From the very beginning, NOAA has provided extensive scientific expertise and monitoring capabilities to inform daily response operations and to help quantify and better understand the impacts of the spill on the Gulf ecosystems — including its effects on the undersea world. NOAA’s information enables responders to anticipate where the oil is going and predict what areas could be impacted.
The work of NOAA people on-scene and at locations across the United States have helped federal response coordinators more effectively deploy resources to minimize damage and protect highly sensitive ecosystems and wildlife habitats. Our actions have ensured that the sustained federal response has been scientific, strategic and and efficient. An overview of NOAA's role in the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill response video.
NOAA issues daily 24, 48, and 72 hour surface oil trajectories. To respond to a spill, you must know where the oil is heading. During the first hours after the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion on April 20, the U.S. Coast Guard requested help predicting the movement of the spreading oil, and NOAA was there. Two hours and 14 minutes later, NOAA issued the first of many spill trajectory maps to come. By that time, NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) staff had been mobilized and its Seattle-based “war room” was up and running.
As of 100 days, NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration modelers have produced more than 150 oil trajectory forecasts tracking the path of the oil and its location both near-shore and offshore, more than 50 shoreline-specific forecasts that delineate threatened shorelines over a three-day period and more than 30 forecasts for the Loop Current and the oil's proximity to the current.
NOAA satellite data support is critical to predicting oil movement. The first Satellite-Derived Surface Oil Analysis was issued by NOAA on April 22. Since then, 267 satellite analyses have been prepared to guide response operations and assist with trajectory modeling.
Federal responders look to NOAA for the latest gulf weather forecasts.
The National Weather Service’s Slidell, La. Weather Forecast Office issued its first “spot-weather” forecast within hours of the explosion. Since these early moments, NOAA’s National Weather Service has issued more than 3,000 spot weather forecasts which provide tailored, detailed weather information to the Unified Command in mission critical areas.
The National Weather Service dispatched Incident Meteorologists to Houma, La., to provide on-site meteorological support for the local Incident Management Team.
NOAA deployed a number of aircraft to the Gulf to collect information from the wellhead and nearby shorelines in support of both research and the response efforts. Since the start of the NOAA response, NOAA aircraft have flown 675.6 hours as of July 28. NOAA's fleet of research ships and aircraft are operated by the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations.
The Office of Response and Restoration began near-daily overflights on April 23 to characterize the location of the oil slick. Information they collected was fed back to NOAA’s oil trajectory modeling team in Seattle to help refine and update the daily trajectory maps.
For a bird’s eye view of the shoreline, NOAA’s King Air 350 collected aerial images of the spill and coastal areas in the Gulf of Mexico. These photos are compared to photos from previous mapping projects to help response personnel assess shoreline impacts and risks.
One of NOAA’s WP-3D aircraft flew research missions to learn more about the Gulf of Mexico Loop Current. Sensors dropped from the plane into the ocean helped scientists track the movement of the Loop Current so responders and officials in coastal areas all around the Gulf, better understand the likelihood of shoreline impacts.
A second WP-3D flew two specialized air quality missions near the spill site, supplementing the near constant monitoring being done by EPA. The high quality research instruments aboard NOAA’s flying laboratory provided further detail on the types and location of air pollutants around the spill site. (Data Report: Air Chemistry in the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Area)
NOAA collected historical information about conditions in the Gulf from its data archives, libraries and monitoring networks to inform modeling and projections as well as provide baseline information to which to compare new findings.
NOAA Office of Response and Restoration staff identified key historical reports on the occurrence of natural seeps, oil, tar and tar balls in the Gulf of Mexico. Knowing where other existing sources of hydrocarbons in the water are is critically important for NOAA scientists who are working tirelessly to understand where and how oil is moving below the surface in this unique deepwater spill.
“The most important thing we can do, above all else, is to bring to bear the absolute best science and services to inform the response and recovery efforts.”
— Dr. Jane Lubchenco, NOAA Administrator
Following an oil spill, responders need information such as water levels, current speed and direction, wind speed and direction, and wave heights to predict where the oil is likely to go and best prepare and deploy response resources. The NOAA Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) Program is helping to bring this information together into one place so that it is easily accessible to those who need it in one coordinated place. This information is typically collected by a variety of organizations using satellites, buoys, tide gauges, radar stations, and underwater vehicles.
The Office of Coast Survey created a regional digital terrain model (DTM) specifically of the area to help modelers create more accurate ocean circulation models where they needed it most. The terrain model, which extends to the south and to the east of the BP drill site used bathymetric data of the seafloor collected by multibeam survey in the 1990s.
NOAA’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services continued to operate and maintain an extensive network of approximately 60 coastal measurement systems throughout the Gulf of Mexico to collect and provide information about how the water and wind are moving. Such information is needed to determine how oil will move.
NOAA-owned and sponsored research ships were deployed on very short notice to conduct high priority sampling and monitoring missions that were critical to an effective response and to better understanding of the impacts of the spill.
On May 6, the research vessel Pelican, operated by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium that was planning on going on a different NOAA-funded mission to explore deep sea corals, was redirected to collect seafloor and water column data from areas near the site of the oil spill. Information gathered on this early mission helped shed light on where and how oil was moving beneath the surface and helped refine sampling techniques for future missions.
On May 28, the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter was redirected from a sampling mission it was doing in the Gulf to help with oil spill research. Researchers used its sophisticated sonar equipment and other scientific instruments to help define the subsurface oil near the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill site and adjacent area. Testing out unique instrument combinations, data from this mission helped provide a snapshot of how and where oil was moving beneath the surface.
On June 3, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson began an eight-day mission to deploy a variety of U.S. Navy ocean monitoring instruments in the vicinity of the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill. The floats, drifters and gliders will aid researchers in monitoring the surface and deep currents that are distributing the oil. . Video of oil spill-related ship activities on NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson.
Following the June 3 mission the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson quickly arranged for additional equipment and scientists to give the ship the capability to search for subsurface oil. While operating near the spill site, the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson also collected data on air pollution resulting from the spill. The crew took at least one air sample every four hours to be analyzed for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds (such as benzene) and carbon monoxide.
NOAA Ship Pisces has been supporting the Unified Command in its Deepwater Horizon/BP wellhead integrity testing effort since July 14. The ship has been using sophisticated acoustic echo-sounders in the immediate vicinity of, and directly over, the well head. Data from the mission are currently being analyzed by the National Incident Command, NOAA and the University of New Hampshire daily as they monitor the cap on the wellhead.
On July 21, the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter deployed again to support the Unified Command in its wellhead integrity testing, monitoring for gas and oil releases in the immediate vicinity of the capped Deepwater Horizon/BP wellhead. The ship will alternate with another NOAA research vessel, Pisces, at the site and will continue to monitor the distribution of whales and dolphins when not at the wellhead.
We are extremely concerned about the impact of this spill on the men and women who make their living on the water. NOAA will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Gulf Coast fishermen and their families during these challenging times.
NOAA scientists have led the effort to quantify the extent of the Deepwater Horizon/BP catastrophe.
NOAA provides scientific support to the U.S. Coast Guard on cleanup options as well as advising all affected federal, state and local partners on sensitive marine resources at risk in the affected area of the Gulf of Mexico.
NOAA’s Drs. Bill Lehr and Robert Jones, along with other oil behavior experts, programmers from the U.S. Geological Survey, and statisticians from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, developed formulas and a computer model for the fate of the oil released from the Deepwater Horizon/BP spill. The model is being used by the National Incident Command to produce a daily oil budget that tracks the characteristics of the spilled oil. This information helps responders anticipate impacts and mobilize resources effectively.
NOAA leads the federal Joint Analysis Group (JAG), an interagency working group comprised of scientists from NOAA, EPA, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. This group serves the critical function of coordinating and synthesizing information and findings from the many researchers collecting science data from below the Gulf surface. The Joint Analysis Group has issued two substantial reports thus far, one on June 23 and one on July 23, which provide a glimpse into the state of the sub-surface oil.
Upholding the highest standards of data quality, NOAA is making scientific reports and data from NOAA missions available online at NOAA.gov as quickly as possible.
On July 21, NOAA scientists released a data report on air quality measurements taken in June in the vicinity of the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill area. The report summarizes the levels of nearly 100 air pollutants measured with sophisticated air sampling instruments onboard a NOAA WP-3D research aircraft.
NOAA's Science Missions & Data webpage contains links to two JAG reports, mission summaries from completed missions, data related to seafood safety sampling, water column sampling, air quality monitoring, National Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) pre-assessment science and ocean currents.
On June 14, NOAA launched a new federal website meant to provide valuable information on the oil spill response with clarity and transparency — a one-stop shop for detailed near-real-time information about the response to the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill. The website incorporates data from the various agencies that are working together to tackle the spill.
NOAA is using the most high-tech methods available to peer beneath the surface of the Gulf. Using 10 underwater unmanned gliders combined with coastal high-frequency radar stations, NOAA’s IOOS® and its regional partners from across the nation have captured data that will assist in the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill response by locating and tracking oil at various levels in the water column, as well as on the Gulf surface.
Map and understand ocean currents: NOAA is making real-time data and model output available to help scientists, managers and decision makers, understand where oil and dispersants may spread over time. Scientists from NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory and the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science onboard the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter, the R/V F.G. Walton Smith, and the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster deployed probes near the location of the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil rig to take temperature and salinity measurements at different depths that are critical to track and project where the oil is and where it could flow.
Assess Florida ecosystems impacts: NOAA-funded Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research and Technology is conducting a rapid response, multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional expedition to assess the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill on Florida’s mid-level and deepwater coral ecosystems. The mission, aboard Florida Atlantic University Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution’s R/V Seward Johnson, uses a manned submersible, called the Johnson-Sea-Link in which scientists can go down to depths of hundreds of feet to observe and take samples from deep sea coral systems. Data collected on this mission will help scientists assess potential impacts on the health of diverse ecosystems at the edge of the Florida Shelf.
Gulf of Mexico oil-related research clearinghouse: To further enhance the coordination of oil-spill research in the Gulf, Sea Grant, in collaboration with NOAA’s National Coastal Data Development Center, is developing and hosting a web-based clearinghouse that will provide a one-stop location for investigators and funding agencies to see what other research projects are ongoing. The web-based clearinghouse will enable users to enter information about current oil spill research or monitoring activities or perform searches and queries to access information that others had entered. The database now includes 84 project descriptions.
NOAA is working tirelessly to ensure habitats affected or lost due to an oil spill are allowed to flourish once again.