Oil Slick in the Gulf of Mexico

Oil Slick in the Gulf of Mexico

Oil lingered on the water surface in the Gulf of Mexico on July 12, 2010. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this natural-color image the same day.

A dull gray patch of oil appears south of the approximate location of the well. To the south, the slick fans out, one edge of the slick extending some 25 kilometers (15 miles) to the east. West-southwest of the large oil slick, another patch of oil appears, this one running east-west. Slivers of oil also appear just east of the Mississippi Delta. Much of the discolored water around the delta, however, results from sediment.

Sunglint enhances the oil’s visibility in MODIS imagery. Oil smooths the water surface, changing the way it reflects and absorbs light. Close to where the Sun’s reflection would appear on a totally calm sea, oil-coated water usually looks brighter than surrounding oil-free water.

  1. Related Resources

  2. Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Response, the official site of the Deepwater Horizon unified command.
  3. Current information about the extent of the oil slick is available from the Office of Response and Restoration at the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration.
  4. Information about the impact of the oil slick on wildlife is provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Images & Animations


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  • Data Date:

    July 12, 2010
  • Visualization Date:

    July 13, 2010
  • Sensor(s):

    Aqua - MODIS


NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration