Making a List – 2014 in Review

It’s Christmas Eve here in the U.S. and tonight there will be thousands of children keeping a close eye on the skies for a jolly man and his flying reindeer. Now while there are some engineers out there who have their doubts about the physics of ‘ol St. Nick, it is a well documented fact that some of those twinkling lights aren’t meteors or levitating caribou, but satellites that help SkyTruth know who’s being naughty or nice. 

Artist’s rendering of Sentinel 1-A, a new radar satellite launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) back in April 2014. Image Credit – ESA

Unfortunately, our naughty list is usually longer than the nice list as we spot spills from oil tankers and gold mines, and watch landscapes being transformed by mining and fracking. So we need your help to keep on top of all the environmental changes happening place around the world. Will you consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our work in 2015?

 
Gas flares from oil wells in North Dakota’s 
Bakken Shale. 
Here are a few of our top stories from the past year…

5. Global Flaring Map: In August, we launched a dynamic map to track the wasteful practice of natural gas flaring around the world. The SkyTruth Global Flaring Visualization compiles nightly infrared data from a NOAA satellite and filters it to display gas flares associated with oil and gas production and refining. Read more…

4. FrackFinder: Throughout 2014, several hundred volunteers contributed to our various FrackFinder projects in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Learn how citizen scientists helped map hundreds of impoundments related to shale drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the Marcellus Shale. Read more… 

This map displays impoundments related to shale gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in Pennsylvania, as identified by SkyTruth staff and volunteers on USDA aerial survey photography from 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2013.

3. Malaysian Airlines Flight 370: When a commercial airliner disappeared without a trace back in March, the world wanted to know how this was possible. SkyTruth president John Amos was booked to appear on CNN several times (but they kept canceling) and quoted in the Washington Post on the limitations of our current technology. New satellites coming online will give us better coverage of humanitarian and environmental disasters, but there still needs to be someone to tell the satellites where to look and interpret the results. Read more…

2. Global Fishing Watch: Last month, SkyTruth, in partnership with Google and Oceana, announced a new technology prototype to visualize all of the trackable fishing activity in the world. The tool, introduced at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney Australia, will be a powerful tool to illuminate the global fishing fleet, and help stop overfishing. Read more…

 

 

An oil spill in Bangladesh threatens rare dolphins and 

what is believed to be one of the largest 

populations 

 

 

of the 

 

Bengal Tiger. Read more…

 

1. Spills, Spills, and Potential Spills: Satellites offer a unique vantage point for monitoring spills and pollution, so we continue to report on all of the spills and incidents that come to our attention. We’ve been busy throughout 2014 tracking disasters such as a massive sludge spill from a gold mine in Canada, oil tankers and oil-laden cargo ships wandering aimlessly around the ocean, and right now, a catastrophic spill in the world’s largest mangrove forest (see above). 
 
It looks like there will be some big decisions in 2015 on Arctic oil drilling and the Keystone XL pipeline, but we are also working to get ahead of pollution and environmental damage. With your help we can promote responsible fishing and protect special places from mining, drilling and spilling before it’s too late. Will you help us? 
 
Click below to make a tax-deductible donation…
 
If you can see it, you can change it…

 

[Updated] Bangladesh – Oil Spill in the Sundarbans National Park

Updated Dec 16, 2014 at 6:00 PM with new information on the location of the Southern Star 7, as well as new and updated satellite images.

Posted Dec. 15, 2014 at 11:00 PM: On the morning of Dec. 9, 2014, a tanker carrying heavy furnace oil to a powerplant in Bangladesh was struck in the fog by a cargo vessel and partially sank, releasing thousands of gallons of oil into the Sundarbans, the world’s largest continuous mangrove forest and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This tidal river delta, already threatened by climate change, is home to incredible biodiversity including rare Irrawaddy and Ganges dolphins and what is believed to be one of the largest populations of the very endangered Bengal Tiger

From The Guardian: A Bangladeshi oil-tanker lies half-submerged after it was hit by a cargo vessel on the Shela River in the Sundarbans. The oil spill is threatening rare Irrawaddy and Ganges dolphins as well as Bengal tigers that live in the region. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images

Details, including the exact location* of the incident, remain vague, even though nearly a week has passed since the accident. The Times of India reports that while the accident occurred in a commonly travelled shipping lane, the collision occurred within one of the Sundarban’s three dolphin reserves. 

*SkyTruth has now received the coordinates of the incident from representatives on the ground. See below.

The “Southern Star 7” was carrying somewhere between 66,000 and 92,000 gallons (250,000-350,000) of furnace oil, but how much was actually spilled into the river remains unknown.

 
From The Guardian: Oil from a Bangladeshi oil-tanker is seen on the [Shella] River in the Sundarbans in Mongla. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images
Residents have been seen collecting the oil by hand and with buckets to sell for a small reward to the state run Padma Oil company, while fishermen attempt to use their nets to contain the spill. Regional officials just announced they are hiring 100 boats and 200 workers to expand the clean-up effort. These tedious and messy clean up methods are a stark reminder that even after the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the Exxon Valdez spill off Alaska in 1989, the Ixtoc 1 spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 1979, and even the Santa Barbara Oil Spill off California all the way back in 1969, we haven’t really made any major improvements in how we clean up spilled oil. 

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SkyTruth has been monitoring satellite images of Sundarbans National Park, and we believe we can see evidence of the oil on imagery from the European Space Agency’s new radar satellite: Sentinel 1 – A.


Radar satellite image, acquired December 12, shows black ribbons that may be some of the oil spilled in this disaster. The bright white spots are ships or other large metal objects with strong radar reflectance. The coordinates of the Southern Star 7 were provided by a first-responder on the ground in Bangladesh.

Image Credit – Sentinel 1-A (ESA); Acquired Dec. 12, 2014

According to sources on the ground, the Southern Star 7 sank into the river at 22°21’14.33″ N, 89°40’17.66″ E, about four kilometers from the confluence with the Passhur River. On December 12th it was lifted from the river floor and moved up to the riverbank to 22°22’1.44″ N, 89°38’30.91″ E

Because this region is a tidal river delta, water sloshes in and out of the mangrove forest twice a day. There are reports that the oil is continuing to spread up and down the river, and throughout the canals and channels that crisscross the region. On radar satellite imagery, we have observed what appears to be ropy strands of oil along 30 miles of the Passur River. 

Here are some more images of the area as seen by Sentinel 1 – A and Landsat 8…


The same area, as seen by the panchromatic band of Landsat 8 on Dec. 10, the day after the spill. We don’t see any obvious slicks around the confluence of the Passur River (the main channel in the center) or the Shella River (Smaller offshoot to the east, obscured by clouds), but there appear to be a few ropy slicks downstream from the spill. At 15 meters, the panchromatic band (B8) is the highest resolution we can get with Landsat 8. 
 
Image Credit – Landsat 8 (NASA/USGS); Acquired Dec. 10, 2014
 
Here is the detail on those ships moored in the Passur River, with the black discoloration in the water more apparent as we zoom in. 

Image Credit – Landsat 8 (NASA/USGS); Acquired Dec. 10, 2014

 

Zooming back out with Sentinel 1 – A to the wide-angle view, here is an overview of the impacted area. Not all of the black in the river is oil. Calm waters near shore can also appear darker than open water stirred up by the wind. However, where there are narrow strands of darker material, we believe this may very well be some of the oil threatening this incredibly diverse ecosystem. 

Image Credit – Sentinel 1-A (ESA); Acquired Dec. 12, 2014

To download these images for yourself, visit EarthExplorer for the latest Landsat, and create an account at the Sentinel Scientific Data Hub

Shining a Light on Fishing: FAQ about Global Fishing Watch

THIS PAGE HAS BEEN UPDATED FROM THE ORIGINAL posted in November 2014.

On September 15, 2016, at the Our Ocean Conference in Washington, DC. Actor and ocean advocate Leonardo DiCaprio announced in his remarks to the conference that Global Fishing Watch is now free and open to the public, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry personally received a demonstration of the tool from the Oceana, SkyTruth, and Google team.

Visit Globalfishingwatch.org to see what we’re so excited about.

Find the FAQ page here.

Sign up for updates + Let us know how you might use Global Fishing Watch!