BP / Gulf Oil Spill – Tropical Storm Alex Makes a Drive-By

This GOES weather satellite image of the Gulf of Mexico shows Tropical Storm Alex at 6:45am Central time. Alex has just entered the southern Gulf after moving west across the Yucatan Peninsula:

GOES weather satellite image, June 28, 2010

Large bands of clouds containing strong thunderstorms are moving into the northern Gulf and affecting the area of the leaking Macondo oil well, raising the anxiety level surrounding the cleanup and response operation, but Alex is forecast to move steadily northwest, making landfall around the Texas-Mexico border:

NOAA forecast track for Tropical Storm Alex as of 10am CDT, June 28, 2010

Storm fans: see an animated loop of Alex’s progress.

BP / Gulf Oil Spill – Satellite Images Show Oil Impact From Gulfport to Destin

MODIS satellite images on June 25 and June 26 show oil slicks and sheen affecting beaches from Gulfport, Mississippi to Destin, Florida.

Oil slick and sheen cover 24,453 square miles on the June 25 image. Slicks appear to impacting beaches from Gulfport, Mississippi to Pensacola, Florida. Freshly upwelling oil is apparent at the site of the leaking Macondo well, and is moving west in the immediate vicinity of the well:

MODIS/Terra satellite image taken June 25, 2010

On June 26, a MODIS/Aqua satellite image shows oil slick and sheen covering 23,049 square miles, threatening beaches from Gulfport and Biloxi to Destin, Florida. To the west, the slick extends to Port Fourchon, Louisiana. Emerging oil is continuing to move west from the well site:

MODIS/Aqua satellite image taken the next day (June 26)

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.