Dear Friends,

Many of you have probably come to know SkyTruth as an environmental watchdog thanks to our work monitoring the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil and gas disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, tracking coal mining in Appalachia, and reporting on pollution incidents and environmental degradation around the world. That’s a role we are uniquely positioned to play, and it continues to be a strong source of motivation for me and the staff and volunteers here at SkyTruth.

But we also play an equally important role as the leaders of a growing global movement of local watchdogs. Every day we are testing new technologies and developing new ways to study critical conservation issues using remote sensing and geospatial data.

This past year, the Cornell Douglas Foundation named SkyTruth a recipient of the 2014 ‘Jean & Leslie Douglas Pearl Award’. Read more…

Our vision is to empower the public to use the same tools we do, to watch over the places they care about and share what they’re seeing with all of us. Here are a few of the projects we’ve initiated to help reach this goal:

– Automating landuse change detection from Landsat imagery, enabling us to issue alerts to concerned citizens when forest disappears in a tiger reserve, land is cleared as the prelude to mining, or a road is cut through public land to facilitate oil and gas drilling.

– Processing vessel location data from tens of thousands of commercial ships around the world to detect fishing activity and suspicious behavior, allowing the public – for the first time – to see fishing happening anywhere in the ocean, and monitor vessel activity in and around marine protected areas.

– Working with Google to engage public participation in identifying mountaintop removal coal mining using high-resolution imagery from the new SkyBox constellation of micro-satellites.

Technology offers us the ability to monitor the world to see when and where big landscape changes are happening, but it can’t always tell us why those changes are occurring, or exactly what is happening. To realize the full potential of the technology, we need to tap the local knowledge and harness the passion and energy that can only come from people who care deeply about their community and environment. This is why we are building the tools, data processing systems, and social network to nurture a global movement of environmental watchdogs. Together we can see – and understand – the damage being inflicted on the environment.

Together we can change it.

– John


Click the map to explore some of our biggest news and stories from 2014…


Now, more than ever, the Earth needs watchdogs. Diligent observers who are undeterred by rugged terrain, unlimited by the distances between desert habitats and deep-sea ecosystems, and able to shine a light on the ways we humans are busily — and too often carelessly — changing our planet. Pollution, environmental degradation and biodiversity loss can occur anywhere, from a remote jungle in Bangladesh to the refineries and oil platforms of the Gulf Coast. But thanks to satellites, aircraft and big data, SkyTruth can be one of those watchdogs.

In August 2014, a tailings dam burst at the Mount Polley gold mine (above) in Canada, burying a small creek under tons of toxic mine waste and dumping millions of gallons of polluted water into the headwaters of the Fraser River only weeks before a run of sockeye salmon were to make their way upstream. By documenting the extent of the spill from space, SkyTruth not only helped expose the impact on Hazeltine Creek and Quesnel Lake, we supported local and indigenous resistance to several proposed gold and copper mines, including the Pebble Mine in Alaska and the Red Chris mine in British Columbia — the latter of which would be operated by the same company responsible for the Mount Polley disaster.

“SkyTruth’s monitoring of the Russian ship [Симушр] helped us on Haida Gwaii understand the path that it would take based on currents and winds. It was a major relief to “see” from the projected path of ship that it would not run aground.

A huge haawa (thank you) from all of us in Haida Gwaii”

Mike Mcleod – Old Massett, B.C.

Access to satellite-derived vessel location data has allowed us to significantly expand our capability to document environmental concerns around the world. In 2014 we used this resource to monitor oil drilling operations in the icy, Arctic waters of the Kara Sea north of Russia. We have watched fully-loaded oil tankers loitering offshore for weeks awaiting a better price for their cargo, and published a turn-by-turn account (right) of a fuel-laden Russian cargo ship which lost power off the coast of British Columbia and drifted perilously close to the rugged shores of Haida G’waii.

Satellite-derived vessel location data shows a stricken Russian cargo vessel is no longer a threat to the rugged shores of British Columbia, thanks to a tow from a Canadian Coast Guard vessel.

Image Credit: exactEarth Shipview


But the Earth needs many watchdogs. That’s why we are working to build the skytruthing movement, where citizens everywhere are equipped to look out for their special part of the planet using the same data, tools, and technology that we use.

From our headquarters in historic Shepherdstown, West Virginia, we run a global team of software developers working on innovative tools to reveal the environmental impact of human activity on Planet Earth. On any given day our programmer in Sweden may be refining a global data visualization of natural gas flaring, or a Google developer in London may be running an algorithm to process millions of data points from commercial fishing vessels around the world. While much of this work is technically complex, our goal is to make imagery and data analysis accessible to the people who need it most.

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.

Brian Sullivan – Program Manager, Google Ocean & Earth Outreach

Our FrackFinder program exemplifies how skytruthing will enable citizen scientists to analyze imagery and create research-quality geospatial data with an easy-to-use interface. Our projects in Pennsylvania and Ohio recruit volunteers to generate unique data about the environmental impact of natural-gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus and Utica Shale regions of the mid-Atlantic.

Flaring from a Bakken shale wellpad just outside Williston, North Dakota, as seen by a camera aboard a high-altitude balloon launched by SkyTruth and Space for All in Sept. 2013. The flaring map (right) was validated by data obtained during this crowdfunded mission. 

Our staff also reaches out to share our vision of satellites, big data, and citizen scientists working together to promote conservation. In 2014 we gave presentations at the World Bank, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. State Department, and the 14th Annual Conference of the National Council for Science and the Environment in Washington, D.C.; Knight Civic Media Conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and at the Monterey Institute and Google GeoForGood Summit in California. In November, President John Amos and Chief Technology Officer Paul Woods travelled to the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia to unveil a prototype of Global Fishing Watch with our partners from Google and Oceana.


Our citizen science projects are laying the foundation for our long-term goal of engaging the public on conservation issues they care about. Volunteers participating in our guided skytruthing projects are contributing unique, high quality data to environmental and public heath research. In addition to our online FrackFinder volunteers, we conducted in-person “frack-a-thons” with groups of students from the University of San Francisco (below), Bucknell University, Shepherd University, Frederick Community College, and Walsh University. They learned about skytruthing, remote sensing, GIS, geospatial data, and fracking – all while helping us power through thousands of image analysis tasks.

Throughout 2014, SkyTruth doggedly pursued effective transparency of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, efforts that saw one of the nation’s largest fracking chemical providers pledge to phase out using trade secret claims to hide the identity of fracking chemicals. Our efforts to improve access to vital environmental data is just one more way we support the work of researchers and community activists.

SkyTruth also helps other organizations put the power of social mapping into citizen’s hands. Our partners at the Louisiana Bucket Brigade curate the SkyTruth-built iWitness Pollution map, collecting pollution reports from industry, government, and the public. Similarly, the Appalachian Water Watch platform we designed for Appalachian Voices enabled residents in the Charleston area to report exposure to 4-methylcyclohexylmethanol (MCHM), a coal-cleaning chemical, after a spill into the Elk River contaminated the drinking water supply of 300,000 people in southern West Virginia.

Global Fishing Watch — our cutting-edge approach to analyzing vessel location data to identify commercial fishing activity — is designed for the concerned citizen in Kiribati wanting to know if her government really did put a stop to commercial fishing in the nation’s largest marine park, or a conscientious seafood buyer in Seattle wanting to know when and where his fish are caught. Overfishing, compounded by illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, is draining the life from our world’s ocean. We believe that improving the transparency of fishing activity will help fisheries managers make better decisions, will benefit the legitimate operators who fish legally and sustainably, and will make it much harder for bad actors to conceal their theft.

We win by degrees over time. Your dogged, unrelenting work on fracking transparency  is having an impact, and I salute you.

Mark Trechock – former Director (ret.), Dakota Resource Council




Alki Fund of Tides Foundation

Cornell Douglas Foundation



The Herbert W. Hoover Foundation & Walsh Univeristy

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health


The Oregon Community Foundation


The Betsy and Jesse Fink Foundation

The Heinz Endowments

The Campbell Foundation

Wallace Genetic Foundation

Walton Family Foundation

WestWind Foundation

 And contributions from supporters like you…




Phone: 304-885-4581

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 3283

Shepherdstown, WV 25443