Estonian scientists develop new shipwreck pollution prediction system

Experiments in the Bay of Tallinn.
Experiments in the Bay of Tallinn. Source: Kaimo Vahter

A monitoring system to predict the spread of pollution from shipwrecks is being developed by researchers at TalTech. It could also be used to assess the risks when new wind farms are built in the region.

There are many shipwrecks off the coast of Estonia and most of them have been there for more than 70 years. As they age, they become more prone to leaks.

TalTech marine scientists have created a system that predicts how the fuel will spread.

"This will help to know where the spill could end up or what could happen to it in the water. For example, the system will better help to plan the equipment and people needed; how a spill could have been better cleaned up or how it could have been better responded to," said junior researcher Siim Pärt, one of the authors of the study.

The researchers tested the system's reliability with six tests using smart buoys around different parts of the coast.

"After that, we modeled these buoys in our system. We looked at how well the trajectories of our system matched the trajectories of the buoys in real life," Pärt said.

Hazardous wrecks in the Baltic Sea. Source: Helcom.

Their movements fit well with their model's forecasts. The researcher said the model works best when there is less wind but stormy seas are very difficult to model correctly.

While this is not the first pollution detection system, TalTech's uses current and wave data from Estonian waters.

"The system we are developing is based on the OpenDrift system, a marine pollution and floating object trajectory prediction system developed in Norway. We linked it to Estonia's own marine model forecasts," Pärt said. Additionally, the new system has slightly better resolution them other the others, he said.

Pärt said the new prediction system can be used for two purposes. First, it helps agencies cleaning up oil spills to work more accurately and efficiently.

Secondly, it helps to assess risks: for example, if it is suitable to build a wind farm in a certain place. 

"In places where there is a high risk of pollution, different pollution scenarios can be modeled and then their areas of influence can be determined," Pärt explained. 

Pärt's article can be read in the Marine Pollution Bulletin.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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