PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICE
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PASADENA, CALIF. 91109. TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
Contact: Mary A. Hardin
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEMarch 13, 1996
A NASA AIRBORNE SENSOR AIDS IN SUPERFUND SITE CLEAN-UP
Maps produced from a JPL-developed airborne sensor are
cutting costs and helping to speed the hazardous waste clean-up
at a Superfund site in Leadville, Colo.
Several federal agencies, including the Bureau of
Reclamation, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S.
Geological Survey (USGS), are using the maps to find sources of
acid mine drainage and heavy-metal contamination at the
California Gulch Superfund Site. The contamination is the result
of more than 130 years of historic mining activities associated
with the Leadville Mining District, according to Felix W. Cook
Sr., director of the Technical Service Center at the Bureau of
Reclamation in Denver.
The maps were produced by the USGS using data from NASA's
Airborne Visible and Infra-Red Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS),
which was developed and is managed by the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory. The AVIRIS instrument flies aboard a NASA ER-2
airplane, which is a U2 spy plane that has been modified for
While being carried 20 kilometers (12 miles) above sea
level at speed of 730 kilometers per hour (450 mph), the
instrument can take approximately 7,000 measurements per second.
Earth scientists use AVIRIS to make measurements related to
global climate change research in geology, oceanography, snow
hydrology and cloud and atmospheric studies.
"This technique of imaging spectroscopy represents a
fundamental new way of doing remote-sensing. We are measuring in
detail how light is absorbed or reflected by various materials on
the Earth's surface and that gives us an accurate picture of what
those materials on the ground are made of. Once we know where
the materials are, we can begin to make decisions based on those
maps," said Robert Green, the AVIRIS experiment scientist at JPL.
"The imaging spectroscopy mineral mapping has allowed us to
identify potential contaminating sources as small as individual
mine dumps for evaluation," said Cook. "Based on our recent
experience, Reclamation anticipates that the future for hazardous
clean-up at many locations, especially large sites, throughout
the United States should use AVIRIS to produce relatively
inexpensive site thematic maps to aid in remediation."
An analysis program that recognizes the spectral signature
of the contaminants on the ground has been developed by the USGS
to construct the mineral map from the AVIRIS data. "AVIRIS data
are like a treasure chest of scripts in an unknown language --
totally unreadable to the untrained observer," said Gregg Swayze,
a geophysicist at the USGS. "The imaging analysis program is like
a Rosetta stone, a key to that language, by which the AVIRIS data
can be interpreted and profited from."
The mineral maps have helped officials save roughly $500,000
and about a year's time in identifying the areas that need
"NASA's AVIRIS program has, therefore, enabled more money to
be used for actually cleaning up the hazardous mine waste
materials currently contaminating this site," Cook said. "In
addition, the speed with which the AVIRIS data can be processed,
mapped, and integrated into our system has enabled us to complete
the site data development and analysis process about a year ahead
of schedule, saving additional money and time."
Reclamation officials believe the AVIRIS data mineral
mapping could be used for site investigations on many of the
hazardous waste sites now included on the Environmental
Protection Agency's National Priorities List.
The AVIRIS program is managed by JPL for NASA's Office of
Mission to Planet Earth, Washington, D.C. The Mission to Planet
Earth is a long-term, coordinated program to study the Earth's
air, water, land and life as a global environmental system.
NOTE: A NASA Television Video File will feature interviews and
b-roll of the Superfund site on Wednesday, March 13 at 9 a.m.,
Noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Pacific Time. NASA Television is carried
on Spacenet 2, transponder 5 (channel 9) at 69 degrees west
longitude. The frequency is 3880 Mhz. Polarization is
horizontal and audio is monaural at 6.8 MHz.