San Francisco Bay – Cosco Busan Oil Spill

On November 7 a transoceanic container ship called the Cosco Busan hit one of the supports for the SF – Oakland Bay Bridge, tearing a big gash in the side of the vessel and spilling 58,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil into the Bay. At first the Coast Guard seriously underestimated the size of the spill, and it took a couple of hours before containment and cleanup crews were on the scene. By then the oil had spread, and over the following week it traveled throughout much of the Bay and even out into the Pacific Ocean, washing up on beaches over a wide area.

We had a radar imaging satellite (named, appropriately enough, “Radarsat“) take a picture as it orbited over the San Francisco Bay five days later. Defenders of Wildlife, Ocean Conservancy and San Francisco Baykeeper helped pay for the image, which showed numerous slicks in the Bay and beyond the Golden Gate. Check out our gallery and the press release from Ocean Conservancy, and this video showing why the failure to contain the spill promptly lead to a much more widespread impact.

For you Google Earth users (and there are more of you every day!), we also produced this KMZ file. The story told by the imagery is summed up well by Warner Chabot at Ocean Conservancy: “…containing the oil in the first two hours is 100 times more important than chasing it all over the San Francisco Bay for the next two weeks.” Two Bay-area stations used our images in their November 20 broadcasts – CBS 5 news at noon (watch the story), and ABC 7 news at 5pm.

UPDATE 7/17/2009: The skipper of the Cosco Busan, John Cota, was just given a 10-month jail sentence for negligence leading to the illegal discharge of 53,000 gallons of oil into the Bay.

Welcome to SkyTruth!

Welcome to the new SkyTruth blog. We’ll use this space to keep you up to date on what we’re doing. And once in a while, to ask for your help when we run into problems we can’t solve, or great project ideas that we’re too maxed out to tackle.

What is SkyTruth? We’re a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization based in groovy Shepherdstown, West Virginia, about 70 miles upstream from Washington, DC. But we see SkyTruth as more than that – it’s also a noun (think “ground truth”), and we hope, a global movement to produce visual proof of our impact on the landscapes, habitats and environment of the planet to anyone who cares to see it. Our tools of choice for this mission are images and photos taken from above: from orbiting satellites and from airplanes. Our tools are “remote sensing” and geographic information systems (GIS), used to help people understand our changing world and motivate them to take action to protect and preserve the environment.

But a picture is worth a thousand words. To get a better feel for what we’ve done since we started up in 2001, start at our home page and take some time to check out our online image galleries.

We hope you’ll check out this space regularly!