The Bakken oil shale region: at night, and during the day

April 2nd, 2013 |
Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band, 3.74 µm shortwave IR, and IR brightness temperature difference

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band, 3.74 µm shortwave IR, and IR brightness temperature difference “fog/stratus product”

Signatures of extensive drilling activity in the Bakken oil shale formation region (primarily in northwestern North Dakota and far eastern Montana) could be seen in AWIPS images of 1-km resolution Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band (DNB), 3.74 µm shortwave IR, and IR brightness temperature difference “fog/stratus product” data at 09:32 UTC or 3:32 AM local time on 02 April 2013 (above). On the DNB image, the bright lights of cities and towns are very evident, along with the widespread illumination of the drilling activity “man camps” and a few natural gas flares. Farther to the west, in northeastern Montana, the brighter ice-covered portions of Fort Peck Lake can also be seen (south of Glasgow, station identifier KGGW).

While the majority of the drilling activity area was cloud-free, the fog/stratus product did show a few patches of stratus cloud to the north and to the south. The numerous black pixels on the fog/stratus product image indicated “hot spots” that were due to natural gas flares — the largest and hottest of which showed up with a yellow enhancement on the 3.74 µm shortwave IR image.

During the following daytime hours, a comparison of 250-meter resolution MODIS true-color and false-color Red/Green/Blue (RGB) images at 19:44 UTC or 1:44 PM local time (below) from the SSEC MODIS Today site showed that the Bakken drilling activity region was generally located along the boundary between snow cover (cyan on the false color image) and bare ground to the south. In North Dakota the morning snow depth was 16 inches at Minot Air Force Base and 21 inches at Lansford (both located in the northeastern corner of the satellite scene). The Missouri river upstream of Garrison Dam was also seen to be snow and ice-covered. The extensive grid of well-traveled north-to-south and west-to-east roads and highways was also becoming apparent across the busy Bakken drilling activity region on the MODIS images. More clarity in the ice-covered portions of Fort Peck Lake was also seen.

MODIS true-color and false-color Red/Green/Blue (RGB) images

MODIS true-color and false-color Red/Green/Blue (RGB) images

Drilling activity in the Eagle Ford (Texas) and Bakken (North Dakota) oil shale formations

June 26th, 2012 |
Suomi NPP VIIRS 3.74 µm shortwave IR and 0.7 µm Day/Night Band images

Suomi NPP VIIRS 3.74 µm shortwave IR and 0.7 µm Day/Night Band images

Hat tip to Tom Lee (Naval Research Laboratory, Monterey, California) for alerting us to another region of the US where a pronounced satellite signature of extensive drilling operations can be seen using Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band imagery. A comparison of AWIPS images of 375-meter resolution (projected onto a 1-km AWIPS grid) 3.74 µm shortwave IR data and the corresponding 0.7 µm Day/Night Band data (above) revealed the bright night-time illumination of widespread drilling activity across the Eagle Ford oil shale formation in southeastern Texas at 08:49 UTC (3:49 AM local time) on 25 June 2012. On the shortwave IR image, a number of small “hot spots” (pixels with a darker red color enhancement) could be seen, which were associated with natural gas flares at some of the larger drilling rig sites.

A similar signature of night-time drilling activity had been previously noted on VIIRS Day/Night Band imagery across the Bakken oil shale formation in western North Dakota — and a comparison with the color-enhanced shortwave IR image (below) at 08:30 UTC (2:30 or 3:30 AM local time, depending on the exact location) on 26 June 2012 again showed a number of natural gas flare “hot spots” at some of the larger illuminated drilling rig sites.

Suomi NPP VIIRS 3.74 µm shortwave IR and 0.7 µm Day/Night Band images

Suomi NPP VIIRS 3.74 µm shortwave IR and 0.7µm Day/Night Band images

Note that there is some striping seen in the Day/Night Band (DNB) image over North Dakota — a view of the entire VIIRS DNB swath (below) shows that North Dakota was located within the “stray light zone” of the Suomi NPP satellite orbit, where some sunlight was reachng the DNB detectors. Farther to the south over Texas, there was no stray ligt contamination evident on the DNB image.

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band image

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band image

A May 2011 map of the Lower 48 state natural gas and oil shale “plays” (below) suggested that there are likely other regions of the US where similar VIIRS DNB and shortwave IR satellite signatures might be seen.

Map of Lower 48 states natural gas and shale oil plays

Map of Lower 48 states natural gas and shale oil plays

Fire following a train derailment and crash in North Dakota

December 30th, 2013 |

GOES-13 0.63 µm visible channel (left) and 3.9 µm shortwave IR channel (right) images [click to play animation]

GOES-13 0.63 µm visible channel (left) and 3.9 µm shortwave IR channel (right) images [click to play animation]

A train derailment occurred about one mile west of Casselton, North Dakota at 20:10 UTC (2:10 PM local time) on 30 December 2013 — ten cars of a westbound train transporting grain initially derailed, which then caused an eastbound train transporting crude oil to also derail. A large fire and multiple explosions erupted from the engine and 18 cars of the derailed eastbound train, which were carrying crude oil from the Bakken oil shale field region in northwestern North Dakota. McIDAS images of GOES-13 0.63 µm visible channel and 3.9 µm shortwave IR data (above; click image to play animation; also available as a QuickTime movie) showed the dark smoke plume beginning with the 20:15 UTC visible image, which then quickly fanned out to the south-southeast by 21:45 UTC. On the corresponding shortwave IR images, a darker gray fire “hot spot” accompanied the initial visible image signature of the smoke plume at 20:15 UTC, which later became very hot (dark black) on the 21:15 UTC image.

A comparison of GOES-15 (GOES-West, positioned at 135º West longitude) and GOES-13 (GOES-East, positioned at 75º West longitude) 0.63 µm visible channel images (below; click image to play animation) showed how the dark smoke plume appeared from the very different viewing perspectives of the two geostationary satellites. On both sets of images the eastern portion of the smoke plume appeared to have drifted over Interstate 29 (I-29) south of Fargo (FAR), but due to the low sun angle it is likely that this was actually the shadow from the dark smoke plume. Note that the low cloud features cast similar shadows during the late afternoon hours toward the end of the animation.

GOES-15 (left) vs GOES-13 (right) 0.63 µm visible channel images [click to play animation]

GOES-15 (left) vs GOES-13 (right) 0.63 µm visible channel images [click to play animation]

The corresponding comparison of GOES-15 vs GOES-13 3.9 µm shortwave IR images (below; click image to play animation) also showed differences in the apparent intensity of the fire hot spot, which were dependent upon satellite viewing angle, viewing time, and the opacity of the dense smoke plume overhead. On the GOES-13 21:15 UTC image (which was actually scanning the fire area at 21:17 UTC), a notable increase in IR brightness temperature was seen, with the hot spot exhibiting a brightness temperature of 322 K (48.9º C or 120º F). This was likely the near the time of one of several explosions (video 1 | video 2). GOES-15 was not scanning the fire area at that particular time, so a fire hot spot of that intensity was not evident in the imagery.

GOES-15 (left) and GOES-13 (right) 3.9 µm shortwave IR images [click to play animation]

GOES-15 (left) and GOES-13 (right) 3.9 µm shortwave IR images [click to play animation]

===== 31 December Update =====

The intense oil-fueled fire continued to burn into the following night; an AWIPS image of Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band (DNB) data at 09:07 UTC or 3:07 AM local time on 31 December (below) showed the bright glow of the fire near Casselton, as well as the smoke plume which was still drifting to the southeast. The glow of lights from cities and towns appeared somewhat blurry on the DNB image, due to scattering of the light through a thin veil of cirrus clouds that was drifting over the region (VIIRS 11.45 µm IR channel image). Since the Moon was nearly in the New phase, there was very little moonlight to illuminate the smoke plume — airglow and lights from nearby cities and towns helped to make this feature visible on the DNB image. Note that the navigation of the DNB image was slightly off, with the image being shifted a few miles to the southwest; in addition, this particular DNB image was enhanced to provide a darker contrast, eliminating “noise” from the glow of the regional snow cover (which was generally in the 5-13 inch range) to help highlight the smoke plume. A subtle signature of the fire hot spot (a darker gray pixel) could still seen on the corresponding VIIRS 3.74 µm shortwave IR image.

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band image

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band image

Due to air quality concerns from the toxic smoke plume, residents immediately downwind of the crash site were urged to evacuate. At Fargo’s Hector International Airport (located about 25 miles to the east of Casselton), the surface visibility dropped to 2 miles with haze at 06:53 UTC (12:53 AM local time) on 31 December, as winds shifted to the southwest (time series of surface reports); it is unknown whether this drop in visibility was due to smoke being transported from the accident site, or simply from local sources (such as the widespread burning of firewood in the city, given that the ambient air temperature at the time was -15º F). A WDAY News tower camera photo (below) showed that the dark smoke plume could be seen from downtown Fargo — the tower camera is looking to the west, and the smoke plume is drifting southward (to the left).

WDAY News tower camera photo, looking west from downtown Fargo

WDAY News tower camera photo, looking west from downtown Fargo

Features of interest seen on VIIRS Day/Night Band imagery

January 9th, 2013 |
Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band and 11.45 µm IR images

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band and 11.45 µm IR images

A comparison of AWIPS images of Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band (DNB) and 11.45 µm IR channel data at 08:36 UTC (or 2:36 AM local time) on 09 January 2013 (above) showed a few items of interest on the DNB “visible image at night”:

  1. Even though there was deep convection with very cold (-70 to -75º C, black to light gray enhancement) cloud tops covering much of the eastern half of Texas, the diffuse glow of city lights could still be seen through the clouds
  2. Two elongated bright streaks off the southern tip of Texas: signatures of cloud-top illumination by lightning
  3. The relatively sparsely-populated area of far southeastern New Mexico and the adjacent New Mexico/Texas border region exhibited a pronounced signature of bright illumination
  4. In central New Mexico, where it was relatively cloud-free, portions of the Interstate highways — especially Interstate 40 that ran west-to-east between Albuquerque KABQ and Amarillo KAMA — appeared to be nearly continuously illuminated (presumably by a combination of small towns, truck stops, etc. and the headlights of vehicle traffic along the route)
POES AVHRR Cloud Top Height product

POES AVHRR Cloud Top Height product

Regarding point number 1 with the city light signatures, let’s attempt to explore how thick the clouds were over eastern Texas. An AWIPS image of the POES AVHRR Cloud Top Height product about an hour later at 09:50 UTC (above) indicated that the vast majority of the cloud tops were in the 11-13 km or 36,000-43,000 feet range. The VIIRS IR cloud top brightness temperatures as cold as -70 to -75 C agreed well with the temperature of the tropopause on the 12 UTC Fort Worth, Texas rawinsonde report (the tropopause height on that sounding was around 43,000 feet).

Surface station cloud ceiling and visibility data plotted on the VIIRS IR image (below) showed that overcast cloud bases nearest to the area of the coldest IR cloud top temperatures were 3500 feet above ground level at Temple KTPL and 5500 feet above ground level at Waco KACT. Outside of the main convective updraft cores the cloudiness was likely distributed within a number of discrete layers, but the fact that such a bright (albeit diffuse) signature of city lights could be seen through 30,000-40,000 feet of cloud layers is rather remarkable.

Suomi NPP VIIRS 11.45 µm IR image with surface reports of cloud ceiling and visibility

Suomi NPP VIIRS 11.45 µm IR image with surface reports of cloud ceiling and visibility

Regarding point number 3 with the bright lights seen across far southeastern New Mexico and the adjacent New Mexico/Texas border region, that is due to widespread drilling activity in the Avalon / Bone Spring oil shale region. While some natural gas flares might be present, the vast majority of the bright signatures are likely due to illuminated “man camps” that house the drilling support crews. Similar night-time illumination signatures are seen in the Eagle Ford and Bakken oil shale drilling regions.

===== 10 January Update =====

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band image

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band image

The deep convection persisted off the coast of Texas into 10 January — a Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.7 µm Day/Night Band image at 08:17 UTC or 2:17 AM local time (above) displayed a large number of elongated bright streaks as the sensor detected lightning-illuminated clouds.