A key piece of knowledge for oil spill planning is understanding which systems are most vulnerable to contamination. Research by Memorial University Newfoundland Kristie Duncan is exploring how physical features such as near-shore bathymetry, or sediment type and size can influence the susceptibility of beaches to petroleum persistence.
As a rule, reflective beaches – typically steep with coarse, compact sand, are more likely to have the ability to 'self-clean'. Duncan noted that conversely on beaches with a gravel layer on top of sediment, oil can seep down to depths of 10 meters, meaning oil is more likely to persist. She also pointed out that highly dynamic beaches, particularly those known as 'collector beaches' – characterised by high levels of debris, can be susceptible to oil from spills down current and even offshore.
The morphology of an area is another crucial factor to consider when assessing vulnerability. Saltmarshes with low water movement and porous sediments are notoriously susceptible to persistent oil spill impacts, however one saltmarsh in Newfoundland - the Codroy saltmarsh, is afforded some protection from the narrow opening present at the mouth of the marsh. In the event of an oil spill, this particular marsh is unlikely to experience oil moving into the marsh unless there is overwash caused by a storm.