Scientists alarmed by ‘seismic blasting’ by oil industry in the Arctic Ocean


Imagine dynamite exploding in your living room every ten seconds, for days to weeks on end. You could suffer serious health issues such as deafness, and you would likely abandon your home.

Greenland Sea — Firing seismic airguns to find new oil reserves in the Arctic Ocean is ‘alarming’ and could seriously injure whales and other marine life, according to a new scientific review. The oil industry is increasingly looking towards the region as climate change melts large areas of Arctic sea ice.

A Norwegian company operating off east Greenland recently began firing airguns that emit 259-decibel blasts towards the seabed in order to find possible oil reservoirs. Above water, this sound intensity is about a 100 decibels higher than what would cause human eardrums to rupture with a single exposure.(1)

Report author Dr Oliver Boisseau, a senior research scientist at Marine Conservation Research said:

”It is clear that noise from seismic activity has an impact on whales as it can damage their hearing, ability to communicate and also displace animals, affecting diving behavior, feeding and thermometer_decibel_chartmigration patterns. There are increasing indications that this could cause serious injury, and may also disrupt reproductive success and increase the risk of strandings and ice entrapments,”

Global oil companies including BP, Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell all own drilling rights in the Greenland Sea and are the likely customers for the data uncovered by the seismic testing company – TGS Nopec.

A Greenpeace ship is currently on its way to the area to document the seismic testing fleet, which plans to complete 7,000km of ‘survey lines’ of the seabed in the high Arctic, between 75 and 80 degrees north.

Arctic campaigner Sune Scheller onboard Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise said:

“Seismic blasting in icy waters is just one of the horrific practices the oil industry is doing in the Arctic, firing airguns into this important and beautiful ocean. Shell and other oil companies are hoping the world won’t know that seismic blasting exist, even less notice the danger it poses to endangered whales and other marine life, but we’re here to expose this madness and keep eyes and ears on a harmful operation.”

The seismic operation will take place adjacent to ‘closed areas’ and overlaps with ‘areas of concern’ appointed by the Greenlandic authorities, designated for the protection of narwhal, walrus and a critically endangered population of bowhead whales.

Boisseau continued:

”It is alarming to consider the vast amount of seismic activity being planned and conducted in the High Arctic, given the fragile nature of the ecosystem and the potential for disturbance and harm to whales. It seems justified to urge for extreme caution given both the lack of data and the limited understanding of the short and long term impact of seismic noise on sensitive Arctic species, especially the narwhal.”


(1) 259 db in water equals approx. 197.5 dB (re. 20 μPa a 1 m distance) in air and would be perceived as approx. 8 times louder than a jet engine heard 50 m away (140 dB). The human threshold of pain is 125 dB and eardrum rupture could happen around 140 dB-150 dB.

A Review of the Impact of Seismic Survey Noise on Narwhal & other Arctic Cetaceans can be downloaded here.

A four page media briefing summarizing the findings and recommendations in the report is available here.

A briefing on this year’s seismic operations in the Greenland Sea here.


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Jennifer Baker is the founder and editor of Revolution News

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