AbstractThe oil spill from Prestige tanker showed the importance of scientifically based protocols to minimize the impacts on the environment. In this work, we describe a new forecasting system to predict oil spill trajectories and their potential impacts on the coastal zone. The system is formed of three main interconnected modules that address different capabilities: (1) an operational circulation sub-system that includes nested models at different scales, data collection with near-real time assimilation, new tools for initialization or assimilation based on genetic algorithms and feature-oriented strategic sampling; (2) an oil spill coastal sub-system that allows simulation of the trajectories and fate of spilled oil together with evaluation of coastal zone vulnerability using environmental sensitivity indexes; (3) a risk management sub-system for decision support based on GIS technology. The system is applied to the Mediterranean Sea where surface currents are highly variable in space and time, and interactions between local, sub-basin and basin scale increase the non-linear interactions effects which need to be adequately resolved at each one of the intervening scales. Besides the Mediterranean Sea is a complex reduced scale ocean representing a real scientific and technological challenge for operational oceanography and particularly for oil spill response and search and rescue operations.