Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Mapping

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The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig and subsequent spewing of millions of gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico is creating an environmental disaster of epic proportions.  There are many mapping resources out there helping to map out the extent of the spill and to predict its trajectory and impact in the area.

NASA has put together an informative page on the challenges of capturing imagery of the Gulf of Mexico oil slick and why new images aren’t posted each day.  Terra and Aqua satellites are the only two NASA satellites that can provide pictures in near real-time.

But unlike weather satellites that look at the same region on Earth 24 hours a day, Terra and Aqua generally only get one daylight view each of the Gulf of Mexico. Terra’s view is shortly before noon each day, and Aqua’s is shortly after. The view may be cloudy or hazy, and if the oil slick location is near the edge of the image, it will be blurry.

A combination of factors: cloud cover, sunglint, and the calmness of the ocean affect the ability of either satellite to capture usable imagery of the oil slick.

Read more: Gulf of Mexico Oil Slick Images: Frequently Asked Questions

Satellite image of the Deepwater Horizon oil spell from 2010.
By April 25, 2010 (top), a spreading oil slick was visible off the coast of Louisiana. On the morning of the 26th (bottom), the slick appeared to disappear, but this was due to changes in lighting conditions, not the absence of oil. (NASA images courtesy MODIS Rapid Response Team.)

Comparing the Gulf oil spill to other historic spills
The Google Earth Blog has a KML file created by GEB reader ‘David’ that provides a lot of detail about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and provides comparisons to 70 other historic oil spills.

How big is the Deepwater Horizon oil spill?
Paul Rademacher, Google Maps Engineering Manager, created a page that uses the Google Earth plugin for browsers to allow visitors to compare the extent of the spill to any location they choose.  Type in any city and the map will pan to the area and overlay a polygon of the current oil spill extent.

ESA Oil Spill Monitoring
The European Space Agency has been monitoring and releasing satellite imagery of the oil spill with Envisat, the largest Earth Observation spacecraft ever built.

ESRI’s Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Map
ESRI is consolidating links, imagery, and videos on their Oil Spill Map.  Users are invited to add current information to the map relating to the oil spill.  

ROFFS Deepwater Horizon Rig oil spill monitoring
An ocean fishing forecasting service, ROFFS has a series of maps showing the extent of the spill and ocean currents on their site.

Oil Spill Maps Roundups
Jonathan Crowe has compiled an extensive list of oil spill related maps and news articles.  Google Maps Mania also has a list.


Computer visualization of the spread of the Deepwater Horizon Spill with shades of deep red to dark yellow.
ROFFS™ Oceanographic Analysis showing effects of Deepwater Horizon oil spill – 13 MAY2010


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