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09 Dec 2008: NASA Satellite Technology Can Monitor Natural Oil Seepage

Scientists are using NASA satellites to track natural oil slicks seeping to the surface of the world’s oceans, providing better leads on potential sources of greenhouse gas emissions as the slicks break up and release carbon dioxide. Such natural seepage accounts for almost half of the oil that enters the earth's oceans, according to a report in New Scientist. While typical satellite radar images enable scientists to monitor seepage spots every 8 to 16 days, new techniques of analyzing NASA's MODIS images can

Enlarge image
Oil slick

NASA / Chuanmin Hu
Oil slick on the
Gulf of Mexico
detect a broader spectrum of wavelengths, including the visual range, allowing a scan of the surface of the earth daily. That is particularly significant since the sheen of an oil slick can disintegrate within two days. One research team used MODIS to monitor the northwestern Gulf of Mexico, and the image of a naturally occurring slick can be seen, at left. Scientists say monitoring areas of persistent seabed oil seepage provides an opportunity to study the unique seafloor ecosystems that have evolved near seepage vents, potentially leading to the development of new ways to clean up man-made oil spills.


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