Listening for Oil Spills

Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Science Now

When the Deepwater Horizon oil spill erupted into the Gulf of Mexico last April, the only view researchers and citizens had of the gushing oil was the video feed controlled by BP. A team of scientists says it has now found a better way to track oil spills: sonar.

The researchers, from the University of New Hampshire's (UNH's) Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping (CCOM) in Durham and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), wanted to try sonar because its wide view can look at entire swaths of ocean at the same time. But no one had shown how to use the technology to map or track oil spills. "We were really doing crisis science. ... There were no proven methods for doing this," says team member Thomas Weber, an acoustician at CCOM.