Using ERS-2 SAR images for routine observation of marine pollution in European coastal waters

M Gade, W Alpers
Science of the Total Environment 1999 September 30, 237-238: 441-8
More than 660 synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images acquired over the southern Baltic Sea, the North Sea, and the Gulf of Lion in the Mediterranean Sea by the Second European Remote Sensing Satellite (ERS-2) have been analyzed since December 1996 with respect to radar signatures of marine pollution and other phenomena causing similar signatures. First results of our analysis reveal that the seas are most polluted along the main shipping routes. The sizes of the detected oil spills vary between < 0.1 km2 and > 56 km2. SAR images acquired during descending (morning) and ascending (evening) satellite passes show different percentages of oil pollution, because most of this pollution occurs during night time and is still visible on the SAR images acquired in the morning time. Moreover, we found a higher amount of oil spills on SAR images acquired during summer (April-September) than on SAR images acquired during winter (October-March). We attribute this finding to the higher mean wind speed encountered in all three test areas during winter. By using an ERS-2 SAR image of the North Sea test area we show how the reduction of the normalized radar backscattering cross section (NRCS) by an oil spill depends on wind speed.

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