Earthquake and Tsunami – Sendai, Japan

The Ring of Fire strikes again.

We’re starting to see satellite imagery of the damage caused by the massive earthquake and resulting tsunami that struck northeastern Japan yesterday (this aerial video shows the waves approaching shore, and the terrifying destruction as they sweep through coastal towns). Some resources:

DigitalGlobe has a Flickr gallery of high-resolution images and produced a cursory analysis (PDF).

High-resolution satellite image showing shipping containers scattered by the tsunami in the port of Sendai, March 12, 2011. Image courtesy of DigitalGlobe.

The MODIS imaging team’s website at NASA now has a Japan Earthquake Project page. The low-resolution MODIS sytem captured an image at about noon local time on March 12, showing a large plume of smoke blowing out to sea from Sendai. Before-and-after images give a glimpse through the clouds of broad coastal flooding as of 10am local time yesterday.

Please submit a comment if you run across other useful sources of satellite imagery for this event.

Safer Offshore Drilling? Trust us.

With much fanfare, the federal government agency responsible for managing offshore drilling, BOEMRE, issued the first new permit for deepwater drilling since the BP / Deepwater Horizon blowout and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year.

Sort of new, but not really: the permit allows Noble Energy to resume work on a well that was already being drilled when the spill brought activity to an abrupt halt. Nevertheless, BOEMRE made a big deal out of this. In this Houston chronicle op-ed, director Micheal Bromwich said:

“This permit was issued for one simple reason: The operator successfully demonstrated that it could drill its deep-water well safely and that it was capable of containing a subsea blowout if it were to occur. We expect further deep-water permits to be approved in the coming weeks and months based on the same factors that led to the approval of this permit.”

In other words, this permit will become a template that all other companies will follow to get their drilling plans approved. Well then, this must be one heckuva permit application, filled with substantial details evaluating what a worst-case spill scenario for this specific well would be in the event of an uncontrolled blowout; detailing the capabilities, engineering design specifications, rigorous testing procedures and comprehensive test results for the vaunted new containment device that would be relied on to stop a blowout; and describing all the new cleanup equipment, techniques and procedures that are now standing by ready to immediately respond to the multimillion gallon oil spill that will happen even if the containment device works perfectly.

Here’s the public version we obtained of Noble Energy’s permit application. Notice anything missing?

This document doesn’t address any of the obvious safety issues listed above. Not a one. So how on earth did Mr. Bromwich reach the conclusion that Noble “successfully demonstrated that it could drill its deep-water well safely”?

It is possible that all of the necessary information is in the redacted version, not available to the public. But then I have to ask, 1) how can this application serve as a model for other companies who want to drill, if all of the important new safety information is withheld from view? and 2) how can the public have any degree of confidence that the safety of offshore drilling in America has been significantly improved, if we can’t see that information and evaluate it for ourselves?

Is this the new era of transparency and accountability that we were promised in the wake of the deadly Deepwater Horizon explosion?

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

Be a SkyTruther! Follow Your Favorite Places in Google Maps/Earth

The folks at Google have released a great new tool called Follow Your World. Now you can sign up to get email alerts whenever they update the imagery in Google Maps and Google Earth covering your areas of interest. Using a simple interactive map interface, you can select and register points of interest:


I’m hoping that in the near future they’ll allow us to draw polygons on the map to define areas of interest.

What’s so great about this? Now anyone can do some armchair SkyTruthing, keeping on top of the latest free imagery from Google showing what’s happening in the places you care about most. Don’t forget about the View Historical Imagery tool in Google Earth, which allows you to toggle between images taken at different dates to see (and even measure) how a place has changed over time. See a SkyTruth example, looking at the growth of impact from tar-sands mining in Canada, and watch the video below of the shrinking Aral Sea. Then show us what you can do!