NASA Images Contaminated Louisiana Coastlines

The American space agency NASA has just published new satellite images of the disaster currently taking place in the Gulf of Mexico. The photographs were collected on May 24 by the Terra Earth-observation satellite, which used its Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument for the job. The datasets reveal the extent of the contamination that the Deepwater Horizon oil slick caused on the coasts of Louisiana. The accident took place about 50 miles from the state shores, which helps explain why the area was so severely affected. The grip the crude slick has on the wildlife habitats in Louisiana is also apparent in the new images, ScienceDaily reports.

This particular photo covers an area of 110 by 119 kilometers (68 by 74 miles), with the source of the spill, the site where the semi-submersible drilling ring sunk, located in the bottom right corner. The oil can be clearly seen encroaching towards the eastern sections of the Mississippi River delta, which is an extremely sensitive area. Numerous species have made a home in this ecosystem, which provides unique breeding and nesting conditions for numerous species of endangered fish and birds. The true extent of the oil contamination will most likely not be visible now, but in the long-run, experts fear.

The Deepwater Horizon semi-submersible drilling rig, which operated south of the coasts of Louisiana, suffered a large explosion on April 20. Eleven crew members are assumed dead, and all rescue efforts aimed at finding them have long since been called off. On April 22, the rig sunk into the waters of the Gulf, in spite of the fact that emergency response ships were on-site, evacuating workers, and pouring water on the platform. With the collapse of the Horizon, the pipes that carried the oil from a depth of 5,000 feet (1,500 meters), broke.

The valves designed to stop the oil flow in such an instance malfunctioned, and between 12,000 and 19,000 barrels of crude have been spilling in the water daily ever since. Actual amount may be a lot larger than this, experts warn, which means that the damage may be considerably larger than initially estimated. Given the size of the slick, some hypothesize that the oil may have moved from the site in underwater plumes, which are extremely difficult to detect, even with sensitive Earth-observing satellites. NOAA has closed tens of thousands of square miles of Gulf water to fishing already, and is working with the FDA to assess the situation.

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