The FlowCAM oil spill imaging and analysis system from laboratory instrumentation manufacturer Fluid Imaging Technologies, Yarmouth, Maine, is currently involved in monitoring the BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico under the direction of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The FlowCAM documents the presence of oil spilled in water and also measures its impact on coastal marine microorganisms. Effective in testing samples of sea water, freshwater and/or estuarine water, the FlowCAM particle imaging and analysis system automatically takes hi-resolution, digital images of every individual oil droplet, particle and waterborne microorganism detected, measures each one based on size, shape and dozens of other parameters in real time and saves the images and data for identification and analysis - with a date/time stamp to aid admissibility as legal evidence. Able to automatically calculate the concentration of oil, grease and other particles in water, the FlowCAM is ideal for locating the boundaries of oil spill plumes at varying depths and verifying the effectiveness of dispersants and other remedial activities.
The FlowCAM also features a fluorescence mode that reveals the presence of living algal cells, fish larvae, krill and other types of plankton, which form the basis of the aquatic food chain. Acquiring up to 10,000 images per minute, the FlowCAM enables plankton ecologists, municipal officials and others concerned about protecting the ocean and shoreline to conduct time series studies that compare and track plankton levels in a region before, during and years after an oil spill. The data provides an indicator of the overall health of the ecosystem for use in assessing the impact of an oil leak or spill.