Preparing for the Inevitable: Ecological and Indigenous Community Impacts of Oil Spill-Related Mortality in the United States’ Arctic Marine Ecosystem

  • Paul M. SuprenandEmail author
  • Carie Hoover
  • Cameron H. Ainsworth
  • Lindsey N. Dornberger
  • Chris J. Johnson


While hydrocarbon exploration and extraction in the Arctic ebb and flow, reduced sea ice has opened new travel routes across the Arctic. The opening of the Northwest Passage has allowed larger ships (including oil tankers) and higher traffic into remote regions. More ice loss is expected in the future. With this comes the potential for hydrocarbon spills. To quantify the ecosystem impacts of a spill in the Alaska North Slope region, an Ecospace model using the Ecopath with Ecosim software was developed. We highlight the impacts of four potential hydrocarbon contamination scenarios: a subsurface crude oil pipeline release, a surface platform oil spill, a surface cruise ship diesel spill, and a surface tanker oil spill. Hydrocarbon contamination was modeled using SIMAP (Spill Impact Model Analysis Package), which was developed from the oil fate sub-model in the Natural Resource Damage Assessment Model for the US Department of the Interior and under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA). Spatial-temporal SIMAP results were coupled to the Ecospace model. We show that in all four hydrocarbon contamination scenarios, there are spatial changes in harvested species resulting in long-term declines in harvest levels for the communities within the model area (Nuiqsut, Kaktovik, and Barrow Alaska), depending on the severity of the scenario. Responses to hydrocarbon events are likely to be slow in the Arctic, limited by the ice-free season. We highlight this area for scenario testing as ecological impacts are also an issue of food security to the local communities and human health issue.


Oil spill Alaska Arctic Indigenous First nations Beaufort sea Inuit 



We could like to thank Mote Marine Laboratory and their scientists, Drs. Michael Crosby and Dana Wetzel for their support and guidance in this work, Fulbright Canada for awarding P. Suprenand the Fulbright Postdoctoral Scholar Award in Northern Issues (2016–2017), Ocean Conservancy for a research grant and guidance from the organization’s employees, Andrew Hartig and Sarah Bobbe, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for sharing Beaufort Sea marine animal population data (Interagency Agreement M07PG13152, BOEMRE 2010-048, and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks agreements M10AC200004, M12AC00011), and the University of Northern British Columbia, in particular Dr. Gary Wilson, as each person and organization had a special contribution that made this research possible. C. Hoover would like to thank ArcticNet and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. C. Ainsworth and L. Dornberger were able to participate thanks to a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative to the Center for Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems (C-IMAGE) (GRI2011-I-072).


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul M. Suprenand
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Carie Hoover
    • 3
  • Cameron H. Ainsworth
    • 4
  • Lindsey N. Dornberger
    • 4
  • Chris J. Johnson
    • 2
  1. 1.Mote Marine LaboratorySarasotaUSA
  2. 2.University of Northern British ColumbiaPrince GeorgeCanada
  3. 3.Centre for Earth Observation ScienceUniversity of ManitobaWinnipegCanada
  4. 4.University of South, College of Marine ScienceSt. PetersburgUSA

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