In April 2010, an explosion at an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico unleashed a spill noted by the Smithsonian Institution’s OceanPortal as the worst in U.S. history. Located more than 5,000 feet beneath the surface, the damaged well leaked an estimated 3.19 million barrels, or roughly 130 million gallons, of oil into the Gulf in the 87 days until it was capped.
Apart from significant damage to impacted ecosystems including seabird, fish, turtle, dolphin and coral populations, as well as more than 1,000 miles of shoreline, communities and economies were similarly affected.
In the wake of such a massive crisis, every second counted. Emergency responders needed to effectively deploy precious resources to minimize damage as much as possible. As with so many things, technology has advanced to become valuable eyes, ears and brains to augment on-site staff.
Textron Systems Geospatial Solutions demonstrated a software-based solution using remote sensing data and automated feature extraction to:
- Track the oil’s movement
- Identify communities at risk
- Deliver that data to emergency managers to better coordinate cleanup efforts
- All with faster cycle time than the most common methodologies
GRAND ISLE IN PORT FURCHON, LOUISIANA
According to Louisiana Travel, this small coastal area is a tourist destination, with stunning marshlands that connect mainland Louisiana to the state’s only inhabited barrier island. The site notes 280 species of fish in the area, making the water a major source of employment for local residents. During the immediate crisis, this small town and its extensive wildlife were in the bullseye of the spill, impacting the local fishing, crabbing and oyster industries, tourism and the local economy for years according to WGNO.
GEOSPATIAL DATA FOR REAL-TIME INSIGHT
Several sources of sensor data were available, including weather forecasting, marine conditions and Google Earth™. Geospatial technology can manage massive quantities of data efficiently, allowing large-scale visualization and datadriven trend information – all in near real-time. For this exercise, Textron Systems Geospatial Solutions utilized its complete suite to assess the situation in Port Furchon:
- Query data holdings with GeoCatalog™
- Create a comprehensive situational view with Virtual Mosaic™
- Connect to ArcGIS® and synchronize viewers using RVConnect™
- Extract the information of interest on the spill using Feature Analyst™, and compute the area for the oil spill’s shape file
- Synchronize with Google Earth to obtain real-time place and weather information
The company’s analysts then identified and prioritized areas at risk.
The software-driven solution implemented by Textron Systems Geospatial Solutions analysts used remote sensor data to:
- Compute extent and heading of oil slick
- Identify communities and total population at risk
- Identify environmentally sensitive areas
- Compute number of acres at risk
- Compute length of shoreline at immediate risk
- Prioritize and mark areas needing immediate response
- Compile and publish a final report for emergency managers
In this case, authorities were alerted that more than 1,000 acres – and 26 miles/13.9 kilometers of shoreline – were at risk based on the extent and heading of the oil slick, including not just the Port Furchon and Grand Isle communities but also wildlife habitats such as Timbalier Bay, Caminada Bay, East Timbalier National Wildlife Refuge and Grand Isle State Park. The entire workflow that yielded all of these results took just 1.5 hours.
This approach, driven by geospatial data interpreted by skilled analysts, is applicable not only to oil spills, but also wildfire, weather disasters, and other emergencies with similar imperatives:
- Widespread area of interest
- Need for targeted, triaged response
- Array of impacts to be ascertained, i.e., measuring area, assessing terrain
Geospatial technologies deliver nearreal-time, actionable information to emergency managers for resource management when every second counts.
Gulf Oil Spill, Smithsonian Institution’s OceanPortal
Journey to Grand Isle, Louisiana Travel
Geospatial Solutions, Textron Systems
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