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A collaborative project between the IO RAS (Institute of Oceanology of the Russian Academy of Sciences) and aerospace company ScanEx has been monitoring pollution levels of the Persian Gulf. The research determined the Gulf has severe issues, since this body of water is constantly exposed to oil pollution. These levels have steadily increased in the Persian Gulf, ranging from oil production (which is conducted in 34 fields and over 800 wells), tanker shipments (20-30 thousand tankers per year), and pipeline leakages, to standard ship operations and accidents.

According to experts, an estimated average of 100-160 thousand tons of oil and oil products fall in the Persian Gulf per year, making these waters up to 47 times more polluted than the world average. Researchers monitor the state of the Gulf’s water by utilizing technology of complex operational satellite monitoring, developed by ScanEx, which makes detecting oil pollution with high reliability possible. Radar images (SSRIs) of satellites Sentinel-1A and 1B were used for monitoring, which were located, processed, and analyzed on a geoportal specifically created on the basis of the GeoMixer web-GIS platform. Assistance for analyzing and identifying detected spots came from detailed navigational charts with objects of the offshore oil and gas complex and maps of the ship’s environment in the Gulf.

In addition, optical data of the Terra, Aqua, and Suomi NPP, Sentinel-2 and Landsat-8 satellites were used for verifying the radar data and assessing the marine environment’s ecological state. Since the project’s debut last year, over 300 radar readings from satellites Sentinel-1A and 1B were analyzed, partly covering the Persian Gulf (territorial waters and economic zones for nations like Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates). Over 4900 contaminated spots were detected on 209 RLIs, making the total area of detected pollution 12,835 square kilometers. In addition, the area of each individual spot varied from .5 to 600 square kilometers.

Film pollution of anthropogenic origin in this region was discovered almost everywhere. The majority of these effected areas are from oil and gas production regions and major shipping routes, some of which are along the Gulf’s axis that connect large oil transshipment bases and ports. Catastrophically large spills (240 to 780 square kilometers) were discovered in the Gulf’s Iranian sector, from an emergency outburst that occurred at an oil well in the Siri-E field. This particular incident results in 300-620 cubic meters of oil and oil products being poured into this region of the Persian Gulf, according to experts.

A significant part of the detected contamination from sea and ship spills were produced as a result of standard ship operations like tank washings, ballast water discharges, and ship wastes containing oil products (bilge water, workings, engine room water, residual oil products), or illegally. These spills were mainly detected on the main and minor navigable routes in areas of high tanker activity. An analysis of the sea surface radar and integral maps allowed not only qualitative, but also quantitative information on oil pollution in the Persian Gulf.

Specialists ultimately determined the Persian Gulf is prone to severe oil pollution that primarily results from intensive oil production, transportation, and active navigation. The current situation threatens ecology in the Persian Gulf, even with formal observance of global standards and requirements for environmental protection. A systematic radar survey of the region can assist environmental authorities of the Persian Gulf countries to monitor the water body on a daily basis.

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