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Photonics and the environment

Photonics Spectra
Jun 2010
Tom Laurin

As this issue goes to press, a dark black cloud of crude oil is still swirling and spreading throughout the Gulf of Mexico, as anywhere from 5000 to 80,000 barrels a day (various government, corporate and scientific sources are not in agreement on the number) escape from a damaged well, weeks after the initial explosion and fire on Transocean Ltd.’s drilling rig, Deepwater Horizon, which was licensed to BP.

And while crews race to monitor and contain the spill – and try to mitigate the damage as much as possible – photonics technologies are lending a hand.

BP has been using submarine-mounted cameras to keep an eye on the spill, and NASA’s eyes in the sky, including the Moderate Imaging Spectroradiometer, have been watching from above. Satellite images, both radar and optical, of the area from the European Space Agency’s Envisat are helping officials use the remote sensing technologies to formulate a response.

This is an Envisat optical image of the oil spill (visible as a white whirl on the right) in the Gulf of Mexico, acquired from the Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS) on April 25, 2010, at 16:28 UTC (universal time corrected). Courtesy of European Space Agency.

Those of us in the industry know the often-unsung advantages of photonics for situations exactly like this, and we thank the developers, manufacturers and researchers who have brought these and other useful light-based technologies to life to enhance not only pollution disaster recovery efforts but also other applications that affect the environment.

We all know that photonics has great potential to affect the planet. But, sometimes, the planet affects the photonics community, too. Although the World Health Organization reported that the volcanic eruption in Iceland has not caused significant changes in ground-level air quality in Europe and is not expected to cause health risks, the billowing plume snarled air and ground traffic throughout the world.

Among those affected were attendees of the European Machine Vision Association Business Conference in Istanbul, Turkey. Photonics Media’s own European sales manager, Penny Pretty, recounts her epic journey across Europe to get home from the event – sharing all the highs and lows, all the humor and frustration – at How did the eruption affect your travels? Leave a comment on our Web site and tell your tale.


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