Detecting oil spills with satellite images and near real-time situational awareness system

Kongsberg Norcontrol, in cooperation with Kongsberg Satellite Services, has developed an online maritime domain awareness system called cView used by maritime authorities around the world for surveillance and traffic management. A feature in this system allows the operator to integrate near real-time satellite images to detect and analyze oil spills quickly and efficiently.

Oil spills in the ocean have a huge impact on economies and ecosystems. Spills are devastating to marine life and coastal communities, often taking a lot of time and resources to clean up. While only big spills get news headlines, small spills happen more frequently and can be just as detrimental to the environment. Thousands of spills leak into the ocean worldwide each year and cause damage to life around them.

cView was developed in collaboration with KSAT (Kongsberg Satellite Services), who delivers world-class satellite services and owns a network of global ground stations. cView was originally developed as an online visualization tool for satellite images but has since evolved to an entire situational awareness system where the user can display and analyze vessel traffic, prevent environmental disaster, and combat illegal activity.

The system provides a common operating picture where the operator can track, log, and replay vessel traffic in the area. It is then possible to subscribe to satellite images and services to be imported and displayed over the map of the given area. This allows the system to display detected oil spills even in the most challenging conditions, such as low-light or cloudy weather. When oil spills are detected, they are highlighted in the map and in attached reports, enabling relevant authorities to respond quickly and minimize the environmental impact of the spill.

Earth Observation Service Connected to KSAT oil spill detection service with Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) image, oil spill-, vessel and wind detection

Finding the cause of the spill
There are several reasons for the occurrence of oil spills in the maritime domain, but the most common are related to pipelines, platforms and passing vessel traffic. cView supports the import of standardized Geospatial Data Formats (GIS) where chart overlays of any relevant information are possible, such as oil pipelines, maritime borders and platforms. With these overlays, it might be possible to deduct where the oil spill is coming from.

Another possibility is that a vessel has leaked or dumped the oil. Using log and replay, operators can cross-reference the position of the oil spill with Automatic Identification System (AIS) tracks of vessels in the area. The system can therefore aid identification of potential suspects that may have been in the vicinity of the spill. This information can be used by authorities to investigate and hold accountable those responsible, including as evidence in court against the polluter.

Analyze and understand patterns
By analyzing data from past oil spills in a particular area, users can gain insights into trends and patterns, enabling them to take proactive measures to prevent future spills. The system provides the tools necessary to generate historical reports and create customizable comprehensive dashboards, summarizing the count and geographical density of oil spills.

Satellite services provide near real-time global coverage of the maritime domain, independent of weather conditions. The potential for increasing maritime security and countering environmental degradation is impressive. This is a developing technology where we will see massive growth and development in the time to come. According to Rob Ayasse, KSAT’s Global Vice President for Earth Observation Sales “cView is an outstanding tool for the user to get precisely the maritime domain awareness information they need, fast enough for it to be operationally useful.”

Oil spill detected