Balloon Based Oil Spill Surveillance

Providing safe and affordable, continuous aerial surveillance capabilities

September 6, 2022


Manned aerial surveillance has been the standard approach to guiding spill response vessels, but it is not always possible to get a plane to the spill and once there the plane has limited time before needing to refuel.


An all-weather balloon surveillance system has been tested to provide the necessary aerial view. The system includes a kite-style balloon, which is rated to 80 knots of wind, and visible and infrared cameras. The camera system transmits its signal wirelessly to all surrounding vessels and can be zoomed or pointed in any direction by the control vessel. The system has been tested at several locations around Alaska.


The system is relatively inexpensive, easy to transport, can be deployed off small vessels, and requires very little training to operate. With the system at an altitude of five hundred feet it is possible to find objects approximately ten feet in diameter from two miles away both at night and during the day. It is possible to keep the system running up to ten days without maintenance. The signal can be received by all vessels in the area. Thus, the system provides a safe and affordable all-weather surveillance capability for spill response. Since OSRI’s testing, several similar systems have become commercially available to spill responders.