True Spin Conference

I just gave a presentation, “The Use of Advanced Technology for Environmental Outreach Campaigns,” at the second True Spin Conference in Denver. This is a meeting of communications professionals from a broad range of public-benefit organizations, addressing issues like public health, affordable housing, social justice, and the environment.

I talked about SkyTruth’s mission to understand and illustrate environmental issues using satellite images and other remote-sensing and digital mapping technologies. Of course, free tools such as Google Earth and Maps figured prominently, but we also discussed the potential to recruit people to actively provide us with “ground truth” — photos, video and other information they collect for a specific facility, mine, gas well, or other place of interest. There were a lot of good questions from the audience of about 30-40, who were very engaged and politely tolerated my bad jokes.

I was able to catch a couple of great presentations. Karen Showalter of Netcentric Campaigns covered the latest online communications tools being used for public outreach (“twitter” was new to me). John Kelly of Morningside Analytics provided an intriguing look at interconnectedness in the blogosphere that used statistical techniques and graphical cluster mapping to show how the most-cited bloggers are not necessarily the most influential (so I take heart in that…!) Click here for the two-day program, and here to check out all of the presenters.

San Francisco Bay’s Sneaky Bridges Strike Again!

Another of those treacherous San Francisco Bay bridges – this time the nefarious Richmond-San Rafael bridge – apparently jumped out in the path of a barge carrying nearly 65,000 barrels (2.7 MILLION gallons) of heavy oil last night. The Coast Guard reports that none of the oil has been spilled, although the barge was damaged on the starboard bow and the hull may have been breached. Check out the story by KRON Channel 4 and their video news conference with the Coast Guard.

(Generic tug-and-barge pic purely for illustration – courtesy of this excellent image gallery)

Coming so soon after the Cosco Busan fuel-oil spill in the Bay, this is a vivid reminder that accidents will happen. In this case (so far at least) the folks in San Francisco have gotten lucky and the Coast Guard response was timely. I hope the folks living around Puget Sound, Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, and other busy port areas in confined estuaries are paying close attention and keeping on their toes – it’s only a matter of time before spills occur, and as the Cosco Busan incident illustrated, immediate effective response is necessary to prevent costly damage to both local economies and natural resources.

Atlantic Rim CBM – Big Drilling in Wyoming

Plans to drill for natural gas in Wyoming continue to proliferate. We’ve attempted to simulate one of the more controversial proposals to allow drilling for coalbed methane across a rugged scenic area in south-central Wyoming, noted for wildlife and hunting / recreation opportunities, called the Atlantic Rim.

Simulated coalbed methane (CBM) drilling in the central Atlantic Rim area; oblique view looking east.

In March 2007, the Bureau of Land Management issued a final environmental impact statement and record of decision for managing this area that allows up to 2,000 wells drilled from individual well sites (wellpads) about 2-1/4 acres in size, with the closest spacing being one well per 80 acres. Our online gallery includes both topographic maps and Landsat satellite imagery showing the area as it is now, and how it could appear if drilling conforms to this plan.

New Image Data Source: TerraLook

Just got word from our colleague Gary Geller at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory about a new source of free, full-resolution, multi-decade satellite imagery: TerraLook, from the US Geological Survey. The great thing about this site is the images are provided in JPEG format, a standard graphic that can be displayed using most office software and picture viewers. You can choose Landsat and ASTER satellite images from the 1970s up through the 2000s. Delivery is via FTP (no more messy CDs to deal with!).

For those of you interested in foolin’ around with image processing and GIS mapmaking, you can also download free TerraLook software.

We’ve just ordered a set of images from the Upper Green River Valley area of western Wyoming; we’ll let you know how this new data source works out.

Pebble Mine, Alaska

What could become one of the world’s biggest open-pit gold mines, called the Pebble Mine, is being proposed in southwest Alaska. Opponents of the plan, including sportsmen, commercial fisherman, many native Alaskans, and former Alaska governor Jim Hammond, are concerned that the mine could affect the economically important wild-salmon fishing and tourism industries. The mine site is located in the headwaters of streams flowing into Lake Iliamana and Bristol Bay.

SkyTruth has generated a gallery of satellite images showing what the mine site looks like now, and a series of simulations based on several versions of the mine development plan that have been published by the mining company, Northern Dynasty. A tip o’ the hat to one of SkyTruth’s talented volunteers, Andrew Vernon, who produced this simulation showing the most recent plan.

And another nod to Erin and Hig McKittrick for their excellent Pebble Mine website, including a blog, photo gallery, and interactive Google map of the Pebble Mine site and surrounding area. All in all, this is an outstanding example of the “ground truth” comment Paul discussed a few days ago. Expect to see a whole lot more of this in 2008!