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Space Station Crew Documents Oil Spill
ISS024-E-009404 -- Gulf of Mexico oil spill

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill was photographed from the International Space Station on July 23, 2010 as part of ongoing observations of the region. Credit: NASA

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This photo taken from the International Space Station on July 23, 2010, shows the Gulf of Mexico oil spill as part of ongoing observations of the region.

When this image was taken, three months after the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, the leak had been plugged for eight days.

Water surfaces appear bright and land surfaces appear dark in the image. The stark contrast is due to sun glint, in which the sun is reflected brilliantly off all water surfaces back towards the astronaut observer on board the station. The sun glint reveals various features in the Gulf of Mexico, especially sheens of oil as packets of long bright streaks seen on the left side of the image. Sediments carried by the Mississippi River have a light-yellow coloration in this image, with distinct margins between plumes that likely mark tidal pulses of river water into the Gulf of Mexico. A boat wake cuts across one of the oil packets at image lower left.

Daily National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) maps of oil distribution show predicted heavier and lighter oil movement near the Gulf coastline. The maps show that on the day this image was taken, the north edge of the “oiled” zone was expected to bank up against the delta. The observed spread of the surface oil in the approximately 100 days since the explosion highlights the connectivity between the deepwater areas and coastlines of the Gulf of Mexico.

NOAA’s maps are available at: http://response.restoration.noaa.gov/book_shelf/2339_TMF24-2010-07-22-2100.pdf

The bright waterways known as the South and Southwest Passes of the tip of the Mississippi River delta (image center right and upper right) provide passage for ships into the Gulf of Mexico. The section of South Pass shown in the image is 8 miles (13 km) long. This gives a sense of the proximity of the ruined oil rig which is located only 50 miles (80 km) to the southeast of the imaged area (not shown).

Astronaut photograph ISS024-E-9404: http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/scripts/sseop/photo.pl?mission=ISS024&roll=E&frame=9404 was acquired with a Nikon D2Xs digital camera using a 400 mm lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center.

The image, which has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast and remove lens artifacts, was taken by the Expedition 24 crew:


The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab, helping astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet:


Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA / JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth: