Oil Spill Detection and Mapping in Low Visibility and Ice

At a Glance

Accurate oil-slick detection and mapping are particularly important for Arctic spills, as oil may be hidden from view under snow and ice during periods of almost total darkness. Conversely, close to 24 hours of daylight in the spring and summer months can in fact help to facilitate the remote sensing and monitoring of spilled oil during breakup and open-water periods.  However, fog and low cloud ceilings remain serious impediments, even during summer months.

During freeze- up and through much of the winter, long periods of darkness and numerous variables involving oil type and ice coverage all add to the challenges of detecting, mapping and tracking oil in ice.

In August 2012, a phase one assessment and evaluation of existing and emerging technologies was performed that includes an evaluation of further research and development needs, logistical support requirements, and operational considerations including testing opportunities. The project was completed in September 2013 and both final reports are available on the JIP website

5.1 Report on Oil Spill Detection and Mapping in Low Visibility and Ice: Surface Remote Sensing (pdf)
5.2 Report on Oil Spill Detection and Mapping in Low Visibility and Ice: Under-Sea Remote Sensing (pdf)

Based on this assessment, a test program was developed to identify and qualify the most promising sensors and platforms capable of determining the presence of oil on, in, and under ice and mapping its extent.

Phase two experiments were initiated on 3rd November 2014 at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL), Hanover, New Hampshire, USA. The Prince William Sound Oil Spill Recovery Institute is the phase two contractor. The CRREL test program is the first time that an array of above surface and subsea sensors have been deployed under controlled conditions, and simultaneous multi-sensor data collected from initial growth of sea ice through to its melt.

View footage and interviews from the remote sensing experiments which took place at the US Army Corps of Engineers-Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) between November 2014 and March 2015:

Remote Sensing at a Glance

  • The detection and tracking of oil is essential for determining the location, transport and behavior of a spill.
  • Detecting and confirming where a spill is located, either through remote sensing or direct observation, plays a critical role in guiding response efforts.
  • Arctic spill response capability should be flexible, and employ as many tools and technologies as possible.