Starting December 2002, the oil industry operating in and around Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela suffered a series of accidents (Figure 1). Fires, the sinking of two barges, rupture of oil pipelines, spills from floating oil storage and transfer stations, and malfunctioning of oil extraction platforms led to extensive oil spills. Local and federal Venezuelan government oil industry experts directly observed the series of spills from aircraft, helicopter, and various surface vessels. The spills were recorded in December by official photography and video of leaking infrastructure, and unofficial recordings continued in January and February 2003 (http://wwwcomlago.com.ve/fotosvideos. html).
These surveys did not provide sufficient spatial or temporal coverage to assess the magnitude, area covered, or duration of the spills. Clear images of the spill were captured with NASAs Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), however. MODIS is effectively a sophisticated digital camera launched aboard the Terra satellite in December 1999, and aboard the Aqua satellite in April 2002 [Esaias et al., 1998; http://modis.gsfc.nasa.gov]. Its medium-resolution bands (250 and 500 m resolution) are available to the public, and have great potential in coastal monitoring. This article demonstrates how MODIS can provide basic and critical assessments of oil spills.
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