NASA uses new radar to research oil spills

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Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., developed a method to use a specialized NASA 3-D imaging radar to characterize the oil in oil spills, such as the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The research can be used to improve response operations during future marine oil spills, according to a report from the JPL at www.spaceref.com.

Caltech graduate student Brent Minchew and JPL researchers Cathleen Jones and Ben Holt analyzed NASA radar imagery collected over the main slick of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill on June 22 and June 23, 2010. The data were acquired by the JPL-developed Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar during the first of three deployments over the spill area between June 2010 and July 2012.

The UAVSAR was carried in a pod mounted beneath a NASA C-20A piloted aircraft, a version of the Gulfstream III business jet, based at NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. The researchers demonstrated for the first time that a radar system such as UAVSAR can be used to characterize the oil within a slick, distinguishing very thin films such as oil sheen from more damaging thick oil emulsions.

“Our research demonstrates the tremendous potential of UAVSAR to automate the classification of oil in a slick and mitigate the effects of future oil spill tragedies,” Jones said. “Such information can help spill incidence response commanders direct cleanup operations, such as the mechanical recovery of oil, to the areas of thick oil that would have the most damaging environmental impacts.”

Click here for the full report.

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