An advanced optical sensor built by the Jet Propulsion Lab is flying aboard a NASA research aircraft to help monitor the spread and impact of the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico via remote sensing. The Earth Resources-2 (ER-2) is outfitted with JPL’s Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS) and the Cirrus Digital Camera System and can collect detailed images of the Gulf of Mexico and its threatened coastal wetlands. NASA is also making extra satellite observations and conducting additional data processing to assist in monitoring the spill.
Researchers will also measure changes in vegetation along the coastline and assess where and how oil may be affecting marshes, swamps, bayous, and beaches that are difficult to survey on the ground. The combination of satellite and airborne imagery will assist NOAA in forecasting the trajectory of the oil and in documenting changes in the ecosystem.
Another NASA research aircraft, the King Air B-200 completed its first flight over the spill on May 10. On board was the High Spectral Resolution Lidar which uses pulses of laser light to locate and identify particles in the environment, and can measure the thickness of the oil spill below the surface of the water and evaluate the impacts of dispersants used to break up the oil.