NOAA Enlists Recon Aircraft in Spill Assessment

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will use its ER-2 (Earth Resources-2) aircraft to provide high-resolution images of the threatened Gulf shoreline. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) requested the assistance from NASA.

The ER-2 is a derivative of the Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, which the U.S. Air Force has used since the 1950s. The high-altitude surveillance aircraft, which can fly at altitudes greater than 70,000 feet, is equipped with a highly specialized scanner called the Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS) system.

NASA, which operates the ER-2 from its Dryden Flight Research Center in California, uses the aircraft for environmental science, atmospheric sampling, and satellite data verification missions. According to NOAA, high-resolution photos taken from the plane will help it to forecast spill trajectories and conduct mass balance calculations. NASA also has employed satellite instruments to detect the extent of the entire oil spill as well as see details of the extent of selected spill areas.