Real time geo-referenced detection of dispersed oil plumes
The current SMART protocol used by the U.S. Coast Guard relies on traditional ex-situ fluorometers that require physical transport of the sample from the water column to the instruments. While sample transport methods are available (e.g. pumps and discrete sampling), they introduce time lags in the data acquisition process. These lags can be a source of error when the data is post analysed and is not conducive to real-time monitoring efforts, creating significant logistical problems and dispersion (smearing) of the sample stream. Another limitation of the currently-used equipment is that it requires much attention to manually record GPS data which is later used to determine the spatial distribution of an oil plume. Recent developments of in-situ fluorometric instrumentation promise to simplify problems associated with deployment of ex-situ instrumentation (e.g. insuring that pumps are primed) in boat-based field applications. This study first compares the performance of two in-situ fluorometers in a simulated oil and dispersant application at the Shoreline Environmental Research Facility at Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi, Texas. The fluorometers were the WETStar and the ECP-FL3 (both by WETLabs, Inc.). To address issues related to data collection from a GPS and a fluorometer, a system was developed that simultaneously merges data from both instruments into a single file and presents the data real-time as a color-coded ship track. The applicability of this system was tested and evaluated during a spill response exercise conducted by the Texas General Land Office and the U.S. Coast Guard in Galveston Bay, Texas, U.S.A.