TerraSAR-X monitoring oil spill in Queensland

A significant amount of oil leaked from a cargo ship, the Pacific Adventurer on the 10th of March 2009 as a result of Cyclone Hamish. The heavy fuel oil has been washing up on the south eastern Queensland coast and inlets.
Apogee had tasked TerraSAR-X to obtain images over the disaster area. On the 12th of March 2009 at 5:15 local time, a ScanSAR image was acquired which clearly shows the extent of the oil spill still off-shore at that time. Radar satellite are the only alternative to monitor the area due to heavy cloud cover caused by the Cyclone Hamish and are well known to delineate the presence of oil on the ocean due to the suppression of capillary waves resulting in a smoother surface where oil is present and a different appearance within the image.

The MODIS image acquired on the 12th March shows the heavy cloud cover. The extent of the TerraSAR-X ScanSAR is outlined in red.

The dark linear features in the waters off the Sunshine Coast show the extent of the oil spill still remaining off-shore after some of it had already been washed up on the beaches of Moreton Island.

An estimation of the area of the oil spill can be extracted from this ScanSAR data and used to derive a reliable estimate of the total tonnage of oil spilled in this accident. From an initial estimate of 20 tonnes, the company owning the vessel corrected this estimate to 42 tonnes and now the government suspects that it may have been as much as 250 tonnes of oil. This TerraSAR-X image is the only extensive record of the oil spill and may prove invaluable in determining the quantity of oil released from the damaged vessel.

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