| Press Release GKSS-Research Centre Geesthacht

Oil spill in the Wadden Sea! Which areas are especially at risk?

Scientists from Geesthacht support the Central Command for Maritime Emergencies

Germany’s Wadden Sea is a unique and very sensitive ecosystem that would be severely impacted by a serious shipping accident. That’s why it’s important for response teams to be able to react quickly and effectively to accidents that could cause widespread pollution. To make this possible, comprehensive precautionary measures need to be planned in advance.

Second research report provides update on sensitive coastal areas

Man standing in the Wadden Sea

Scientist in the Wadden Sea. Photo: HZG/Karlheinz van Bernem

Thanks to its extensive precautionary planning activities, the Central Command for Maritime Emergencies (CCME) in Cuxhaven can quickly identify which areas of the Wadden Sea should get top-priority protection following an accident. To do so, the CCME uses an operational system developed by the Institute for Coastal Research at the GKSS Research Centre in Geesthacht. This system has now been upgraded and given the designation "Sensitivity Grid German North Sea II".

Back in 1991, the results of the predecessor project (Sensitivity Grid German North Sea I) had been incorporated into the precautionary planning activities for combating accidental pollution. “The professional-calibre preparations for dealing with accidental pollution have been greatly enhanced by the many years of good cooperation with the scientists,” says Hans-Werner Monsees, head of the CCME. The sensitivity categories of the coastal areas and estuaries are differentiated for the various seasons in accordance with the latest scientific findings. “It allows us to better consider sensitive coastal areas when combating oil spills,” explains CCME engineer Jens Rauterberg.

Data acquisition network

Map depicting a section of the mouth of the river Elbe.

Map depicting a section of the mouth of the river Elbe. Map: HZG/ Ulrike Kleeberg

"I’m delighted to be holding the finished report in my hands," says biologist Karl-Heinz van Bernem, who managed the project at the GKSS Research Centre. "Many scientists invested years of work in this report. During this period they evaluated innumerable samples and conducted mapping on foot and by boat." The Wadden Sea’s unique environment is characterized by extensive salt marshes, patches of seaweed, shoals of mussels, breeding grounds and resting places for birds, as well as sandbars and mud flats.

To carry out the project, the coastal researchers at Geesthacht processed a lot of measurement data that was collected in the field or captured by satellite. In addition to contributing their own research to the report, the scientists used data provided by the national park services in Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony and Hamburg. To analyse the measurements, the researchers used an evaluation model developed in cooperation with the CCME that specifically gauges the sensitivity of areas to oil spills. This makes it possible to illustrate the spatial and temporal differences in the sensitivity of Wadden areas when considering special needs that affect responses to accidental pollution.