From their perch hundreds of miles in the air satellites provide an invaluable view of our Earth, most often associated with weather and disasters. With the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon well and the subsequent oil spill, these space faring tools are now tasked with monitoring the oil as it hits the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Satellites from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA began tracking the oil slick soon after the April 20th rig explosion. Since then, they have watched from above as the slick approaches Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta threatening an ecological disaster greater than the Exxon Valdez.
In 2005, NASA and NOAA satellites focused on Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. Today, once again, they focus on the same area but for a different kind of disaster.
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The satellite imagery provided by the services is crucial to government agencies planning their response to the spill and its clean up. The satellite imagery can provide near real time position information of the slick as it approaches the Gulf Coast ensuring resources are deployed as necessary.
As the slick continues to threaten the Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida coasts in the immediate future, the satellites will continue to train their eyes in the sky on the area.
A change in wind patterns now threatens to shift the oil to the southwest toward the Florida Keys. While unlikely, if it does so and the oil enters the Gulf Stream, there is a threat the oil could impact the United States East Coast.