Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 26 Issue 02

View Issue TOC
Volume 26, No. 2
Pages 112 - 123


Oil Spills and Slicks Imaged by Synthetic Aperture Radar

By Michael J. Caruso , Maurizio Migliaccio, John T. Hargrove, Oscar Garcia-Pineda, and Hans C. Graber 
Jump to
Article Abstract Citation References Copyright & Usage
Article Abstract

Oil spills and slicks occur in the ocean around the world due to natural seeps, oil extraction, transportation, and consumption. Satellite synthetic aperture radar (SAR) has proven to be an efficient tool for identifying and classifying oil on the sea surface. This information can be used to monitor areas for potential illegal marine discharge or to respond to an oil spill incident. When used to monitor shipping lanes or drilling platforms, timely analysis can identify offending parties and lead to prosecution. Following an oil spill such as that from the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, SAR can be used to direct response activities and optimize available resources.


Caruso, M.J., M. Migliaccio, J.T. Hargrove, O. Garcia-Pineda, and H.C. Graber. 2013. Oil spills and slicks imaged by synthetic aperture radar. Oceanography 26(2):112–123, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2013.34.


Ager, T.P. 2013. An introduction to synthetic aperture radar imaging. Oceanography 26(2):20–33, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2013.28.

Alpers, W., and H.A. Espedal. 2004. Oils and surfactants. Pp. 263–275 in Synthetic Aperture Marine User’s Manual. J.R. Apel and C.R. Jackson, eds, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Washington, DC. Available online at: http://www.sarusersmanual.com (accessed August 2, 2013).

Brekke, C., and A.H.S. Solberg. 2005. Oil spill detection by satellite remote sensing. Remote Sensing of Environment 95(1):1–13, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rse.2004.11.015

Carpenter, A.D., R.G. Dragnich, and M.T. Smith. 1991. Marine operations and logistics during the Exxon Valdez spill cleanup. International Oil Spill Conference Proceedings 1991(1):205–211, https://doi.org/10.7901/2169-3358-1991-1-205

Cheng, A., M. Arkett, T. Zagon, R. De Abreu, D. Mueller, P. Vachon, and J. Wolfe. 2011. Oil detection in RADARSAT-2 quad-polarization imagery: Implications for ScanSAR performance. Proceedings SPIE 8179, SAR Image Analysis, Modeling, and Techniques XI, 81790G (October 26, 2011), https://doi.org/​10.1117/12.898358

Espedal, H.A. 1999. Satellite SAR oil spill detection using wind history information. International Journal of Remote Sensing 20(1):49–65, https://doi.org/10.1080/014311699213596

Fingas, M. 2013. The Basics of Oil Spill Cleanup, 3rd ed. CRC Press, 286 pp.

Gade, M., W. Alpers, H. Hühnerfuss, H. Masuko, and T. Kobayashi. 1998. Imaging of biogenic and anthropogenic ocean surface films by the multifrequency/multipolarization SIR-C/X-SAR. Journal of Geophysical Research 103(C9):18,851–18,866, https://doi.org/10.1029/97JC01915

Gambardella, A., G. Giacinto, M. Migliaccio, and A. Montali. 2010. One-class classification for oil spill detection. Pattern Analysis and Applications 13(3):349–366, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10044-009-0164-z

Garcia-Pineda, O., I.R. MacDonald, X. Li, C.R. Jackson, and W.G. Pichel. 2013. Oil spill mapping and measurement in the Gulf of Mexico with Textural Classifier Neural Network Algorithm (TCNNA). IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing PP(99):1–9, https://doi.org/​10.1109/JSTARS.2013.2244061.

Garcia-Pineda, O., I. MacDonald, B. Zimmer, B. Shedd, and H. Roberts. 2010. Remote-sensing evaluation of geophysical anomaly sites in the outer continental slope, northern Gulf of Mexico. Deep Sea Research Part I 57:1,859–1,869, https://doi.org/​10.1016/j.dsr2.2010.05.005

Garcia-Pineda, O., B. Zimmer, M. Howard, W. Pichel, X. Li, and I.R. MacDonald. 2009. Using SAR images to delineate ocean oil slicks with a texture-classifying neural network algorithm (TCNNA). Canadian Journal of Remote Sensing 35(5):411–421, https://doi.org/​10.5589/m09-035

Gauthier, M.-F., L. Weir, Z. Ou, M. Arkett, and R. De Abreu. 2007. Integrated satellite tracking of pollution: A new operational program. Pp. 967–970 in IEEE International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium, July 23–28, 2007. IGARSS 2007, https://doi.org/10.1109/IGARSS.2007.4422960.

Holt, B. 2004. SAR Imaging of the ocean surface. Pp. 25–79 in Synthetic Aperture Marine User’s Manual. C.R. Jackson and J.R. Apel, eds, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Washington, DC. Available online at: http://www.sarusersmanual.com (accessed August 2, 2013).

Horstmann, J., and W. Koch. 2005. Measurement of ocean surface winds using synthetic aperture radars. IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering 30:508–515, https://doi.org/​10.1109/JOE.2005.857514.

Leifer, I., W.J. Lehr, D. Simecek-Beatty, E. Bradley, R. Clark, P. Dennison, Y. Hu, S. Matheson, C.E. Jones, B. Holt, and others. 2012. State of the art satellite and airborne marine oil spill remote sensing: Application to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Remote Sensing of Environment 124:185–209, https://doi.org/​10.1016/j.rse.2012.03.024

McCandless, S.W., and C.R. Jackson. 2004. Principles of synthetic aperture radar. Pp. 1–23 in Synthetic Aperture Marine User’s Manual. C.R. Jackson and J.R. Apel, eds., National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration, Washington, DC. Available online at: http://www.sarusersmanual.com (accessed August 2, 2013).

Migliaccio, M., G. Ferrara, A. Gambardella, F. Nunziata, and A. Sorrentino. 2007a. A physically consistent speckle model for marine SLC SAR images. IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering 32(4):839–847, https://doi.org/​10.1109/JOE.2007.903985.

Migliaccio, M., A. Gambardella, and M. Tranfaglia. 2007b. SAR polarimetry to observe oil spills. IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing 45(2):506–511, https://doi.org/​10.1109/TGRS.2006.888097.

Migliaccio, M., F. Nunziata, and A. Gambardella. 2009. On the co‐polarized phase difference for oil spill observation. International Journal of Remote Sensing 30(6):1,587–1,602, https://doi.org/10.1080/01431160802520741

NRC (National Research Council). 2003. Oil in the Sea III: Inputs, Fates, and Effects. Committee on Oil in the Sea: Inputs, Fates, and Effects. The National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 280 pp. 

Nunziata, F., A. Gambardella, and M. Migliaccio. 2012. A unitary Mueller-based view of polarimetric SAR oil slick observation. International Journal of Remote Sensing 33(20):6,403–6,425, https://doi.org/10.1080/01431161.2012.​687474

Nunziata, F., A. Gambardella, and M. Migliaccio. 2013. On the degree of polarization for SAR sea oil slick observation. ISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing 78:41–49, https://doi.org/10.1016/​j.isprsjprs.2012.12.007

Raney, R.K. 2007. Hybrid-polarity SAR architecture. IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing 45(11):3,397–3,404, https://doi.org/10.1109/TGRS.2007.895883.

Romeiser, R., J. Horstmann, M.J. Caruso, and H.C. Graber. 2013. A descalloping postprocessor for ScanSAR images of ocean scenes. IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing 51(6):3,259–3,272, https://doi.org/​10.1109/TGRS.2012.2222648.

Solberg, A.H.S. 2012. Remote sensing of ocean oil-spill pollution. Proceedings of the IEEE 100(10):2,931–2,945, https://doi.org/​10.1109/JPROC.2012.2196250.

Topouzelis, K.N. 2008. Oil spill detection by SAR images: Dark formation detection, feature extraction and classification algorithms. Sensors 8(10):6,642–6,659, https://doi.org/​10.3390/s8106642

USCG (United States Coast Guard). 2011. On Scene Coordinator Report Deepwater Horizon. Available online at: http://www.uscg.mil/foia/docs/DWH/FOSC_DWH_Report.pdf (accessed August 2, 2013).

Velotto, D., M. Migliaccio, F. Nunziata, and S. Lehner. 2011. Dual-polarized TerraSAR-X data for oil-spill observation. IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing 49(12):4,751–4,762, https://doi.org/​10.1109/TGRS.2011.2162960.

Villano, M., G. Krieger, and A. Moreira. 2012. Staggered-SAR for high-resolution wide-swath imaging. Paper presented at the IET International Conference on Radar Systems (Radar 2012), October 22–25, 2012, https://doi.org/10.1049/cp.2012.1600.

Wahl, T., A. Skoelv, and J.H.S. Andersen. 1994. Practical use of ERS-1 SAR images in pollution monitoring. International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium, 1994. IGARSS ’94. Surface and Atmospheric Remote Sensing: Technologies, Data Analysis and Interpretation 4:1,954–1,956, https://doi.org/​10.1109/IGARSS.1994.399621.

Copyright & Usage

This is an open access article made available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution, and reproduction in any medium or format as long as users cite the materials appropriately, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate the changes that were made to the original content. Images, animations, videos, or other third-party material used in articles are included in the Creative Commons license unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If the material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission directly from the license holder to reproduce the material.