Exploring the Potential of Optical Remote Sensing for Oil Spill Detection in Shallow Coastal Waters--A Case Study in the Arabian Gulf

Document Type


Publication Date


Digital Object Identifier (DOI)



Remote sensing provides an effective tool for timely oil pollution response. In this paper, the spectral signature in the optical and infrared domains of oil slicks observed in shallow coastal waters of the Arabian Gulf was investigated with MODIS, MERIS, and Landsat data. Images of the Floating Algae Index (FAI) and estimates of sea currents from hydrodynamic models supported the multi-sensor oil tracking technique. Scenes with and without sunglint were studied as the spectral signature of oil slicks in the optical domain depends upon the viewing geometry and the solar angle in addition to the type of oil and its thickness. Depending on the combination of those factors, oil slicks may exhibit dark or bright contrasts with respect to oil-free waters. Three oil spills events were thoroughly analyzed, namely, those detected on May 26 2000 by Landsat 7 ETM + and MODIS/Terra, on October 21 2007 by MERIS and MODIS, and on August 17 2013 by Landsat 8 and MODIS/Aqua. The oil slick with bright contrast observed by Landsat 7 ETM + on May 26 2000 showed lower temperature than oil-free areas. The spectral Rayleigh-corrected reflectance (R(rc)) signature of oil-covered areas indicated higher variability due to differences in oil fractions while the R(rc) spectra of the oil-free area were persistent. Combined with RGB composites, FAI images showed potentials in differentiating oil slicks from algal blooms. Ocean circulation and wind data were used to track oil slicks and forecast their potential landfall. The developed oil spill maps were in agreement with official records. The synergistic use of satellite observations and hydrodynamic modeling is recommended for establishing an early warning and decision support system for oil pollution response.

Was this content written or created while at USF?


Citation / Publisher Attribution

Optics Express, v. 22, issue 11, p. 13755-13772