|Oil Fates & Effects|
CIRCAC’s studies focus on understanding potential impacts by oil industry operations in Cook Inlet by assessing contaminant loads in Cook Inlet sediments and animal tissues. In order to fully be able to evaluate the potential fate of industry contaminants, an understanding of the background and natural sources is also a focus of CIRCAC’s work. Similarly, to understand the fate of discharge plumes or spilled oil, better descriptions and predictions of the circulation patterns within the Inlet are necessary.
CIRCAC has developed its programs to assess all of these aspects of Cook Inlet’s environment in order to more fully describe potentially impacts from Cook Inlet’s oil industry. The impact assessment work has relied on analyzing for known oil industry contaminants in sediments and animal tissues throughout the inlet, with organisms at the low end of the food chain (filter and deposit feeders) acting as sentinels for linking sediment and water contaminants to the food chain.
The physical oceanography data describe circulation patterns and what drives them in Cook Inlet. For example, how important is the Alaska Coastal Current’s influx into the Inlet in driving net circulation in the lower inlet and how do seasonal changes in freshwater input into upper Cook Inlet change the net outflow along the west side of Cook Inlet? These questions are important to better predict and describe how water currents would carry dissolved contaminants from discharge sources or oil spilled on the surface to potentially sensitive habitats.
CIRCAC’s habitat mapping program is another important aspect of a monitoring program since it is necessary to know your habitat types in order to design studies to look at environmental impacts.