BP / Gulf Oil Spill – MODIS Satellite Image – May 9, 2010

MODIS / Aqua satellite image, May 9, 2010.

Today’s MODIS satellite image from NASA shows plenty of oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico from the ongoing BP / Deepwater Horizon spill – slicks and sheen cover about 4,384 square miles (11,355 km 2) although clouds, haze and turbidity (again…) are possibly obscuring portions of the slick. Fresh-looking oil is still moving southeast away from the site of the leaking well, and appears to be caught in a counterclockwise gyre (a circular current at the ocean’s surface – not uncommon in the northern Gulf). This may be helping to keep most of the oil trapped close the the leaking well, although the slick also extends northwest to the fringes of the Mississippi Delta, and large patch of slicks is visible far to the west, in the vicinity of Port Fourchon.

We estimate this well is leaking at a rate of 1.1 million gallons (26,500 barrels) per day. At this rate, the spill has now exceeded 21 million gallons. Most news accounts of this spill are repeating a much lower estimate of 210,000 gallons (5,000 barrels) per day, an unexplained number that NOAA and the Coast Guard were using for a few days until they admitted a week ago that they couldn’t accurately estimate the flow rate. We think it’s better not to use any number at all than to lock in on an unrealistically low estimate that nobody currently supports. Read why we think that here.

4 replies
  1. Christoph R says:

    "clouds, haze and turbidity (again…) are possibly obscuring portions of the slick. "

    just to drive home the point that this image does not capture the entire slick:

    I spoke to several researchers who went to the northern tip of the Chandeleurs last week. They saw a large slick of oil(extending as far as they could see) offshore of the islands. You could see a bit of what I assume was that slick in the Canadian radar satellite images that you posted a few days ago, but there is nothing visible in this image in that vicinity.

    They also saw large amounts of dispersed oil in back of the islands. The dispersed oil presented as flakes mixed into the top 10+ cm of the water column, and probably would not show up well in any satellite image.

    Actually that's a question: can we track dispersed oil plumes with remote sensing data?

    keep it up! loving this blog…-chris

  2. jerome.ball says:

    I find it mind-boggling that there is not an unchallengeable objective measure of the spill rate.

    There are only two leaks. The geometry can be measured by on-site video from submersibles. The flow rate can be measured by on-site video from submersibles. The spill rate can be accurately measured in 10 minutes of looking at the data.

    If BP doesn't want to provide the video, why doesn't MMS demand it or send down its own?

    It seems like it would be vastly more accurate than using satellite imagery.

  3. John says:

    Jerone – it's our hope that all of the video of the leaks that is being collected from ROVs and other sources is being provided to government investigators, and will be part of the public record, so these questions can be answered.

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