Detecting and Assessing Marine Oil Spills

Posted on May 21st, 2010 by

This blog is by Gustavus senior Kelsey Brugger as part of the GEG-345 Remote Sensing class.

April 29 image of oil slick heading for the Mississippi Delta (Source: NASA's Earth Observatory)

Detecting the full extent of oil spills is very difficult without the aid of technology. When it is detected it is hard to know the oil thickness. Using remote sensing to detect and monitor oil spills is very helpful. The satellite sensors can detect several attributes of the sea surface such as color, temperature, roughness and reflectance which helps predict the movement and spread of oil. Using remote sensing decreases the cost of responding to large oil spills and aiding in oil clean-up which minimizes the coastline impact. It can also direct measures in containing the oil mechanically, protecting the coastline and mammals in the area, directing burning of the oil, and preparing resources for clean-up of the shore.

May 17 image of the Gulf Oil spill spreading to the Northwest and the Southeast (Source: NASA's Earth Observatory)

As of the middle of April there has been a very large oil spill just off the coast of New Orleans from the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig. NASA’s Terra satellite has been taking natural-color images of the oil with the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS). The images here and many more have been helping the efforts for clean-up and preventative measures along the coast.

For more information on the use of remote sensing in marine oil spills visit the U.S. Department of the Interior website:

For more information on the Gulf Oil Spill visit the Earth Observatory website:


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