--> --> Abstract: Overview of Deepwater Horizon Surface Oil Motion Based on Satellite Imagery, by Nan D. Walker, Chet Pillley, Vandana Raghunathan, Hans Graber, and Raymond Turner; #90124 (2011)

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Making the Next Giant Leap in Geosciences
April 10-13, 2011, Houston, Texas, USA

Overview of Deepwater Horizon Surface Oil Motion Based on Satellite Imagery

Nan D. Walker1; Chet Pillley2; Vandana Raghunathan3; Hans Graber4; Raymond Turner5

(1) Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA.

(2) Earth Scan Laboratory, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA.

(3) Oceanography and Coastal sciences, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA.

(4) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Miami, Miami, FL.

(5) Center for SE Tropical Advanced Remote Sensing, University of Miami, Miami, FL.

During the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, satellite sensors were used extensively to track its spread in the Gulf of Mexico. Although Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data is advantageous for this purpose, the MODIS visible-bands also proved useful, as the oil was highly reflective in the sunglint region of the image. Surface oil motion was driven by winds and deep-water currents. The surface oil was first clearly observed on April 25 when its area was estimated at 1219 km2. Area of coverage grew rapidly to 3071 km2 by April 29, and 9623 km2 by May 11. Initial landfall occurred at the Mississippi River bird-foot delta on April 29. In mid-May a large portion of the oil was entrained southeastward in a jet-like flow (2 m/s) towards the Loop Current due to interaction of a cold core cyclone and a warm core anticyclone. This entrainment event hastened the spread of surface oil with an estimated 33,000 km2 of spatial coverage by May 18. The maximum observed areal extent of surface oil on the shelf (27,000 km2) occurred on June 27 along the Mississippi/ Alabama/Florida coastline after a prolonged period of strong south and southwest wind. Subsequently, easterly winds rapidly drove the surface oil towards the Louisiana coast where some entered Lake Pontchartrain in late June and early July. Oiling west of the bird-foot delta occurred many times but only under conditions of easterly winds. The image archives will be useful for documenting exposure of coastal bays and beaches to oiling.