A geospatial cloud solution effectively distributes valuable data for damage assessment and restoration in the Gulf.

Photo © BP p.l.c.

On the evening of April 20, 2010, a gas release and subsequent explosion occurred on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig working on the Macondo exploration well for BP in the Gulf of Mexico. The fire burned for 36 hours before the rig sank, and hydrocarbons leaked into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days before the well was closed and sealed.

Dozens of firms rushed to Louisiana to begin assisting in the cleanup and recovery efforts. Among these was AeroMetric Inc., a professional geospatial solutions and enterprise GIS firm that was contracted by BP in June 2010 to develop and manage remote sensing and aerial surveillance acquisition programs along with geospatial intelligence production and dissemination.

The task was strategic as much as it was technical. “The challenge was to establish a surveillance strategy that facilitated effective coordination and integrated planning, tasking, analysis, exploitation and dissemination of surveillance information across the response,” explains Pierre le Roux, AeroMetric’s vice president of integrated geospatial solutions and geospatial intelligence advisor/surveillance program manager for the spill assessment and restoration response. “Due to the tremendous collaborative effort between BP, the U.S. Coast Guard, NOAA, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Air Force, Air National Guard Units and many other unnamed parties, the response was able to mount and sustain an extensive and successful spill surveillance program. The deployment of standards-based interoperable robust geospatial infrastructure to host the large volumes of imagery and associated metadata being produced as part of the surveillance efforts was a key component of the long-term surveillance program. This infrastructure had to be implemented in record time, yet be secure and reliable as well as able to expand elastically as the volume of data grew.”

AeroMetric used a robust combination of interfaces, workflows and data sources to develop a reliable geospatial cloud solution.

The data also needed to be available in a variety of formats to allow for the direct use in a wide range of desktop GIS and image processing platforms as well as specific federal government systems, such as the Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA) and the Geospatial Platform (geoplatform.gov). As the response evolved to Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) and restoration, data management solutions were also needed in those activities.

The NRDA trustees and other responsible parties had common geointelligence needs, including developing their respective NRDA assessments from cooperatively developed geospatial datasets. Therefore, a critical universal requirement was to effectively collect, warehouse and disseminate the growing amounts of collected imagery and associated geospatial metadata while performing QA/QC on a near-real time basis and maintaining legal chain-of-custody records.

In addition, geospatial data and imagery had to be easily accessible by multiple stakeholders in a sustainable and pragmatic manner. Online access to data was required to support flight planning, status reporting, QA/QC of imagery, access to raw and original sensor data and access to intermediate data products for science, remote sensing, stereo interpretation and GIS cartography. And the data would eventually need to be made available to the public.

AeroMetric needed to quickly develop and deploy a solution that would serve all of these needs in an easily accessible format.

The first critical decision AeroMetric had to make in the design of the geospatial solution was the underlying platform. Careful consideration was given to a variety of alternatives, including both on-premise and hosted environments. The team decided to use a premier public cloud infrastructure since it would allow everything to get up and running very quickly and with a minimal initial investment. However, the resulting system also needed to be sustainable and accommodate both large volumes of imagery and a growing set of metadata and workflow support requirements. For these reasons, the architecture was designed to use commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software including Oracle for spatial data management and ArcGIS Image Server to support the large imagery datasets and AeroMetric’s proprietary Integrated Geospatial Workbench.

On this foundation, AeroMetric deployed a geospatial cloud solution, which users christened GEOWebEOC. The solution allows for user-centric access and web services through a secure web portal with textual and geospatial interfaces for direct consultation and updating of information. Further, it allows for Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) standard web services, including web mapping services and web coverage services, ArcGIS, and KML services (a file format used to display geographic data in an Earth browser). Using a variety of web services allows the collected geospatial data to be accessed through various desktop and web-based tools, including ArcGIS, ERDAS, Google Earth, web browsers and OGC-compliant viewers. The solution also supports integration into ERMA and geoplatform.gov.

Implementation was not simple since cloud infrastructures are still evolving and maturing. Due to the very large file sizes, a critical breakthrough during implementation was to find the appropriate combination of cloud services to upload and host the many terabytes of imagery. “Of particular note was the unique integration of various COTS software and customized interfaces,” le Roux says. “Additionally, the development of integrated production workflows allowed near-real time collaborative and interactive QA/QC of imagery while supporting a custody trail.”

By August 2010, the geospatial cloud solution was fully operational and providing valuable data to everyone involved. “The sheer scale of the imagery acquisition for this project was daunting, capturing 11,000 stereo images collected over 8,300 square miles and 800 miles of shoreline and adjacent waters from Texas to Florida,” says Dr. Paul R. Carlson of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “Providing NRDA trustees and other interested parties rapid turnaround and web access to their imagery and imagery from other satellite and aerial sensors to analyze the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill was the second Herculean task. AeroMetric’s ability to web-enable for easy access hundreds of thousands of indexed images over a compressed timeframe was remarkable.”

The cloud solution integrates COTS software and customized interfaces.

More than 100 terabytes of imagery is eventually expected to be collected in the Gulf, which includes vertical and oblique images. AeroMetric continues to manage the geospatial cloud solution on behalf of BP and the trustees, hosting a large portion of the ISR/NRDA image data and a consolidated remote sensing index for the MC 252 oil spill response. The firm also provides ongoing strategic and technical expertise to assist BP and the trustees in the development and management of information to support the assessment of the spill impact and facilitate the restoration. Additionally, AeroMetric staff supports BP on the NRDA Aerial Imagery Technical Working Group (AITWG), working closely with representatives of NOAA, the Department of the Interior and state agencies.

“AeroMetric solved complex problems of data consolidation, quality control and dissemination in a challenging environment and under severe time pressure,” says Robert Frost, the BP surveyor tasked with helping to support aerial and remote sensing acquisition and analysis during the response and ongoing NRDA and restoration activities. “[The firm] deployed familiar tools in an innovative and unique manner to develop a portal, a workbench and a toolset during the response that have further matured into an essential component of the overall NRDA data management effort, especially in regard to foundational aerial and remote sensing imagery. The professional quality of AeroMetric’s GIS services provides a strong positive image of the geospatial profession and has significantly contributed to the team’s response abilities.”

For AeroMetric, it has been one of the most challenging projects ever handled by the firm, but also one of the most satisfying. “AeroMetric is proud to have been selected to perform integral roles in implementing BP’s policy of collection and transparent dissemination of imagery and data during the response,” says Pat Olson, president and CEO. “We are privileged to serve the needs of both BP and the NRDA trustees and the myriad responders with professional and unbiased GIS expertise. And we are humbled to be part of the massive cooperative effort of the private and public sectors to measure and address the effects of the spill on the people, the economy, and the environment of the Gulf region.”

Looking beyond the work in the Gulf, the geospatial cloud solution provides an evolving template for effectively dealing with the Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) as well as the NRDA elements in future spill events. Dr. Terry Keating, senior vice president and CTO of AeroMetric, believes the leveraging of new commercially available cloud infrastructures to quickly launch and expand the system will be of particular value. “The implementation of standards-based geospatial web services enables the complete stakeholder community to exploit all related geointelligence on their own terms with their own tools,” he says, “while minimizing unnecessary duplication of data and effort.”

AeroMetric (www.aerometric.com) was honored with the 2011 MAPPS Geospatial Products and Services Excellence Grand Award and also won in the GIS/IT category for its development of the geospatial cloud solution. For more information about MAPPS, visitwww.mapps.org

NRDA in the Gulf

The NRDA is conducted by natural resource trustees who calculate the monetary cost of restoring injuries to natural resources resulting from releases of hazardous substances or discharges of oil. The trustees in the Gulf region include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) and agencies of the five affected states: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

For more information about the Gulf oil spill restoration, visit www.gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov andwww.bp.com.