Oceanographic conditions in North and Northwest Iberia and their influence on the Prestige oil spill

M Ruiz-Villarreal, C González-Pola, G Diaz del Rio, A Lavin, P Otero, S Piedracoba, J M Cabanas
Marine Pollution Bulletin 2006, 53 (5): 220-38
Oceanographic conditions at the time of the Prestige oil spill (November 2002) and following months are analyzed based on a set of hydrographic cruises. The ship sank off one of the flanks of the Galician Bank, an offshore seamount, and a major oil spill drifted to the N and NW Iberian coast mainly driven by dominant winds. Coastal circulation was characterized by freshwater plumes and the poleward slope current, and could have affected the fate of the oil spill and influenced stranding places. Seasonal evolution of oceanographic conditions in this particular year is compared with the long-term average and reveals specific features that need to be taken into account in studies of the impact of the oil spill on populations. Spring conditions commenced earlier than other years in the Southern Bay of Biscay, contrastingly in western Iberia. The lack of subsurface intrusion of subtropical waters suggests a low intense penetration of the poleward current in Spanish Biscay slopes. In western Iberia, the slope poleward current observed in late autumn weakens and is exported off slope during upwelling pulses in the spring, with no strong intrusion of the poleward current on the slope at the time of the spring bloom. A description of current velocities near the wreck on the Galician Bank is obtained after the analysis of a mooring line.

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