ECOGIG researchers observe and detect oil slicks in the Gulf of Mexico using SailDrone

ECOGIG researchers observe and detect oil slicks in the Gulf of Mexico using SailDrone
The SailDrone travels through the Gulf of Mexico. Photo courtesy of Dr. Ian MacDonald (ECOGIG).

June 11, 2015

On June 10th, 2015, ECOGIG-2 researchers conducted a coordinated series of observations at the GC600 study site and nearby sites with additional natural oil seepage.  The SailDrone, an autonomous marine data logger, was deployed from the RV Point Sur about 48 hours earlier.  A Radarsat-2 SAR image was obtained over the site at 7:30am central time on June 10th, and from approximately 9:30 to 11:30am, ECOGIG-2/Florida State University researcher Ian MacDonald and On Wings of Care pilot Bonny Schumaker flew over the site in a small plane collecting aerial images.  

Conditions in the Gulf of Mexico were very good for observing natural oil slicks because the wind was strong enough to cause ripples on the ocean surface.  When natural oil spreads on the surface, these ripples are suppressed and the water takes on a glass, “slick” appearance that makes the oil layers visible.  Their observations confirmed very extensive oil slicks under minimal wind conditions, while the SailDrone data showed very strong currents that were stretching the slicks out to unusual lengths.  

Additional oil slicks were observed at the GC787 site, where oily bubbles were seen arriving at the surface.  This site remains unexplored by ROVs but would be a good target for potential ECOGIG work in future.  Additional image acquisitions are planned while SailDrone continues its work in the Gulf.  

ECOGIG is Supported by

Our Partner Institutions