Suspected Sep. 2017 Oil Spill in Clifton, Karachi: A Follow-up Analysis with SAR Images

On the third day of Eid-ul-Azha, September 4, 2017, beachgoers in Karachi reported oil or oil-like substance washing ashore on the Clifton Beach. Geo News reported the incident here.

As a researcher in the field of radar remote sensing, it got me thinking whether we can spot it on satellite images, if incidentally acquired by a space-borne Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) sensor. Interestingly, I found some acquisitions acquired by the European Space Agency (ESA)’s Sentinel-1A sensor. Unfortunately there was no acquisition on the 4th of September. The closest acquisition before the suspected spill is on 01.09.2017 @ 01:26, and the latest is on 10.09.2017 @ 13:35. The good news is that the latest image shows no sign of ‘low brightness’ characteristic of oil slicks. However, in the image on 01.09, we do see some dark areas which are somewhat troubling.


Referring to the figure below, the dark areas immediately below the Clifton area made me nervous — if that is oil spill traveling towards the shoreline, it’s huge! But it’s probably not, since it’s just too huge to have gotten ignored! It’s likely a ‘look-alike’ [1], which may appear in the radar image indicating local calmness of the water. However, I’m no expert in oceanography, so I don’t make any claim about it. Nonetheless, it does cause to raise an eyebrow.


Sentinel-1 C-Band SAR images, projected in map coordinates, and overlaid in Google Earth. No clear evidence of oil slick close to Clifton Beach. Two patches of probable oil slick detected on 01.09.2017, 15-30 km southwards of the beach.

At the same time, there are two instances (marked in red) which do seem to be oil spills, perhaps in the wake of the very same vessels passing nearby. In each case, it extends more than 6 km. Since the image is now 12 days old, and we don’t observe the suspected spill in the latest image — it may have dispersed by now — the main lesson is that the “authorities should keep a closer look” in future!


A close-up of the suspected oil spill marked in red in the figure above.

I am open to feedback/comments from other fellow scientists/experts in the field of SAR/Remote-Sensing/Oceanography, especially if they fear I may have missed something.

Disclaimer: This is an analysis performed from “remote” sensing images. Authorities must confirm or reject the suspicions on the basis of local forensic evaluation.

About this post: This is a guest post by M. Adnan Siddique.

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About Muhammad Adnan Siddique

Muhammad A. Siddique received the B.E. degree in electronics engineering from the National University of Sciences and Technology, Islamabad, Pakistan, in 2006 and the European Master of Research in Information and Communications Technology (MERIT) joint degree from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Karlsruhe, Germany and Universitat Politcnica de Catalunya (UPC), Barcelona, Spain. He is currently working toward the Doctoral degree at the Chair of Earth Observation and Remote Sensing, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, Switzerland. From 2007 to 2008, he worked as a radio-frequency (RF) planning engineer. In Fall 2010, he joined the Department of Electrical Engineering, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Lahore, Pakistan, as a Lecturer. His current research interests include synthetic aperture radar tomographic techniques for deformation assessment in urban areas. Mr. Siddique received the President’s Gold Medal for securing the highest cumulative GPA in his class during his undergraduate years. He secured distinction in each semester. He was awarded Erasmus Mundus Scholarship by the European Commission for graduate studies.

7 thoughts on “Suspected Sep. 2017 Oil Spill in Clifton, Karachi: A Follow-up Analysis with SAR Images

  1. Hammad Gilani

    The impressive approach towards the usage of earth observation data sets for the mapping and monitoring near real-time hazard phenomena. For validity and better acceptance of geospatial products among regulating authorities, we need to incorporate the ground observations. It’s hard, but if we can translate technical materials into more layman language then can expect from the media to exhibit our efforts.

  2. Muhammad Adnan Siddique Post author

    Indeed it is very important to validate findings with on-field measurements, and for that we require collaborators who can be involved locally. It often happens in Pakistan that the authorities are too busy in bureaucracy, and any creative investigation stays on the back bench. But in sha Allah, things will improve for the better in all aspects.

    1. Fayyaz Rasool

      Dear Adnan. really it’s good to see your scholary work.
      It is not like that the institutions at Pakistan are sleeping but they have an open eye on these types of disaster and are well aware how to respond. The first patch of this slick hit the coastal areas near to Sandspit on 28th May 2017. we (KPT oil spill response team) collect the samples from field and Pakistan Maritime securoty agency through their aeroplane got the actual data from air. The 4th September slick was also monitored by KPT and PMSA jointly. we are of the view that the slick pf 4th Sept is actually the part of the same slick which hitted during last days of May.
      you did an excellent work. with your permission i will share it with others in upcoming meeting of stakeholders on oil spill preparedness in the month of November. Your analysis supported our idea that this slick comes from unknown resource from the sea. According to our field analysis it was crude oil slick and the slick was months old and had gone through the weathering processes.
      Best regards
      Fayyaz Rasool
      Marine Pollution Control Department
      Karachi Port Trust

      1. WQ

        Dear Fayyaz,

        Many thanks for your comment and telling us what kind of mitigation and control measures govt. departments are taking. Recently, there is some capability being developed in NIO for processing of SAR data, if you want to do this kind of analysis yourself, you may contact with them also. You can talk to Mr. Ibrahim Zia there and his team.

        Dr. Waqas Qazi

      2. Muhammad Adnan Siddique Post author

        Dear Fayyaz

        I am overjoyed to your response to this story. It makes me believe more in the institutions — and the more so — on responsible fellow citizens.

        Please, use these findings in further discussions with your team members and stakeholders. I can also email you the figures, in case there is some resolution problem. Moreover, in case you need any meta-data, I can direct you to its source as well or look it up for you.

        I have also contacted National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) Pakistan (as they were the ones contacted by the media), and have requested them to share any findings they got with forensic evaluation. In case they share something with me, I’ll share it around as well. Or perhaps you already have direct contacts with them, and collaborate with them. Their first opinion was that it isn’t oil slick, perhaps something else. But I’m relieved to know that your group was already watching it closely and has confirmed that it was oil slick.

        Keep up the excellent work you & your team is doing, and we – as scientists and researchers — will be ready to put in our part in sha Allah.

        Zurich, Switzerland

        PS: You may want to add your comments to my twitter feed as well: @M_A_Siddique

  3. Muhammad N. Siddique

    Well done Adnan and thank you Mr. Rasool for positive feedback and practical pursuance of the matter. May Allah help all of us fellow citizens in furthering the interests of our troubled state in whatever capacity we can. Long live Pakistan.


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