Satellite and airborne oil spill remote sensing: State of the art and application to the BP DeepWater Horizon oil spill

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The vast, persistent, and unconstrained oil release from the DeepWater Horizon (DWH) challenged the spill response, which required accurate quantitative oil assessment at synoptic and operational scales. Experienced observers are the mainstay of oil spill response. Key limitations are weather, scene illumination geometry, and few trained observers, leading to potential observer bias. Aiding the response was extensive passive and active satellite and airborne remote sensing, including intelligent system augmentation, reviewed herein. Oil slick appearance strongly depends on many factors like emulsion composition and scene geometry, yielding false positives and great thickness uncertainty. Oil thicknesses and the oil to water ratios for thick slicks were derived quantitatively with a new spectral library approach based on the shape and depth of spectral features related to C-H vibration bands. The approach used near infrared, imaging spectroscopy data from the AVIRIS (Airborne Visual/InfraRed Imaging Spectrometer) instrument on the NASA ER-2 stratospheric airplane. Extrapolation to the total slick used MODIS satellite visual-spectrum broadband data, which observes sunglint reflection from surface slicks; i.e., indicates the presence of oil and/or surfactant slicks. Oil slick emissivity is less than seawater's allowing MODIS thermal infrared (TIR) nighttime identification; however, water temperature variations can cause false positives. Some strong emissivity features near 6.7 and 9.7 ??m could be analyzed as for the AVIRIS short wave infrared features, but require high spectral resolution data. TIR spectral trends can allow fresh/weathered oil discrimination. Satellite Synthetic Aperture Radar (SSAR) provided synoptic data under all-sky conditions by observing oil dampening of capillary waves; however, SSAR typically cannot discriminate thick from thin oil slicks. Airborne UAVSAR's significantly greater signal-to-noise ratio and fine spatial resolution allowed successful mapping of oil slick thickness-related patterns. Laser induced fluorescence (LIF) can quantify oil thicknesses by Raman scattering line distortions, but saturates for >20-??m thick oil and depends on oil optical characteristics and sea state. Combined with laser bathymetry LIF can provide submerged oil remote sensing.

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Publication type:
Conference Paper
Publication Subtype:
Conference Paper
Satellite and airborne oil spill remote sensing: State of the art and application to the BP DeepWater Horizon oil spill
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Conference Title:
34th AMOP Technical Seminar on Environmental Contamination and Response
Conference Location:
Banff, AB
Conference Date:
4 October 2011 through 6 October 2011