Oil colors the surface of the Gulf of Mexico in this detailed satellite image, acquired by the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra satellite on May 1, 2010. The false-color image is made from both visible and infrared light, but the slick looks similar to its appearance in natural-color images made solely from visible light. The most concentrated areas of oil are silver with slightly lighter concentrations radiating out in streaks of white. The water is black, though even the dark water is tainted with white, hinting at oil on the water’s surface throughout the image.
Tiny flecks on the wave-ruffled surface are ships, which are probably trying to contain the oil. The oil was coming from a damaged pipe in an oil well on the sea floor, about 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) below the surface. As of May 2, the well continued to leak oil into the Gulf at a rate of 210,000 gallons (795,000 liters) per day, said the Office and Response and Restoration at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The leak started on April 20 after an explosion at an offshore drilling rig.
By May 2, the oil had started to wash ashore on the Mississippi Delta, and NOAA had restricted fishing in affected waters between the Mississippi Delta and Pensacola Bay. The image shows the densest part of the spill, near the leaking oil well.
NASA Earth Observatory image created by Jesse Allen, using data provided courtesy of NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team. Caption by Holli Riebeek.