BP / Gulf Oil Spill – FSU Research Cruise This Week

Dr. Oscar Garcia-Pineda of Florida State University has been out in the Gulf this week on the research vessel Brooks McCall. He’s collecting samples and observations of the BP oil slick, and will compare results with simultaneous acquisitions of aerial remote sensing overflights being conducted by NASA. We at SkyTruth are also collecting near-simultaneous satellite imagery to assist this effort. We hope to get a better understanding of how well aerial and satellite remote sensing are detecting oil at (or near) the surface.

Oscar sent us a stunning series of photographs taken on June 22 near “Ground Zero” in the Gulf, the site of the leaking Macondo well, showing the cluster of response vessels there, and the collection and burning of oil. You can see them all in SkyTruth’s Deepwater Horizon Blowout gallery (look for the photos with “FSU Sampling Cruise” in the title). Here are a few:

Natural gas and oil being flared off the Q4000 semisubmersible drillship. This oil and gas is part of the flow being collected from the leaking Macondo well on the seafloor at the blowout preventer, and diverted up to vessels at the surface. Photo courtesy Dr. Oscar Garcia-Pineda.


Oil being “corraled” at the surface with fireproof boom, then ignited. Photo courtesy Dr. Oscar Garcia-Pineda.


Multiple smoke plumes from surface oil-burning operations. Photo courtesy Dr. Oscar Garcia-Pineda.


Oil slick near the site of the leaking Macondo well. Photo courtesy Dr. Oscar Garcia-Pineda.

BP / Gulf Oil Spill – Radar Images June 22-23

We superimposed three CSK radar satellite images (black-and-white) on a cloudy MODIS satellite image (color) taken about 1:00 pm on June 22, 2010. The long strip of CSK radar on the left was acquired at 12:08 UTC (7:08 am local time) on June 23; the two smaller images on the right were taken at 4:44 pm and 7:32 pm local time on June 22:

Three CSK radar satellite images (black-and-white) taken June 22 and 23, 2010. CSK data courtesy of CSTARS.

Areas of strong gusty wind appear as large bright patches on these radar images, especially in the east and along the Florida panhandle. Strong isolated thunderstorms, mostly on the June 23 image to the west, create circular “footprints” on the ocean surface caused by strong radial winds. Small bright patches associated with these storms are not clouds, but are high-altitude layers of hail or large water droplets in these storm cells that reflect radar energy.

Weather data buoys in the vicinity (stations 42040 and 42012) recorded wind speeds of 6-8 meters/second (13-18 miles/hr) when these images were acquired, strong enough to break up areas of thin oil sheen and possibly render them undetectable. We infer that the dark areas enclosed within the orange line are thicker patches of oil slick.

BP / Gulf Oil Spill – Any Backup Containment Devices Ready?

We’ve got a couple of questions for BP and Coast Guard, given yesterday’s troubling incident with the LMRP and the significantly increased flow from the well ever since they cut off the damaged riser pipe:

  • If the LMRP should break down, gunk up, or otherwise fail, is there a backup LMRP ready and waiting to be immediately deployed?
  • If the well casing fails beneath the seafloor – it’s been under a steady high-pressure, high-temperature sandblasting since April 20, and the BOP is reportedly leaning slightly to one side – much of the leaking oil would likely bypass the BOP entirely, possibly raising the flow rate to BP’s worst-case scenario estimate of 100,000 barrels per day. In that event, we’d need to immediately deploy a large containment device similar to the “dome” that was initally tried and quickly failed. Something we can lower over the entire BOP and onto the seafloor surrounding the well. Has such a device been designed and built, in case it’s needed? If not, why not? It’s imprudent to just hope the casing will hang on until a relief well is successful, and it could take weeks to build and test a backup containment device. Let’s get to work on that ASAP if we haven’t already.

Unless we’re willing to risk weeks of uncontrolled flow at 2.5-4.2 million gallons per day.

BP / Gulf Oil Spill – ASAR Image June 21, 2010 – The Power of Radar

Here’s a great example of why radar is the go-to tool for mapping and monitoring oil pollution (and why I think the US needs to launch a civilian radar imaging satellite). The MODIS/Aqua satellite image taken early yesterday afternoon is mostly obscured by heavy clouds over the area of the ongoing BP spill. But an Envisat/ASAR radar image taken late on the previous day clearly shows oil slicks and sheen spread across an area of 26,053 square miles.

Now you don’t see it:

MODIS/Aqua satellite image taken around 1:00pm on June 22, 2010

And now you do:

Envisat/ASAR radar satellite image (black-and-white inset) taken at 10:48pm the previous day (June 21). Color backdrop is June 22 MODIS/Aqua image. ASAR data courtesy of CSTARS.

Bad news todayan ROV bumped into the LMRP containment cap that had recently been diverting about 700,000 gallons of oil a day from the leaking well to vessels at the surface. The LMRP has been removed for repair and, as of right now, oil is gushing unchecked from the Macondo well, possibly at a rate as high as 2.5 million gallons (60,000 barrels) per day. See the spill cam video here.

BP / Gulf Oil Spill – MODIS Images, June 18 and 19

MODIS Terra and Aqua images on June 18 and June 19 have some cloud-cover problems but still show oil slick and sheen spanning areas of 11,278 square miles and 18,473 square miles respectively, with oil apaprently coming ashore from Gulf Shores, Alabama to points as far east as Seacrest and Rosemary Beach, Florida. Oil is also apparent in Pensacola Bay on the 18th:

MODIS/Terra satellite image, June 18, 2010

Strong thunderstorms form large, dense masses of bright white cloud in this image — one area of cloud obscures the location of the leaking Macondo well, source of the ongoing BP / Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Oil slicks and sheen viewed through breaks in the cloud cover at least 11,278 square miles (29,210 km2). Oil appears to be making landfall along the beaches of Perdido Key, Alabama, and east along the coast to Destin, Florida. Oil slicks also seem to occur within Pensacola Bay itself. Compare with the MODIS/Aqua image taken the next day, on June 19:

MODIS/Aqua satellite image, June 19, 2010

Not as many thunderstorms and cloudy patches on this image, revealing the continuing upwelling of fresh oil around the location of BP’s leaking well. Slicks and sheen span 18,473 square miles (47,847 km2) on this image. Thin patches appear to be making landfall from Gulf Shores, Alabama to Perdido Key in Florida, and from Grayton Beach State Park to the Seacrest / Rosemary Beach area along the Florida coast.