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Keywords:

  • ocean surface;
  • oil spill;
  • polarimetric SAR;
  • surface mixing

[1] Knowledge of the characteristics of spilled oil in the ocean is important for cleanup operations, predictions of the impact on wildlife, and studies of the nature of the ocean surface and currents. Herein I discuss a method for evaluating the characteristics of oil in a marine environment using synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and present a new, simple classification, called the oil/water mixing index (Mdex), to quickly assess the results. I link the Mdex results to the Bonn Agreement for Oil Appearance Codes (BAOAC) for aerial observers and demonstrate the Mdex on Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle SAR (UAVSAR) data collected June 23, 2010 over the former site of the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) drilling rig. The Mdex map shows a more heterogeneous oil swath than do radar backscatter images and features within the oil are consistent with features present in previously published, near-coincident optical imagery. The Mdex results indicate that most of the oil near the DWH was mixed with sea water to a minimum depth of a few millimeters, though some areas containing relatively thin films are observed.