Initial Publication Date: February 20, 2013

Oil Spills

Compiled by John McDaris of SERC.

Oil spills cause enormous amounts of damage to ocean and coastal ecosystems and the human populations that depend on them for subsistence, employment, and commerce. These resources speak to the effects of oil spills and aid educators in teaching about these catastrophic events.

Browse the complete set of Visualization Collections. If you have comments or additional resources to add to the page, use our Feedback box to let us know.

Jump down to: Teaching Activities and Materials | References

Visualizations, Videos, and Information Jump down to: Exxon Valdez| General Models and Software

Deep Water Horizon - April, 2010

Gulf of Mexico Oil Slick Images from NASA Earth Observatory
Gulf of Mexico Oil Slick Images: Frequently Asked Questions (more info) : This page, from NASA's Earth Observatory, provides guidance for interpreting imagery of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, such as understanding the effects of strong sunlight and differentiating oil from other variations on the ocean's surface.

Ocean currents likely to carry oil to Atlantic
Ocean currents likely to carry oil to Atlantic : A detailed computer modeling study indicates that oil from the massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico might soon extend along thousands of miles of the Atlantic coast and open ocean as early as this summer. The modeling results are captured in a series of dramatic animations produced by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and collaborators.

Oil Spill Volume Compared to San Francisco Victorian
Oil Spill Volume Compared to San Francisco Victorian : This YouTube video helps put into perspective how much 5000 barrels of oil is by building up from a single gallon in increments that are easily compared to each other and to the human figure in the image for scale. 5000 barrels was the original working estimate of how much oil was entering the Gulf of Mexico per day from the Deep Water Horizon wreckage. As of May 14, 2010, the estimates had been raised to 60,000 barrels per day. Using the same analogy in the video, this would be six Victorian row homes of volume per day.

How big is the Deep Water Horizon Spill
[How big is the Deep Water Horizon Spill] One of the Google Maps engineers designed an image of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that you can move over any city to give you an idea of how large an area the spill is covering. It is a very effective way of putting the size of the spill in terms that people can identify with. The oil spill imagery is being updated periodically as the spill continues. The Google Earth plugin is required to view this visualization but a link is provided on the page.

US Oil Spill Explained
US Oil Spill Explained : This video from Al Jazeera English presents a schematic of what happened in the oil rig fire and collapse as well as some of the ideas for containing the flow of oil from the wreckage.

Explosion, Leak at Gulf of Mexico Oil Well
Explosion, Leak at Gulf of Mexico Oil Well : This NASA Earth Observatory page presents a photo gallery of images of the Deep Water Horizon rig fire and oil spill. The images were taken from orbit and show the progression of the oil spill over the weeks since the initial explosion.

Oil spill growing in the Gulf
Oil spill growing in the Gulf : This interactive flash animation from USA Today allows users to track the extent of the oil spill along with satellite overlays and the locations of protective booms and other oil rigs and pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico.

Mapping Oil From Space: A Tricky Task for NASA : This brief news story from NPR discusses how NASA uses remote sensing to detect the extent of oil slicks on the ocean, using the specific example of the Deep Water Horizon slick. There is a link to the full report from the NASA Earth Observatory site.

Exxon Valdez - March, 1989

Map of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
Map of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill: This page from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council shows the extent of the oil spill and includes a PowerPoint presentation of a NOAA Hazmat Trajectory Model of the spill as well.

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Photos
Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Photos: NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration has a collection of photos from the 1989 oil spill.

  • Summary Points: 10 Years of Intertidal Monitoring After the Exxon Valdez Spill: This page is the first in a series exploring research that NOAA has conducted to discover the long-term effects of the Exxon Valdez spill. The links at the bottom of the page lead on to additional resources.

General Models and Software

General NOAA Operational Modeling Environment (GNOME)
General NOAA Operational Modeling Environment (GNOME) : GNOME is the oil spill trajectory model used by NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration Emergency Response Division (ERD) responders during an oil spill. The program takes user input of information about a spill, along with a Location File containing prepackaged tide and current data for the region of interest (also available via this page), and generates an oil spill "movie" showing the predicted trajectory of the oil.

Living Ocean's Society: Oil Spill Model (more info) : This interactive flash model from the Living Ocean Society allows users to the explore hypothetical oil spills in the Hecate Straight off the northwest coast of Canada. The several scenarios include oil rig spills, spills from oil tankers, as well as accidents involving other vessels. Users can see how the seasonal winds and tides affect which areas are affected by a particular spill.

What Happens When an Oil Spill Occurs?
What Happens When an Oil Spill Occurs? ( This site may be offline. ) : This online investigation from Exploring Earth allows students to explore the effects oil spills have on coastlines as well as how wind and waves help determine what areas of coastline are affected by a spill.

Teaching Activities and Materials

Oil Spill Visualization References

Yu Feng, Yin Yong; "A Method of Oil Spill 3D-Visualization in Jiaozhou Bay," Intelligent Information Technology Application, 2008. IITA '08. Second International Symposium on , vol.2, no., pp.498-502, 20-22 Dec. 2008
doi: 10.1109/IITA.2008.159

Ren Hongxiang, Jin Yicheng, "3D Real-Time Visualization of Oil Spill on Sea ," cw, pp.487-492, 2008 International Conference on Cyberworlds, 2008

Hu, C., F. E. Müller-Karger, C. (J.) Taylor, D. Myhre, B. Murch, A. L. Odriozola, and G. Godoy (2003), MODIS Detects Oil Spills in Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela, Eos Trans. AGU, 84(33), doi:10.1029/2003EO330002.

Charles H. Peterson, Stanley D. Rice, Jeffrey W. Short, Daniel Esler, James L.Bodkin, Brenda E. Ballachey, and David B. Irons (2003). Long-Term Ecosystem Response to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill , Science, December 19; 302: 2082-2086.

Feng Yu and Yong Yin. 2008. Oil spill visualization based on the numeric simulation of tidal current . In Proceedings of The 7th ACM SIGGRAPH International Conference on Virtual-Reality Continuum and Its Applications in Industry (VRCAI '08). ACM, New York, NY, USA, , Article 28 , 5 pages. DOI=10.1145/1477862.1477899