Tag Archives: Oceans

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.


Big Earth Data Documentary

Recently I ran into this wonderful documentary about how scientists are handling the huge amounts of remote sensing and earth science data being collected in the current age.

The documentary spends a lot of time talking about how remote sensing is used for oceanography and marine security monitoring, looking at concerns like monster waves, oil spills, surface ice content, ship routing through polar oceans, etc.

The EarthServer project is mentioned, which establishes “big earth data analytics, rapid ad-hoc processing and filtering on massive geodata.” Satellite images are shown to be useful also for automatic counting of houses or camps, and for disaster damage assessment. The use of GRACE satellite system for Earth gravimetry and water content measurement is mentioned.

For background information regarding the documentary, go here.


Ocean Eddies & Slicks in SAR Imagery

In a recent post, I talked about observing an eddy in the Arabian Sea in L-band ALOS PALSAR SAR imagery. In this post, I want to talk briefly about the physical interaction between SAR signals and eddies.

Spiral eddies are often convergence zones and act as accumulators of surface slicks. These surface slicks (could be biogenic / natural oil seeps / mineral oil etc.) make a surface layer over the ocean and actually dampen the surface waves of the ocean through a phenomenon called Marangoni Damping (see this seminal paper by Alpers and Hühnerfuss).

However, sometimes it is also possible that an eddy may appear brighter in SAR imagery than the surrounding ocean, due to wave-current and shear interactions.

In my paper on ocean currents from sequential SAR imagery, I talk about this phenomenon in the introduction, and you can also find some good references therein.

For further interest, here are a few other seminal papers on the science of ocean wave damping by surface slicks:

Discovering Submesoscale Eddies in the Arabian Sea through SAR Images

I am working on a research study to analyze physical oceanography features in the Arabian Sea using Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) remote sensing imagery. For this study, we are using L-band ALOS PALSAR imagery. In the first phase, we have been looking at summer monsoon upwelling and related biogenic slicks. After processing some SAR imagery, and just going through some of the images visually, we discovered a really nice sub-mesoscale eddy in one image.

For the uninitiated, submesoscale eddies are fleeting and shy creatures of physical oceanography, and have not proven easy to find, due to their short temporal and spatial scales. Submesoscale eddies and dynamics are subjects of current research in physical oceanography, both in terms of modeling and observations (see,, Few ships with wakes are also clearly visible in the SAR image.


Submesoscale eddy in the Arabian Sea. Image from JAXA. Data processed and analysed by Waqas Qazi and Aaqib Javad.

The image is a processed SAR image from ALOS PALSAR. Processing steps include calibration, speckle filtering, geocoding, and resampling through automated processing workflows. I am working with a graduate student to analyze ALOS PALSAR-1 and PALSAR-2 images spread over 4 years to analyze physical oceanography features in the Arabian Sea. This research is supported by the International Foundation for ScienceJAXA Research Announcement 4 (RA-4), and the Institute of Space Technology. We have also published some basic work on identifying a temperature front in SAR imagery in the Arabian Sea (more on that in an upcoming blog post).

I had previously found a submesoscale eddy in the California Current System when deriving ocean currents from sequential SAR imagery, see the paper here. Also, Marmorino et al. (2010) found submesoscale eddies in SAR imagery in the Southern California Bight.

To learn more about the state-of-the-art in submesoscale ocean dynamics, see:

Unusual Winter Phytonplanton Blooms along the Pakistan Coast

Today I came across this interesting news report on how there is an unusual phytoplankton bloom taking place in the last few years along the Pakistan coast. The study, published in Nature Communications a few days ago, shows how the phytoplankton blooms are getting increasingly strong in the winter. Possible reasons for this could be the changing weather patterns in the region, or the increasing domestic and industrial waste coming straight into the Arabian Sea from land. We may think of phytoplankton as being always useful, because they set up a food chain, allowing for increased fisheries. This article serves as a good reminder that phytoplankton blooms can also be harmful, such as red tide or the blooms reported in this study, which may disrupt the ecological system along the Pakistan coast. Reports indicate that jellyfish are one of primary sea creatures thriving on these blooms. Jellyfish come with their own hazards and are known to disrupt local ecosystems. Here is an interesting article from the Smithsonian magazine about how jellyfish like to take over ecosystems.

For more details, see this detailed post by the Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. The news article by the New York Times is here. The Nature Communications scientific paper can be accessed here.