Environmental emergency prevention: Beaufort coastal sensitivity atlas

PDF version - 59.87 MB


Environment Canada and other federal agencies have important roles in terms of environmental emergency prevention, preparedness and response. In the face of increasing economic opportunities in Canada’s northern regions, the need to improve our state of preparedness for oil spill-related emergencies, in particular, is critical. This version of the Beaufort Regional Coastal Sensitivity Atlas is an update of the information provided in the Arctic Environmental Sensitivity Atlas System (AESAS) (2004) and presents an overview of resources that are vulnerable to oil spills. It includes baseline coastal information such as shoreline form, substrate and vegetation type, which is required for operational prioritization and coordination of on-site spill response activities (i.e., SCAT: Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Technique), as well as sensitive biological resources and sensitive human use resources from both scientific and traditional knowledge sources. The study area includes the coastal area that extends along the mainland from the Yukon/Alaska border at 141°W east through the Mackenzie Delta to the Northwest Territories/Nunavut border at 120°W. The area also includes the entire coast of Banks Island to the north of the mainland, and the East and Middle Channels of the Mackenzie River north of Inuvik.


Funding for this atlas was provided by:

  • The Environmental Studies Resesarch Fund administered by Natural Resources Canada
  • Environment Canada’s Landscape Science and Technology Division
  • Environment Canada’s Environmental Emergencies Division

Many thanks to the following communities and organizations whose hospitality, support, and knowledge made this project possible:

  • Communities of  Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk, Paulatuk, Sachs Harbour, Ulukhaktok and Aklavik
  • Hunters and Trappers Committees
  • Geological Survey of Canada (Steven Solomon, Nicole Couture, Gavin Manson and Dustin Whalen)
  • Canadian Helicopters (pilot: Brian Healy)
  • Aklak Air (fuel delivery)

Data was kindly provided by:

  • Natural Resources Canada (basemap information)
  • SL Ross Environmental Research Ltd. (Ken Trudel)
  • Canadian Wildlife Service (Environment Canada)
  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada
  • Joint Secretariat, Inuvialuit Settlement Region (special thanks to Norm Snow for all your support)
  • Prince of Wales Northern  Heritage  Centre, Government of  the Northwest Territories

The eSPACE project (funded by the Canadian Space Agency (GRIP)) and the Atlas were managed by:

  • Jason Duffe, Environment Canada
  • Sonia Laforest, Environment Canada

Field work to support the creation of the shoreline classification was carried out by the following Environment Canada staff:

  • Anne-Marie Demers
  • Valerie Wynja
  • Mélanie Lacelle
  • Sarah Banks
  • Blair Kennedy
  • Jean-Francois Aublet
  • Lyndon Brinkworth

Preparation of data and maps, including digital cartography and technical support, was provided by the following Environment Canada staff:

  • Valerie Wynja
  • Tom Giles
  • Matt Giles
  • Jon Pasher
  • Mike Khoury
  • Andy Murray
  • Bhavana Chaudhary
  • Huili Wang
  • Lisa Koponen

Project Background

The primary objective of this atlas is to provide a synthesis of environmental information relevant to the planning and implementation of oil-spill countermeasures in coastal areas of the Beaufort Sea. This atlas is intended to be used as a link between the environmental characteristics of the region and the practical considerations of providing an effective response to marine oil spills. The atlas is not meant to be a comprehensive oil-spill manual.

In 2009, Environment Canada’s Landscape Science Division and Environmental Emergencies Division initiated a project focused on providing a priori baseline coastal information for the Canadian Arctic in order to support a range of coastal planning activities, including oil-spill response and cleanup efforts. This project, known as "eSPACE" (emergency Spatial Pre-SCAT for Arctic Coastal Ecosystems; SCAT: Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Technique), carried out detailed shoreline mapping for the Beaufort region along with various other arctic study areas, and developed shoreline characteristic mapping methods based on satellite imagery including Radarsat-2 data. The shoreline type database included in this atlas was collected and generated through the eSPACE project.

Coastal sensitivity mapping is an important step in oil-spill preparedness, response and cleanup efforts, and maps are an essential tool to assist responders during an incident, as they allow priority protection and cleanup sites to be identified and allow responders to plan the best-suited response strategy. In general, sensitive shorelines and ecosystems, protected areas, high biodiversity areas, critical habitats, endangered species, and key natural resources are considered especially sensitive to oil spills because they are of environmental, economic or cultural importance, at risk of coming in contact with spilled oil, and likely to be affected once oiled (Michel, Christopherson and Whiple, 1994).

Oil spills in the Canadian Arctic present many potential problems for local communities, oil-spill responders, regulatory authorities and hydrocarbon industrial operators. The Canadian Arctic shoreline spans more than 162,000 km (DFO, 2013a) and makes up almost three quarters (71%) of the total Canadian coastline. The Beaufort coastline alone comprises more than 7,500 km, which is an enormous area to manage and protect. With expanding industrial activity in the area, including oil exploration and development, mineral development and marine transportation, the potential for spilled oil and other pollutants is increasing significantly. Higher maritime risk is associated with exploration projects in this region in terms of the potential risk of collisions and getting stuck in the ice, even more so with increased traffic from adventurer vessels, research vessels and ships traversing the Northwest Passage (NOAA, 2013). It is also expected that maritime supply traffic, which will navigate through the Mackenzie River Delta and Beaufort Sea, will increase over the next few years. In addition, the harsh climate, lack of services and infrastructure, and high costs make spill response operations a challenge.

This atlas is intended to be used for planning and implementing oil-spill countermeasures during ice-free conditions in coastal areas of the Beaufort Sea. The area is typically covered in sea ice during eight or nine months of the year, and open water season occurs from June through early October (Phillips et al., 2007). There is no opportunity for fresh oil to reach the shoreline from a marine spill while the ocean is frozen; therefore, the information in this atlas is valid during the open water season only.

The Beaufort Regional Coastal Sensitivity Atlas was developed to meet the needs of industry, government and local community groups for a document related to offshore oil field development in the Beaufort Sea (AESAS, 2004). This current version of the atlas is an update of the information provided in the Arctic Environmental Sensitivity Atlas System (AESAS), which was last released in 2004.

This atlas presents comprehensive baseline spatial coastal information, which is required for informed decision making and integrated coastal and ocean management. The information is presented in a concise, graphic form with important supporting text, in order to satisfy a wide variety of perceived user groups, including government scientists, Canadian Coast Guard and industry response teams, policy directors, regulatory agencies, Beaufort Sea community organizations, and land use planners. The environmental and socio-economic information of the Beaufort’s coastal zone can be used for many applications, including informing emergency preparedness, habitat management, environmental assessments and ecosystem conservation. Information contained in the atlas should be supplemented by local knowledge and real-time information in the event of a spill.

The atlas has been updated with the newest and best available information. In cases where no new data were available, data from the 2004 atlas and other sources have been used. Note: This atlas is by no means intended to be an exhaustive biological resource atlas for the region.

Oil-spill cleanup methods are introduced in this atlas. These are intended for use in the decision process as an aid to the selection of appropriate, practical and feasible oil-spill response strategies and techniques. Each oil spill is unique and should be assessed as such. The oil-spill cleanup section is not a technical manual. Technical experts should be consulted to advise on the application of strategies and techniques for local environmental conditions and for the specific type of oil that is spilled.

Formats and Data Presentation

This atlas has been produced in two different formats to maximize accessibility to users in varying situations.

  • A large-format hard-copy printed atlas displaying a series of coastal sensitivity maps and general geographic information for the Beaufort region. This product is also available as a digital PDF document.
  • An offline and mobile geospatial digital atlas that is available on a USB stick and allows users full access to shoreline videography and geo-tagged photos, along with biological data and local traditional knowledge for the region.

The printed atlas is a large-format product that provides users with large maps. The digital atlas contains the same information and has the added capacity to turn information on and off as required.

The printed atlas is organized in the following manner. The Introduction has been organized to present an overview of the Beaufort region. A series of maps describes the geography, physiography, bathymetry, coastal processes, physical oceanography and human use in the region. Following this, information on the development of the shoreline classification and the Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Technique (SCAT) is presented. This section of the atlas includes information on the coastal zones that is of interest in shoreline cleanup, the collection of video and ground data, and the classification of the shoreline type. The processes used for collecting data and the development of an Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) are described, including how the shoreline type classification was converted into the ESI.

Information on available response options used during cleanup and a brief overview of appropriate cleanup techniques for each physical shoreline type are presented along with a description of how oil behaves when it contacts different substrates.

A detailed series of shoreline sensitivity maps, which include sensitivity rankings, shoreline species and resource use (human use), makes up the bulk of the atlas. This series of maps presents the Beaufort coast at a mapping scale of 1:100,000; the Mackenzie Delta is displayed at a larger scale (1:50,000) to properly show the detail in this region.

Report a problem or mistake on this page
Please select all that apply:

Privacy statement

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: