Application of single-beam reflective laser optical interferometry for oil films and droplets in water detection and characterization is discussed. Oil films can be detected by the appearance of characteristic interference patterns. Analytical expressions describing intensity distribution in these interference patterns allow determination of oil film thickness, size of oil droplets, and distance to the oil film from the observation plane. Results from these analyses indicate that oil spill aging and breakup can be monitored in real time by analyzing time-dependent holographic fringe patterns. Interferometric methods of oil spill detection and characterization can be automated using digital holography with three-dimensional reconstruction of the time-changing oil spill topography. In this effort, the interferometric methods were applied to samples from Chevron oil and British Petroleum MC252 oil obtained during the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
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