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Oil and Chemical Spills

25 August 2011, 5:57 pm

oil slick

Oil and Chemical Spills

  • Scientific Expertise. Each year, there are thousands of oil and chemical spills in coastal waters around the nation. These spills range from small ship collisions to fuel transfer mishaps to massive spill events like the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The release of oil and chemicals into our coastal waterways is a major problem. Spills can kill wildlife, destroy habitat, and contaminate critical resources in the food chain. Spills can also wreak havoc on the economies of coastal communities by forcing the closure of fisheries, driving away tourists, or temporarily shutting down navigation routes. And these environmental and economic damages can linger for decades. When dealing with oil and chemical spills, there are many questions that need answered. What was spilled? Where is the spill likely to travel in the water? How is the local environment affected now—and how might it be affected down the road? What's the best way to clean up the spill? How will balance be restored to the environment after the damage has been done? NOAA brings scientific expertise to the table to help answer these questions.

  • Response & Restoration.NOAA is charged with responding to oil spills, hazardous material releases, and marine debris, primarily through the Ocean Service’s Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R). This office’s Emergency Response Division is often first on the scene, providing scientific expertise to predict where the spill is going and what impacts it might have, identifying resources at risk, and recommending clean-up methods.
    NOAA scientist and Coast Guard technician in helicopter over Gulf of Mexico Regional NOAA scientific support coordinators organize NOAA resources in support of federal and state response efforts and work with scientists from other public agencies, academia, and the private sector to support operations when an oil or chemical spill occurs. Read more (redirect to original article)

  • Tracking Contamination. When a disaster like a major oil spill occurs, one of NOAA’s important jobs is to measure and assess the impact on coastal and marine ecosystems so that measures can be taken to attempt to restore them to pre-spill conditions and to provide information for natural resource damage assessment.
    Dr. Terry McTigue, Mussel Watch scientist, holds a sieve to retrieve burrowing animals from a sediment sample. NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) plays a central role in this process by tracking contamination and its effects on the animals and plants that live in the areas impacted by a spill. Read more (redirect to original article)

  • View from Above. For major spills, often the best perspective is from high above. NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey (NGS) deploys to the scene of major spills to collect aerial images to capture a bird’s eye view of spill and coastal areas. NGS uses NOAA aircraft outfitted with state-of-the-art mapping sensors. Data acquisition typically focuses on the land-water interface, in high-priority areas in an effort to protect wildlife and the shoreline. NGS also provides remotely sensed imagery from previous mapping projects to help response personnel assess shoreline features that were present prior to the spill. Read more (redirect to original article)

  • Ocean Observing. The Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®) is a coordinated network of people and technology that compiles and distributes data on our coastal waters, Great Lakes, and oceans. It includes partners at all levels of government, academic institutions, and the private sector. Following a major spill, responders need information such as water levels, current speed and direction, wind speed and direction, and wave heights. This information is collected by a variety of organizations (including NOS) using satellites, buoys, tide gauges, radar stations, and underwater vehicles. IOOS helps bring this information together, so that it can be coordinated and made available to those who need it. Read more (redirect to original article)

  • Delivering Data. Determining where oil or chemicals will move following a spill requires knowing how the water and wind are moving. The Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) operates and maintains an extensive network of hundreds of coastal measurement systems around the nation that collect and provide this verified information. The collected data are important to helping mariners safely navigate in and out of ports and harbors, so CO-OPS operates these systems year round, not just following an oil spill. However, in support of major oil spill response efforts, CO-OPS may modify existing products to better meet the needs of responders and communities. Read more (redirect to original article)

  • Charting the Way. To help mariners safely navigate following major spills, the Office of Coast Survey (OCS) produces regular updates to nautical chart products that display spill zone forecasts based on the best-available projections. The charts depict the 48-hour forecast for oil location, juxtaposed against the standard safety fairways that lead to port approaches. These electronic and raster charts alert ship captains to the location of the forecasted spill area, so that captains can take efforts to avoid the spill. The U.S. Coast Guard also uses the chart information to develop instructions for vessels transiting U.S. waters. Read more (redirect to original article)

  • Delivering Data. NOAA's Coastal Services Center and Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management help communities prepare for and adapt to the impacts of major spills. The Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) also helps states prepare for potential impacts of significant oil and chemical spills. Read more (redirect to original article)

Original article: Oil and Chemical Spills