A newly released satellite image showing the likely spread of oil from the Rena could be a "valuable tool".
The image was captured by DLR, the German Aerospace Centre, by its TerraSAR satellite on Friday and shows what are believed to be calm spots of water and the likely spread of oil from the ship, which remains stuck on the Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga.
The ship has spilled more than 350 tonnes of oil since it struck the reef on October 5 and was expected to leak more, with rough weather predicted for last night.
Venture enterprise projects manager Robin McNeill said the satellite image was provided to Maritime New Zealand by the aerospace centre after he requested it last week to help show the dispersal of oil, as well as the position of containers that had fallen off the ship.
Mr McNeill has been working with European agencies for the past four years to make the technology to utilise the images available in New Zealand and he said the Rena disaster was a prime example of why it was needed.
The technology worked by using a passing satellite to send a radar pulse to Earth, which was reflected back to it and then the data was translated into an image, he said.
It worked like an ordinary ship's radar, but was more specialised and required trained professionals to interpret it properly, he said.
Landcare Research staffer Stella Belliss said the image from the satellite most likely showed calm water with spots of oil as well but she could not be certain based on one image. However, constant data from the satellites was extremely helpful in tracking oil from ships, she said.
Mr McNeill said it took days to get the image to New Zealand because it had to be downloaded from satellites over the North Pole and processed in Germany, but if government agencies agreed to use the technology fulltime and invested in an Earth imaging station, that would cut the time to hours and would provide up-to-date images.
"What we have is potentially a very valuable tool."
A spokeswoman said Maritime NZ was still in the process of interpreting the image, so it had not evaluated its usefulness yet.
- The Southland Times