NASA helps oil spill response with remote-sensing assets

By Phaedra Friend Troy

In an effort to better understand the spreading oil in the Gulf of Mexico, NASA has rallied its remote-sensing assets.

At the request of US disaster response agencies, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has joined in the federal oil spill response effort. Providing its remote-sensing assets, NASA is helping to asses the spread and impact of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

NASA’s instrumented research aircraft Earth Resources-2 (ER-2) was deployed to the Gulf of Mexico on May 6 in an effort to track the spread of the oil spill. The ER-2 was equipped with Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS) and the Cirrus Digital Camera System to acquire comprehensive images of the Gulf of Mexico and its shoreline.

A second flight was conducted on May 10, and more ER-2 flights are planned.

Furthermore, NASA is making extra satellite observations and providing more data processing to assist NOAA, the USGS and the Department of Homeland Security in examining the oil spill.

"NASA has been asked to help with the first response to the spill, providing imagery and data that can detect the presence, extent, and concentration of oil," said Michael Goodman, program manager for natural disasters in the Earth Science Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "We also have longer-term work we have started in the basic research of oil in the ocean and its impacts on sensitive coastal ecosystems."

Since the beginning of the spill, NASA has been providing satellite images of the Gulf of Mexico.

"Although NASA's primary expertise is in using remote-sensing instruments to conduct basic research on the entire Earth system, our observations can be used for societal benefit in response to natural and technological disasters like this oil spill," Goodman added.

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