Hydrocarbon Seeps


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Hydrocarbon oil and gas below the seabed can seep from the sea floor or rise as a plume through the water column, resulting in oil slicks on the sea surface. Detecting and identifying such slicks can guide and focus exploration efforts. In view of the vast off-shore areas that would need to be surveyed for such slicks, spaceborne remote sensing can offer several important operational and cost-benefit advantages. To this end, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) has been used to detect smooth features on the sea surface which can be attributed to oil slicks. However, this method produces many false-positives from the effects of pollution, weather, bathymetry and biological films.

Geoscience Australia has been developing a method to improve the positive identification of seep-derived hydrocarbon slicks. The use of high resolution optical imagery offers possibilities for identifying and characterising these slicks. To date, research into the use of optical remote sensing of marine hydrocarbons has focused on detecting and mapping relatively thick oil pollution and spills, often with a known extent, date, and/or location. However, by characterising the reflectance properties of a number of naturally occurring Australian hydrocarbon oils, Geoscience Australia hope to develop a method to detect and identify naturally occurring oil slicks using high resolution optical remote sensing data.

Because of its global coverage, remote sensing offers great potential in searching for and identifying relatively low cost and readily accessible petroleum sources. Advances in this field contribute to Geoscience Australia's goal to help to ensure the long term security of Australia's resources and economy by providing precompetitive information to the petroleum exploration industry through its Petroleum Prospectivity and Promotion.


Image of Hydrocarbon oil and gas below the seabed.

The image shows two slicks
identified by SAR. The image on
the left is a slick created by the
broadcast spawning of a coral
community (Jones et al, 2006),
while the image on the right is
a seep-derived hydrocarbon.
The north of Tongatapu,
Tonga-derived from the
physics-based remote sensing
techniques at Geoscience Australia.
Reproduced with permission from
QuickBird Image © Digital Globe Inc.

Topic contact: earth.observation@ga.gov.au Last updated: October 27, 2011