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6/15/2010
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NOAA Launches Oil Spill Mapping Site

Real-time, interactive information about the Deepwater Horizon containment effort is available on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration site.

People interested in keeping track of the latest on the Deepwater Horizon spill cleanup efforts can now do so on a new Web site developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The site provides up-to-the-minute information about efforts to respond to the spill that occurred April 20, and is part of NOAA's ongoing transparency plan, according to the agency.

"The dynamic nature of the BP oil spill has been a challenge for a range of communities -- from hotel operators to fishermen to local community leaders," NOAA said on the site. "We know the American people have questions about how the federal government is responding to this crisis, and we are committed to providing the answers with clarity and transparency."

The site -- which the EPA, U.S. Coast Guard, and the Department of Interior helped NOAA create -- features an interactive map called the Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA) that shows a detail of the area affected by the spill. The University of New Hampshire's Coastal Response Research Center also contributed to the development of ERMA.

Points of interest -- such as the surface location of the damaged wellhead, command posts for the clean-up effort, and BP community outreach centers -- are marked on the map, and people can control which ones are pointed out to them on the map by clicking boxes on the right of the screen.

Information people can find using ERMA also includes the latest data federal responders have about the oil spill's trajectory, fishery area closures, and wildlife, according to NOAA.

Developers used open-source technologies to build ERMA, said Michele Jacobi, a NOAA environmental scientist and technical manager for ERMA, via e-mail. On the backend, developers used the Debian Lenny version of Linux as the OS powering the application, and MapServer using a PostgreSQL and PostGIS spatial extensions to build the interactive map.

The interface for ERMA was built using OpenLayers, JQuery, and custom Javascript, according to Jacobi. Developers at the University of New Hampshire, as well as those based in Seattle, are supporting the site.

Developers designed ERMA so that a variety of users -- such as federal, state, and local responders, as well as community leaders and the general public -- can easily use it, according to NOAA.

NOAA has been the federal agency at the forefront of the cleanup efforts in the Gulf, as teams continue to try to contain millions of gallons of oil spilled when the oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank.

Oil giant BP was leasing the rig at the time. The disaster is being called the worst of its kind and experts predict the cleanup will continue for some months.

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