ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — U.S. scientists say they have discovered they can use satellite images to detect oil seeping from oil fields beneath the seafloor of the Gulf of Mexico. Chuanmin Hu, an optical oceanographer at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg, and colleagues from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth said they have found they can detect oil seeping naturally from the seafloor by examining satellite images of streaks amid “sun glint” — the reflected sunlight on the ocean’s surface.
The researchers said oil decreases the roughness of the ocean surface. Depending on the angles of the satellite camera and of the light reflection, oil creates contrasting swaths that can show up in the images as either lighter or darker than the surrounding waters.
Hu said the new technique can provide more timely and cost-effective means to survey the ocean for oil seeps, to monitor oil slicks and to differentiate human-induced spills from seeps.