The United States Government has been using many different tools, instruments, scientists and engineers to track the plume of the British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion from April 20 and the resulting oil spill entering the Gulf of Mexico.
The BP oil spill has been described as the worst environmental disaster in the USA to date and government agencies of all types have jumped in to action, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Photography from space has been very helpful in observing and tracking the plume of the BP oil spill. The photographs from space also help to predict the movement of the BP oil spill when studied along with ocean current and meteorological data.
Here are only five of the many photographs available to the public on NASA’s web page. These five have been selected to provide some insight into the type of photography cameras and instruments able to produce the photos with such accuracy.
Our tax money at work!
(1) Nine cameras offer a layering of nine different angles using the MISR (Multiangle Imaging Spectroradiometer) from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Terra spacecraft creating these two views of the wildlife habitat along the Louisiana coast.
The MISR web site explains , “No instrument like MISR has flown in space before. Viewing the sunlit Earth simultaneously at nine widely spaced angles, MISR provides ongoing global coverage with high spatial detail.”
The cameras set at nine different angles are invaluable for studying the particles and clouds in the atmosphere contributing to the climate distortions(global warming) the earth has been experiencing.
The sun reflects differently off different objects.
The nine angles of the cameras on the MISR record accurately measure “the brightness, contrast and color of reflected light.”
The MISR can also record important information about the earth surface such as the partitioning of energy and carbon, natural disasters, and manmade disasters allowing invaluable help in solving some very big problems.
The first photograph, on the left, has more natural colors and depicts the oil as silvery ribbons starting to invade the wetland, the wildlife habitat of Louisiana.
The second photo, which resembles more an infrared image, shows the oil in shades of red to light pink while the Mississippi River delta is a turquoise color.
(2) The second photograph is of two images taken on Saturday, June 19, from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite.
This image on the left looks more familiar because the colors are more like our natural world.
The level of detail is due to the “maximum spatial resolution” and the cooperative work of both the MODIS Rapid Response Team as well as the team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
The oil again looks like flat silvery ribbons of color. The leaking Deepwater Horizon well is denoted with a small white dot; the oil is drifting to the northeast of the BP oil rig site on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico’s water.
“The black smudge sitting north of the dot may be smoke from an oil burn,” reported the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
At this time captured gas and oil was being burned off the surface of the water as part of the emergency response.
(3) This interesting photo was taken on May 24 using the Advanced Sapceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER).
Here the oil is a silver color and the vegetation red as the oil from the BP oil spill reaches the mouth of the Mississippi River delta.
(4) Here is an unusual view of the Mississippi River, identifiable as a white thread of curves reaching to the north from the Mississippi River delta
This image was taken from the International Space Station (ISS) on May 4 by the astronaut, Soichi Noguchi, Expedition flight engineer of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
Part of the Louisiana coastline and the Mississippi River delta appear darker because the sun is reflecting directly back to the ISS.
This mirror-like reflection of the sun to the observer is called sunglint.
The sunglint improves the contrast between the water and the oil sitting on the water’s surface because they each have a different texture.
The oil is seen as a grey-silver plume reaching closer to the Mississippi delta at Louisiana’s coastline.
(5) This image was taken on April 21 of the BP oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico showing the smoke generated.
The image was taken from NASA’s Aqua satellite using the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS).
The tragic explosion had taken place only the day before.
The white dot denotes the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig.
The smoke from the explosion and burning oil lasted several days causing air quality problems due in particular to the Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs), Semi Volatile Organic Chemicals (SVOCs) and particulate matter.
The white clouds are over the Mississippi River delta with sediments around the delta appearing as a greenish-brown color.
Although to many these seem to be only strange photographs of the Louisiana coastline, in fact, much important and useful information has been helpful to the USA government’s environmental response team’s effort.