Last update: October 17th, 2019 at 9:00 am
After battles in Libya on January 4-6, 2016, several oil fires were observed at oil production and storage facilities near Sidra, on the coast between Sirte and Benghazi. Smoke plumes from several oil tanks and facilities spread a pall of black smoke across the nation’s Mediterranean coast.
At 2:05 p.m. Libya time (12:05 Universal Time) on January 6, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite captured a true-color image of smoke plumes rising from the first and blowing to the northeast.
The thick, dark plumes arise from two point sources near Sidra, and the easternmost plume arises from a red hotspot, an area where the thermal bands on the instrument detected temperatures significantly higher than background. When accompanied by smoke, such hotspots mark actively burning fire. That plume also is extremely thick, obscuring the land and water from view near the source before spreading and dissipating.
According to news reports, five oil storage tanks were burning: four near Sidra and one near Ra’s Lanuf. Each tank is believed to contain 420,000 to 460,000 barrels of oil. The particulate matter and other chemicals in the smoke can cause respiratory and other health problems.
During the Persian Gulf War in 1991, astronauts on the space shuttle played an important role in documenting an environmental tragedy when oil wells across Kuwait were set on fire by Iraqi troops. Satellite-based and airborne instruments were also critical to documenting the spread of oil from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.