NASA Flights Orbiting South Coast to Test Oil Spill Response
By edhat staff
NASA-NOAA technology is currently being tested on the South Coast to test marine oil spill responses.
An edhat reader reported a NASA Gulfstream aircraft out of Palmdale had been orbiting the southern area of Santa Barbara County for several hours on Wednesday, and on previous days.
This past December, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory stated that, along with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists, the groups will test remote sensing technology for use in oil spill response.
Locals are well aware that just off the Santa Barbara Coast thousands of gallons of oil seep through cracks in the seafloor and rise to the surface. It's a reason many of us keep baby oil nearby to scrape the tar off our feet following a beach walk. It’s one of the largest naturally occurring oil seeps in the world and is believed to have been active for thousands of years.
Scientists feel the reliability of the seeps make our area an important natural laboratory for scientists, including those with the Marine Oil Spill Thickness (MOST) project, a collaboration between NASA and NOAA to generate operational automated oil spill detection, oil extent geospatial mapping analytics, and oil thickness characterization applications.
With NOAA being the lead federal agency for detecting and tracking coastal oil spills, MOST is working to develop a way to use remote sensing data to determine where oil is and where the thickest parts are, one of the critical missing pieces to direct response and remediation activities.
“We’re using a radar instrument called UAVSAR to characterize the thickness of the oil within an oil slick,” said Cathleen Jones, MOST co-investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “This thicker oil stays in the environment longer and damages marine life more than thin oil. And if you know where it is, you can direct responders to those problematic areas.”
UAVSAR, or Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar, attaches to the fuselage of an airplane that collects a roughly 12-mile-wide image of an area. It sends radar pulses to the surface of the ocean, and the signals used to detect roughness, caused by waves. When oil is present, it creates areas of smoother water. To validate the images, scientists have to travel to the same area by boat and measure the oil thickness by hand.
Read the full press release from December 2021 here.