cardiff, Crete and Cyprus found out that bathymetric features are also an important control on oil spill dispersion, and trapping. Thus, oil spill simulations for 19 existing offshore drilling locations where carried out to show a clear trend for east and northeast movement of oil in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. In these models, oil slicks will reach the coast in 1 to 20 days, driven by winds and currents.

The lead author of the paper Dr. Tiago Alves from Cardiff University’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, stressed that ‘the modelling results are paramount to proof that oil spills in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea should be mitigated in the very few hours after their onset, in a collaborative way between all countries in the region. A proof of the importance in tackling these spills as soon as possible comes from the 73 oil spills recorded since 1977 in the region, some of which affected the coast line of more than two countries’.

He added ‘an important part of future work will be to understand in more detail how shoreline morphology and local geology can trap, and effectively hinder, the recovery of oil at the surface and from seafloor features on which the oil is fixed. If we understand these effects in detail, we can proceed to recover the environment of affected coastlines in a much quicker way, with smaller impacts on the coastal populations that depend on the sea.’

Share this story