Consequences of Modern Energy Use: A Remote Sensing Analysis of the Gulf Oil Spill using ArcGIS Software

Jared Beeton
Adams State College
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Students download satellite imagery and conduct a remote sensing analysis of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill using ArcGIS software.

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This computer lab activity is designed for an introductory-level Environmental Science or Physical Geography course.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

This activity requires that students have a good working knowledge of computer applications.

How the activity is situated in the course

In Physical Geography, this activity could be used as a laboratory section after discussions on remote sensing and GIS applications. In Introduction to Environmental Science, the laboratory activity will fit in well after discussions on traditional and renewable energy sources.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Students will be introduced to (1) concepts of remote sensing analysis, (2) the use of ArcGIS software, and (3)analysis of spatial and temporal patterns.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Critical evaluation of spatial patterns in satellite imagery; synthesis of ideas connecting energy use to geographic concepts such as wind patterns and ocean currents.

Other skills goals for this activity

Use of ArcGIS software; recovery of usable satellite imagery and spatial data from the web.

Description of the activity/assignment

This laboratory activity takes place in a computer lab that is equipped with ArcGIS (we are currently using ArcGIS 9.3). Students will go to NASA's oil spill gallery website and download the full size image of the Deepwater Horizon oil slick from July 14th, 2010 taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Aqua satellite at 1:55 p.m. Central Daylight Time. Their task is to to analyze the satellite imagery as an RGB composite and to experiment with reclassification techniques to subdivide the continuous raster dataset into user-defined numbers of ranges that will help visualize the oil spill. The activity introduces students to GIS software, remote sensing analysis, and sets up questions on spatial patterns and consequences of energy use.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students will answer short questions designed to help them understand concepts as they proceed through an worksheet. After completing the activity, a few open-ended questions challenge students to synthesize ideas on the use of GIS and remote sensing, and the consequences of modern energy use.

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