Department of Geography and Environmental Studies

Derek Gerald Fenton, 1993

Development of a Coastal Oil Spill Sensitivity Database using Geographic Information System - Cole Harbour Region, Nova Scotia


A Geographic Information System (GIS) can greatly enhance and improve upon the use and development of data required for oil spill response and contingency planning. This study examines the application of a GIS, namely SPANS(TM), for oil spill sensitivity mapping in the Cole Harbour region, Nova Scotia. This project provides details on the development of a GIS database and the functions available for assessing sensitivity and providing an oil spill planning and decision making tool.

Coastal resources that could be impacted during an oil spill incident are placed into three broad categories: Shoretypes, Biological Resources, and Human Use. Data for each category were compiled directly through the use of historical sources, maps, aerial photo interpretation, and extensive field surveys. Most information is provided in a mapped inventory format with a relational database link. An existing intertidal oil spill sensitivity index, namely the Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI), was modified and applied to the Shoretype inventory in order to provide a relatively efficient means of assessing coastal sensitivity.

Given that oil pollution can occur under a wide variety of circumstances, the use of both detailed coastal inventories in conjunction with established sensitivity indices and approaches allows for a greater level of information and options available to spill planners. The application of a GIS to manage, manipulate, and display relevant coastal databases proved to have notable advantages over previous conventional sensitivity mapping efforts. In addition, since the databases for the study area for this project were largely developed at a scale of 1: 10,000, this project provides an interesting insight into the application of large scale mapping in oil spill planning. From the database analysis, the Cole Harbour region is considerably sensitive to oil pollution given that 55% of the study area is comprised of the highest sensitivity rankings and the overall level of wildlife and human usage.