What an oil slick looks like from space


The silver amoeba shape in the lower right is the still-growing slick of oil spilling from a damaged Gulf of Mexico well at the rate of 42,000 gallons per day. The spidery green and brown patch just to the left of the oil spill is the Delta National Wildlife Refuge.

This photo was taken Sunday by NASA. Yesterday, officials told the Wall Street Journal that the oil spill is expected to reach land this Saturday, May 1. Clean-up crews are already gathering at multiple spots along the Gulf coast from Louisiana to Florida. Meanwhile, BP technicians are using underwater robots to try and stem the flow.


  1. What are the perfectly parallel lines that are visible in the water? I’m assuming it’s a compression artifact, but it’s a little odd how they are only in the water

    1. The photo is probably a composite of hundreds of images. Sunlight reflecting off the water in each individual image contributes to the effect.

      1. No, it’s a single image, since the instrument (MODIS) that recorded it has a swathe of 2300km, and that image is only a few hundred kilometres across. Plus the satellite has a near polar orbit, and these lines are perpendicular to the satellite orbit. The lines are an artifact of recording, the instrument has an across track scanner. The effect is basically invisible when looking at land, like with Landsat images, but water is both uniform and really reflective.

        Scroll down for animation that explains across track.

  2. It’s worth pointing out that the oil spill is now about the same size as the city of New Orleans, which is also visible in this photo.

    Drill, baby, drill!

  3. Knowing someone who had worked on that rig makes this feel a lot more immediate to me… not surprisingly, I assume.

    Someone needs to nail this photo to the doors of all the people protesting Cape Wind with a note saying “The administration is threatening to open the eastern seaboard for oil drilling. Would you _really_ rather have this than a wind farm?”

  4. And can we please not forget that the Obama administration okayed drilling off the coast of Virginia last month? I haven’t seen anyone mentioning that little nugget at all. Watch out Chesapeake!

  5. This is all the fault of that Boobquake, isn’t it?
    Note that nearby New Orleans is a known hotbed of immodest display of b00bi3z.

  6. Please note what is left of that land. Let these aerial photos impress upon observers the crisis this country faces in terms of land loss in Louisiana. That is America’s coast and she has sacrificed a great deal to power this country’s growth through the 4,000 oil and gas rigs in the Gulf and has been deprived of land-building deposits in order to protect the Midwest from the Mississippi River floods.



  7. Thanks for posting this image. This thing’s leading 42,000 gallons a day and BP doesn’t have a handle on how to stop it. We’re looking at a serious disaster, economic and ecological.

  8. Please, southern brothers: I know there’s not much other work, but you gotta find something. Fuck these people.

      1. you have got to be mad. as in crazy.

        are you seriously implying that the rubber in a set of bicycle tires is the product of more than ONE automobile tank of gasoline? because there’s just no way. there’s no way that bike tires are produced with more than a FRACTION of a tank of gas. bike tires simply do not take up that much physical volume. even if you allow for the possibility (real? i’ve no idea, but lets say for the sake of argument it’s true) that their manufacture consumes many times more oil than the volume of the finished product. we’re still only talking about a couple of gallons of petroleum (or perhaps just crude oil?) for a pair of bike tires. Archimedes would like a word with you.

        and, uh, even if you drive a prius, a set of bike tires gives you quite a bit more mileage than a few gallons of gas. and, oh yeah, a set of 4 automobile tires takes up considerably more rubber than 2 bike tires (by a bazillionfold), soooo… red herring much?

        remove the consumer demand for a product and it will cease to be produced. our demand for fucking bike tires did not create this oil spill. it was demand for car fuel (and maybe somewhat for their big-ass tires). BIKES REMOVE THE DEMAND FOR OIL. everyone driving contributed to the eventuality of this disaster (this means you, bb reader). bike tires did NOT, in any significantly measurable way. you snarky anonymous fuck.

  9. I am incensed. We can put a man on the moon in the 60s; but in 2010, a company that trades in one of the most profitable commodities in the world can’t build a fail-safe cut-off valve? WTFisthisshit.jpeg

    this is completely unacceptable.

  10. noah, you’re right. there is not as much oil in your bike tires as there is in a tank of gas.
    but, oil is in everything we touch. everything. even the computer that you typed that oh, so eloquent rant about tires on. consumer demand? we all use oil… even if you don’t use gasoline. the roof over your head? oil. your shoes? oil. it is a part of everyday life, like it or not.

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