During any marine oil spill, floating oil slicks that reach shorelines threaten a wide array of coastal habitats. To assess the presence of oil near shorelines during the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill, we scanned the library of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery collected during the event to determine which images intersected shorelines and appeared to contain oil. In total, 715 SAR images taken during the DWH spill were analyzed and processed, with 188 of the images clearly showing oil. Of these, 156 SAR images showed oil within 10 km of the shoreline with appropriate weather conditions for the detection of oil on SAR data. We found detectable oil in SAR images within 10 km of the shoreline from west Louisiana to west Florida, including near beaches, marshes, and islands. The high number of SAR images collected in Barataria Bay, Louisiana in 2010 allowed for the creation of a nearshore oiling persistence map. This analysis shows that, in some areas inside Barataria Bay, floating oil was detected on as many as 29 different days in 2010. The nearshore areas with persistent floating oil corresponded well with areas where ground survey crews discovered heavy shoreline oiling. We conclude that satellite-based SAR imagery can detect oil slicks near shorelines, even in sheltered areas. These data can help assess potential shoreline oil exposure without requiring boats or aircraft. This method can be particularly helpful when shoreline assessment crews are hampered by difficult access or, in the case of DWH, a particularly large spatial and temporal spill extent.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited