Mapping the Gulf Oil Spill

NASA AVIRIS map used to asses Gulf Oil Spill

A few weeks ago I came across the Gulf Oil Tracker Widget (below), a widget that observes the real-time spillage of oil in the Gulf. This little widget can be embedded into any website, providing a live window to the heart of the Gulf Oil Spill Crisis.

The video takes a few moments to load, but it is worth the wait. There’s another version of the widget that does not have the video. It loads more quickly and still provides useful live calculations of the spill.This widget comes via PBS and NPR.

Intrigued, I did some research to see how maps are being used in new and traditional media to describe and explain the spill. Many of the maps that I found are doing more than helping the viewer “navigate a space.” Drawing on the ideas of the landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, these maps are also “scores” that show events taking place over time.  These visuals are helping us understand how the Gulf Oil Spill is unfolding over days, weeks and months.

Here are the best maps I found online:

Map Time

No matter what your politics or how you feel about Rachel Maddow, you may be surprised to see how much oil production in is going on in the Gulf of Mexico right now. I was. This online video of her news feature “Map Time” features a still map that tells a riveting story.

Rachel Maddow Gulf Oil Drilling Map:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Citizen Reporting Smartphone App

This smartphone application allows anyone to post reports on the oil spill: photos, videos and field notes.

Map The Spill

BP Oilspill Multitouch Map

Ideum application for touch tables uses a combination of existing Google maps and photos from a Flickr Group. You may start to see this in museums and science centers that have multi-touch tables.

BP Oilspill Multitouch Map Table Demo


The NASA Satellite images are sophisticated and include detailed descriptions.

NASA Satellite Images

New York Times

The New York Times website has maps about where oil has made landfall, effects on wildlife, live video and more.

New York Times: Tracking the Oil Spill in the Gulf


The earliest map image is a few days old. It features overlays of NOAA oil spill forecasts, YouTube videos, emergency fishing closures, satellite imagery and more.

Google Map and Gulf Oil Spill Layers

Have you found an interesting Gulf Oil Spill map that is not listed here? Please post it below.


    June 21, 2010
    CONTACT: Robbie Wilbur


    (JACKSON, Miss.) – The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) announced today a new page on their website that provides data and information that are being collected in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This map application was developed to provide the public access to the most current information available. The map is updated regularly and can be accessed at and on the MDEQ’s oil spill response page:

    “We believe this new webpage will be extremely useful for our citizens concerned about the condition of our state’s waters. The MDEQ staff has been working diligently to assure that our natural resources are being protected and that we have the most up-to-date sampling results. We want to share that data with the public, and we encourage people to contact our office if they have questions about the information,” said Trudy Fisher, MDEQ Executive Director.

    Locations where MDEQ and its partners have collected samples, as a result of different oil spill response activities, are displayed in the map application along with sampling results. The information represented in the web map was collected from sentinel sampling sites which are monitored on a routine schedule, from complaint investigations, and also from air and water reconnaissance activities. Water, sediment and/or biological tissue samples were collected at these sites and analyzed for constituents related to oil. Sentinel sampling sites are situated along the Mississippi Gulf Coast to check the water in the passes for the intrusion of oil into the Mississippi Sound.

    Crude oil is a mixture of many chemicals that are typically grouped into categories:

    · gases such as methane or natural gas,
    · volatile compounds, such as benzene, toluene and xylene, which are largely responsible for the odor of gasoline,
    · semi-volatile compounds such as napthalene which is the active ingredient in moth balls, and
    · higher molecular weight compounds such as may be found in asphalt or tar balls.

    Oil Range Organics (ORO) is a group of compounds typically found in lubricating oils. MDEQ has used ORO as a screening tool to quickly assess samples for evidence of petroleum-related contamination. The map shows the monitoring locations and associated lab results for Oil Range Organics.

    The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Marine Resources are coordinating the State of Mississippi’s role in the preparations and response the Deepwater Horizon oil spill incident.

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