The SkyTruth Story

Making data more accessible and usable, and giving it away for others to build on

Photo by USGS on Unsplash

Our Story

How we started

Founder John Amos started SkyTruth in the year 2000 to fill a critical gap in environmental conservation: using satellite imagery to help save the planet.

As a remote sensing expert then working in the resource-extraction industry, John saw first hand how industry used imagery to exploit – and sometimes destroy – landscapes by identifying promising mining or drilling sites from space.

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The SkyTruth epiphany

Examining a satellite image of the devastation surrounding the eruption of Mount St. Helens years earlier, John noticed extensive forest clearcutting nearby. In that moment, he realized that satellite imagery could expose harmful human activities that were otherwise hidden from view.

Back then, few conservation groups, concerned citizens, journalists, or policymakers had the expertise or resources to access and analyze the information that was available from space. In starting SkyTruth, John leveled the playing field and gave away information that previously was available only to industry.

The SkyTruth epiphany

Examining a satellite image of the devastation surrounding the eruption of Mount St. Helens years earlier, John noticed extensive forest clearcutting nearby. In that moment, he realized that satellite imagery could expose harmful human activities that were otherwise hidden from view.

Back then, few conservation groups, concerned citizens, journalists, or policymakers had the expertise or resources to access and analyze the information that was available from space. In starting SkyTruth, John leveled the playing field and gave away information that previously was available only to industry.

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SkyTruth has always led by example, using Google’s cloud computing platforms to develop solutions for conservation issues with global implications. Their expertise spans beyond just the technology to work with other organizations and motivated citizens to produce compelling visualizations, making the world aware, and driving positive change.

A pivotal moment

April 2010 was a pivotal moment in SkyTruth’s history, and the history of the Gulf of Mexico. An offshore drilling rig called the Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf, killing 11 men and setting in motion the largest accidental oil spill in history.

SkyTruth was the first to publicly challenge BP’s inaccurate reports of the fate of oil spilling into the Gulf. With our partners at Florida State University, we used satellite images to estimate the actual amount of oil gushing from the damaged well. Based only on the oil that appeared on the surface, we calculated the rate of flow from the well was twenty-five times more than BP was reporting.

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SkyTruth in the spotlight

Challenging BP’s estimates brought significant media attention to our mission and demonstrated the role that remote sensing has to play in understanding environmental issues.

Our long-term goal is not just to report on disasters, but to inspire a global movement where everyone can easily access the resources we use, and be motivated to protect the planet from future catastrophes.

SkyTruth in the spotlight

Challenging BP’s estimates brought significant media attention to our mission and demonstrated the role that remote sensing has to play in understanding environmental issues.

Our long-term goal is not just to report on disasters, but to inspire a global movement where everyone can easily access the resources we use, and be motivated to protect the planet from future catastrophes.

The future of SkyTruth

As more and more satellites fill Earth’s orbit, the vast quantities of data available require a trusted source to sort through the thousands of images every day and spot damaging activities – sometimes while they are occurring.

SkyTruth is that trusted source. We develop and use the latest technology, such as machine learning, to analyze, interpret, and – most importantly – publish maps, images, and other information in a way that allows the public to hold polluters and others accountable for their actions.

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