Beautiful MODIS/Terra Image of Gulf Today

Thought I’d share this pretty satellite image of the Gulf of Mexico, taken at about 10:30 am local time this morning. No sign of the smoke plume we reported on from October 2, which was also visible on yesterday’s Terra and Aqua images.

So enjoy.  Click to get the larger version, formatted to be 16:9 so it makes a sweet background for most computer monitors…!

Smoke Plume on Gulf Coast Near Vermilion Bay, LA

A small plume of smoke appears on yesterday morning’s MODIS/Terra satellite image of the Gulf coast, not far from Vermilion Bay in Louisiana. It’s not a big plume, only about 16 miles long, and normally we wouldn’t note this except that a tiny diesel-oil spill (2 ounces!) was reported from a vessel at this same location back on September 27.

MODIS/Terra image taken October 2, 2011 showing small smoke plume coinciding with a recent report of a small diesel leak from a vessel. Unknown if these events are related.

The Terra image was taken at about 10:45 am local time.  The MODIS/Aqua image taken a few hours later at about 2pm shows the plume is much fainter but stretches about 80 miles out into the Gulf.  The fire seems to be cooler – the smoke plume isn’t as dense, and doesn’t throw an obvious shadow like it does on the Terra image.  We don’t know if this fire and the earlier report of a diesel leak from a vessel are related, but the spatial coincidence was too interesting to pass up.

If anyone knows more about this fire please write in a comment to this post, or contact us.

Nighttime Satellite Image – Gulf of Mexico, September 26, 2011

As part of our investigation into the report of a fire in the Gulf the night of September 25 (at 7:45 pm local time), we got a few recent low-resolution nighttime images taken by satellites of the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP). This one was taken at 8:12 pm on the 25th:

DMSP nighttime satellite image taken at 8:11 pm on September 25, 2011. DMSP image and data processing by NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center. DMSP data collected by the US Air Force Weather Agency.

It shows bright spots scattered throughout this part of the Gulf – no surprise given the number of platforms in the area, since many of the larger ones are lit up like mini-cities:

Detail from 9/25/11 DMSP image above. Louisiana shoreline shown in yellow.

There is a very faint pale spot near the location of the supposed fire; but that might be from the nearby Na Kika platform instead:

Detail from 9/25/11 DMSP image showing location of fire given in NRC report. Two of BP’s large and well lit deepwater platforms, Atlantis and Thunder Horse, are shown for reference. 

Here’s what the Thunder Horse platform looks like at night.  Yep, it is bright:

Thunder Horse platform at night. Image courtesy Oil Rig Photos.

Taylor Energy / 23051 Site – Yesterday’s Oil Slick

First – yesterday afternoon’s MODIS/Terra image was clear over the site of the reported fire in the Gulf of Mexico, and we don’t see any sign of a smoke plume like we did last summer when the Deepwater Horizon rig was burning. Possibilities: the report to the NRC was erroneous; the location in the report is not accurate; the fire was a short-lived event; the fire didn’t generate much smoke.  A drill rig flaring off large volumes of natural gas could create a brightly visible light at night, and wouldn’t make much smoke, so we think this is a strong possibility.  Flaring economic quantities of gas in the Gulf is illegal – Shell paid a $49 million fine in 2003 for violating that law.

MODIS/Aqua satellite image taken September 26, 2011.

Second – the MODIS/Aqua image above, a couple of hours later, doesn’t show anything around the location of the fire either. Scattered clouds obscure the view there. But it does show a slick that appears to emanate from our old nemesis, the former platform 23051 site that has been leaking since 2004.  The apparent slick is about 20 miles long and covers about 115 square kilometers. Assuming an average thickness of 1 micron (1/1000th of a millimeter), that’s 30,705 gallons of oil.  If this slick is at the lower limit of visible detection, 0.1 microns, it’s still 3,000 gallons – which is 3,000 times bigger than Taylor reported yesterday to the National Response Center just 30 minutes after this image was taken.

Detail from MODIS/Aqua image, September 26, 2011 showing apparent slick (delineated in yellow) emanating from 23051 site.

Fire Reported in Gulf of Mexico

This just caught our eye on the SkyTruth Alerts:  multiple aircraft flying over the Gulf late last night reported seeing a fire about 60 miles southeast of the tip of the Mississippi Delta, in deep water about 20 miles south-southeast of BP’s failed Macondo well. The source of the fire is unknown, and to our knowledge this has not yet been verified, but the location given in the NRC report puts this in Mississippi Canyon Block 519, where wells have recently been drilled by Noble Energy and tied back to the massive “Na Kika” platform located in Block 474 a few miles to the northwest. A few small spills of hydraulic fluid have been reported in the vicinity in the past week so we know there is current activity in the area.

The Na Kika cluster of offshore fields is among the deepest in the world, with water depths exceeding 6,500′ and wells reaching down more than 12,000′ beneath the seafloor. (Na Kika is the “octopus god” of Polynesian mythology.  Seems appropriate.)

BP is the operator of this development, with Shell a major partner.

Here is a map showing the reported location of the fire. Platforms are shown as orange dots; pipelines are orange lines; the Mississippi Delta is at upper left, and the Macondo well site is shown for reference:

Location of fire reported last night in Gulf of Mexico.

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