Scope of Oil Spill Seen through Infrared Camera

Infrared image of the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico.
CBS News investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports from a helicopter 3,000 feet above the Gulf of Mexico, an hour off the coast of Louisiana at the site of the Deepwater disaster. To the naked eye, the scene of the massive spill appears on the surface to be an expanse of deep blue water, marked by boats.

But in the very same area, shot exclusively for CBS News with an infrared camera, the Gulf surface is dark an ominous as far as the eye can see - and that darkness is oil.

Chris Zappa is an oceanographer at Columbia University, specializing in the use of infrared imagery. He can tell it's oil because it reflects at a cooler temperature than the open ocean.

On Thursday CBS News spent three hours flying over the spill zone, matching shots from our camera with those taken by Rob Raymer of FLIR, a company that makes this infra-red camera similar to ones used by the military.

"The thermal camera actually shows the extent of all of the oil, not just the thick heavy crude that we can see with our eyes but also the very thin layer of oil sheen," Raymer said.

From the air, the oil-slick waters stretch for hundreds of miles, the camera only picking up images from the surface of the water.

The federal government now estimates as many 39 million gallons worth of oil has poured into the Gulf since the Deepwater Horizon rig collapsed. Zappa says it is clear from the pictures seen in this video that the cleanup booms are simply overmatched.

And the way the wind can be seen forming ribbons of crude in the wake of a cleanup ship - that means the oil is on the move. An even more ominous sign for some of our nation's most precious coastline.

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