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Nature Sustainability (2023)
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More than 20% of global liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports and almost all of Qatar’s drinking water production originate from three industrial sites on Qatar’s eastern coast. They are all vulnerable to oil spills, and this vulnerability remains largely unquantified. Here we model oil-spill dispersal in the shallow maritime waters surrounding Qatar to identify which offshore areas and times of the year pose the greatest threat to the nation’s LNG export and seawater desalination facilities. By combining oil transport simulations with marine traffic data, we identify two high-risk areas, sizing up to ~15% of Qatar’s maritime exclusive economic zone. Ras Laffan’s LNG terminal has the highest vulnerability to oil spills all year, and its desalination plant, producing 30% of the national water supply, has a seasonal vulnerability peaking to an alarming level twice a year during spring and fall. Both LNG export and desalination facilities could be impacted by oil spills occurring outside of Qatar’s maritime borders in less than three days. We suggest that offshore high-risk areas be closely monitored with airborne and satellite synthetic-aperture radar providing early warning for oil spills that could severely disrupt Qatar’s LNG exports, further aggravating the global gas crisis.
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The oil-dispersal simulation outputs for every month and every coastal infrastructure are available at ( The atmospheric and oceanic circulation data used to force the oil-dispersal model are freely available at and The marine traffic data used to compute the shipping exposure indicator can be purchased at
The oil-spill dispersal simulations were performed with the open-source model OpenOil (version 1.60) available at The Python programmes used to produce the key results of this study are available at
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The authors thank J. Lawler and M. Vermeersch from Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute for the helpful discussion on the country’s oil-spill mitigation plan and B. Shomar from Qatar University for the discussion on water reserves in Qatar. Computational resources were provided by the Consortium des Équipements de Calcul Intensif (CÉCI), funded by the F.R.S.-FNRS under grant no. 2.5020.11. E. Heggy acknowledges support from the Zumberge Research and Innovation Fund of the University of Southern California (USC) allocated to the Arid Climates and Water Research Center—AWARE. Part of E. Heggy’s research was carried out at USC under contract from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) (OASIS-SAA-00630). The funders had no role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.
Earth and Life Institute, UCLouvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
Thomas Anselain, Thomas Dobbelaere & Emmanuel Hanert
Viterbi School of Engineering, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Essam Heggy
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA
Essam Heggy
Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute, Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Doha, Qatar
Essam Heggy
Institute of Mechanics, Materials and Civil Engineering, UCLouvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
Emmanuel Hanert
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E. Hanert and E. Heggy designed the experiment. T.A. and T.D. conducted simulations. All the authors examined the results and wrote the manuscript.
Correspondence to Essam Heggy or Emmanuel Hanert.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Nature Sustainability thanks Johannes Röhrs, Simonetta Cheli, and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Daily oceanic and atmospheric circulation patterns in the central part of the Gulf throughout the year 2020. In the summer, the oceanic circulation is dominated by a large cyclonic (that is, anticlockwise) gyre, and the atmospheric circulation is dominated by southeastward summer shamal winds. Similar, although weaker, circulation patterns are observed during winter months. In spring and autumn, the oceanic circulation is more variable with more mesoscale eddy activity. The atmospheric circulation is also weaker and less directional.
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Anselain, T., Heggy, E., Dobbelaere, T. et al. Qatar Peninsula’s vulnerability to oil spills and its implications for the global gas supply. Nat Sustain (2023).
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