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Detection and object-based classification of offshore oil slicks using ENVISAT-ASAR images

The aim of this study is to propose and test a multi-level methodology for detection of oil slicks in ENVISAT Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) imagery, which can be used to support the identification of hydrocarbon seeps. We selected Andrusov Ridge in the Central Black Sea as the test study area where extensive hydrocarbon seepages were known to occur continuously. Hydrocarbon seepage from tectonic or stratigraphic origin at the sea floor causes oily gas plumes to rise up to the sea surface and form thin oil films called oil slicks. Microwave sensors like synthetic aperture radar (SAR) are very suitable for ocean remote sensing as they measure the backscattered radiation from the surface and show the roughness of the terrain. Oil slicks dampen the sea waves creating dark patches in the SAR image. The proposed and applied methodology includes three levels: visual interpretation, image filtering and object-based oil spill detection. Level I, after data preparation with visual interpretation, includes dark spots identification and subsets/scenes creation. After this process, the procedure continues with categorization of subsets/scenes into three cases based on contrast difference of dark spots to the surroundings. In level II, by image and morphological filtering, it includes preparation of subsets/scenes for segmentation. Level III includes segmentation and feature extraction which is followed by object-based classification. The object-based classification is applied with the fuzzy membership functions defined by extracted features of ASAR subsets/scenes, where the parameters of the detection algorithms are tuned specifically for each case group. As a result, oil slicks are discriminated from look-alikes with an overall classification accuracy of 83% for oil slicks and 77% for look-alikes obtained by averaging three different cases.