Satellites Aided Response to Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill
The May 28, 2010 Experimental Marine Pollution Surveillance Report, produced by NOAA's Satellite Analysis Branch,depicted the location of the spilled oil.[click image to enlarge]
Last year, the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform explosion which gripped the world's attention as it quickly became an environmental catastrophe of global proportions, creating an oil slick the size of Jamaica and sending 172 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico before being contained. Throughout the summer and fall, the spill and response were closely tracked by an international team of satellites. Information from these satellites was an essential part of NOAA's coordinated response efforts in the Gulf.
Experts at the Satellite Analysis Branch of NOAA's Satellite and Information Service, used data a host of U.S. and international environmental satellites to create Experimental Marine Pollution Surveillance Reports, depicting the movement of the spilled oil.
"In such a dramatic situation that was changing by the minute, with so much oil leaking, our challenge was getting as much accurate information to the response crews as we could," said Tom Renkevens, deputy chief of NOAA's Satellite and Information Service's products and services division
Response crews in the Gulf credit a special feature of the reports, called "shapefiles," which indicated where the spreading oil boundaries were going to be 24 to 72 hours in advance.
The reports were based on satellite imagery from a variety of spacecraft: MODIS (NASA), RADARSAT (Canada), ENVISAT (Europe) Advanced Land Observation Satellite (Japan), TerraSAR-X (Germany), SPOT (France) and others.
The reports were used by the NOAA Ocean Service's Emergency Response Division, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Department of Interior's Minerals Management Service.
"This has been, and continues to be, a team effort. EMS is Everyone's Management System," states Stephen Howard, Support Branch Chief and Facilities Engineer at WCDAS. Members of the WCDAS EMS Team include: Ajay Mehta, Doug Crawford, Gregg Frostrom, Albert McMath, Bob Clark, and Bonnie Crawford.
"For them, it was helpful having the very latest projections on where the oil was heading," Renkevens said. "This helped get ships involved in skimming or burning the oil into place faster, and pointed out areas where the approaching oil might affect marine life."
The Coast Guard requested an activation of the International Disaster Charter for Space and Major Disasters, which is an international one-stop distribution point for emergency data from 19 space agencies and private space companies worldwide. Almost immediately, satellite imagery and environmental data from the Gulf was ready to inform the response.
The U.S. Geological Survey then requested that NOAA's Satellite Analysis Branch coordinate the satellite imagery from the different spacecraft for the crisis. In its coordinator role, the Satellite Analysis Branch determined which international satellites to task and supported the acquisition and display of the data on an Internet site available to the participating agencies.
As data from the response became available, NOAA's National Coastal Data Development Center (NCDDC), a division of the NOAA National Oceanographic Data Center, provided oceanographic support to NOAA's response team, assisting with getting Gulf data to users in varying formats.
One product NCDDC provided allowed users to see the oil spill's track in relation to essential fish habitats, oyster reef locations, sea grasses, and the location of other oil and gas platforms across the Gulf. At the height of the response effort, NCDDC worked with NOAA's National Fisheries Services to show the closing and opening of fisheries using this same product.
"The need for reliable data that were quickly available throughout this crisis was critical," said Margarita Gregg, director of the NOAA's National Oceanographic Data Center. "And NOAA met that need."
Key links to special NESDIS products developed to support NOAA's response to the Deepwater Horizon incident: