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ABSTRACT: On April 28, 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Airborne Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology (ASPECT) aircraft was deployed to Gulfport, Mississippi to provide airborne remotely sensed air monitoring and situational awareness data and products in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster. The ASPECT aircraft was released from service on August 9, 2010 after having flown over 75 missions that included over 250 hours of flight operation. ASPECT's initial mission responsibility was to provide air quality monitoring (i.e., identification of vapor species) during various oil burning operations. The ASPECT airborne wide-area infrared remote sensing spectral data was used to evaluate the hazard potential of vapors being produced from open water oil burns near the Deepwater Horizon rig site. Other significant remote sensing data products and innovations included the development of an advanced capability to correctly identify, locate, characterize, and quantify surface oil that could reach beaches and wetland areas. This advanced identification product provided the Incident Command an improved capability to locate surface oil in order to improve the effectiveness of oil skimmer vessel recovery efforts directed by the US Coast Guard. This paper discusses the application of infrared spectroscopy and multispectral infrared imagery to address significant issues associated with this national crisis. More specifically, this paper addresses the airborne remote sensing capabilities, technology, and data analysis products developed specifically to optimize the resources and capabilities of the Deepwater Horizon Incident Command structure personnel and their remediation efforts.
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"A unique airborne emergency response tool, ASPECT is a Los Alamos/U.S. Environmental Protection Agency project that can put chemical and radiological mapping tools in the air over an accident scene. The name ASPECT is an acronym for Airborne Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology."
Los Alamos Supports the U.S. EPA During an ASPECT Quick Reaction Deployment to the Marcus Oil Chemical Fire in Houston, Texas,
At 6 pm Central Time on Friday 12/03/04, the Marcus Oil and Chemical Plant located in southwest Houston, Texas was reported by plant personnel to be on fire. The plant is a large manufacturer of a polyethylene wax that is used in a variety of consumer products. Within 15 minutes, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decided to deploy the ASPECT aircraft from the Waxahachie, Texas hangar to support ground HazMat teams. The focus of the deployment was to determine the threat of downwind chemical hazards at the site. Initial observers at the site reported flames several hundred feet high. The Houston Police and Fire Departments immediately evacuated a 4 square block area around the plant.
Los Alamos was notified by the EPA at the time of the aircraft deployment and requested to support an emergency reach-back data analysis effort to support the emergency responders on the ground and in the aircraft. By 7 pm, an initial set of hyperspectral FT-IR data was received at Los Alamos and transferred to computers for assessment and evaluation. The results were evaluated and shipped to a main receiving computer at the EPA in Kansas City. The incident commander at the site was provided the information of all of the data stored on the EPA computer.
A number of data passes by the aircraft were completed beginning at 6:30 PM on 12/03/04 and continuing until 2 AM on 12/04/04. The initial results indicated that the chemical hazards were minimal at the site. However, the aircraft detected significant amounts of ethylene. Ethylene is a starting product for the Marcus Oil polyethylene wax process. In addition, significant quantities of sulfur dioxide were detected at a specific point in the facility. All information was reported to the incident commander with the location of highest concentration. The sulfur dioxide source was potentially attributed to the combustion of building materials at the plant.
The response results again confirmed the utility of the ASPECT aircraft for emergency response at a chemical plant disaster.