Oil Spill Off Spain

November 22, 2002


Provided by: Earth Observatory, NASA GSFC
Summary authors & editors: Earth Observatory; Jim Foster

The image above is from the Canadian satellite known as RADARSAT. Earlier this week, on Tuesday November 19, an oil tanker split open off the coast of northwestern Spain, spewing millions of gallons of oil into the sea and on the beaches of Spain and Portugal. The tanker was carrying more than 20 million gallons of oil, but it's not known just how much emptied into the sea and how much remains in the ship. It's likely that this spill is much more serious than the spill from the Exxon Valdez tanker in 1989. On the above image, black areas indicate the location of the oil slick. Smooth surfaces appear dark and rough surfaces are bright. Radar waves bounce off the smooth surface, like a mirror reflection, and away from the satellite instrument. The surface of the cleaner water is rougher (waves are also more pronounced), so more of the radar energy is scattered back towards the sensor. The Spanish coast is shown in color with Landsat data - the coastal city of La Coruña is located on the point of land just above the 3-mile mark overlay.

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