Images as Art and Science

Here at SkyTruth we appreciate the sheer beauty and fun of satellite imagery, in addition to it’s intrinsic scientific and educational value. That’s why we spend waaayyy too much time at the California Geographical Survey checking out the excellent work of Dr. William Bowen.

He’s built a huge and growing collection of 3-D panoramic views and flyover videos from around the planet, created from Landsat and other satellite imaging systems and organized into browsable “digital atlases.” He also produces informational wall maps, designed for classroom use, that educators may download and print.

Browsing this site is a real treat – these maps and images convey the big-picture context of landscapes and environments in a uniquely enjoyable way. It’s the next best thing to spaceflight, and a heckuva lot cheaper!

Upper Green River Valley Video Now On EmPivot

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out our 10-minute, narrated video tour of natural-gas drilling in the upper Green River valley area of western Wyoming (the southern part of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem). It’s a mashup of Google Earth flyover sequences, photos taken from the air and ground, and GIS information that tells the story of the impacts of energy development on this region:
It’s been available for online viewing through YouTube. Now you can also view it online at EmPivot, a new site for environmental videos that provides higher-resolution viewing. Compare the YouTube version of our video with the EmPivot version.

And if you’d like to download the full-screen version for standalone play, help yourself to either the Windows Media Player or the QuickTime versions (warning – very large files, broadband only!). Our Upper Green River Valley image gallery is another resource packed with images and photos, featuring the spread of natural-gas infrastructure across a vast landscape as the booming Jonah and Pinedale Anticline fields have grown over the past decade. You can learn more about this, and see some nifty time-series animations of SkyTruth imagery, at the Upper Green River Valley Coalition website.

Uranium Mining – Another Side to Nuclear Power

With energy prices rising steadily, nuclear power is reviving. The number of reactors worldwide is now 315, jumping by 93 (42%) in 2007. So it’s no surprise that uranium mining is booming. Thousands of new uranium mining claims have been staked across the US in the past few years, existing uranium mines are ramping up production, defunct mines are being re-opened, and new mine proposals crop up like mushrooms (hmmm….), especially in the Western US, even along the rim of the Grand Canyon.

It’s good to remember that it’s not just nuclear waste that’s a serious problem; the mining, processing and transport of uranium can get ugly too. Case in point: an in-situ uranium mine near Douglas Wyoming — touted by industry and government officials as a model for modern uranium-mining techniques — is now being investigated for “an alarming volume of environmental violations.” Take a look at our Google Earth-generated pics of the site (showing what appears to be an open dumpsite next to the main facility, with open ponds and trenches containing water or other liquids). Earth users, download our KMZ to take your own self-guided tour. Try your hand at image analysis, and let us know what you think is going on at this site.

Why support SkyTruth? A Funder’s Perspective

I work at the WestWind Foundation, a family foundation based in Charlottesville, Virginia, that provides support to non-profits working to stop mountaintop removal coal mining. WestWind has supported SkyTruth since 2004. Before coming to WestWind, I knew little of the technical analysis performed by SkyTruth. But in the past year, I have learned something of the destruction being wrought everyday upon the southern Appalachian mountains. Blasting off the tops of mountains to extract coal contributes to groundwater contamination and health problems, disrupts the lives of local people living with constant detonation, fills in hundreds of miles of streams, and destroys the ecological heritage of one of the most biologically diverse regions of the country.

At first, I wondered how a picture from space could possibly capture all the destruction, devastation, pain, and injustice that is caused by this type of coal mining. When I had the opportunity to view SkyTruth’s maps and images, and to learn exactly what their modeling and analysis could show, I was amazed. David, John and their team have uncovered and mapped the extent of mountaintop removal mining in the southern Appalachians, something that has never before been undertaken by government or industry (let alone a small non-profit). I watched, amazed, as David showed how the devastation has advanced over a thirty-year period, devouring a majority of the land area within certain counties in southwestern Virginia and eastern Kentucky.

Although the data and the maps are impressive, they alone are not what make SkyTruth’s work successful and engaging. The partnership between SkyTruth and Appalachian Voices is a truly unique relationship between science and the grassroots, and between data analysis and story-telling. Appalachian Voices has built a revolutionary website that allows anyone in the country to input their zip code and trace their energy utility’s use of mountaintop removal coal. SkyTruth provides the technical data and maps that show which mountains have been destroyed; Appalachian Voices provides the human stories behind the devastation. Both strategies are necessary to end this kind of ecological and community destruction.

What continues to impress me about SkyTruth is that this kind of behind-the-scenes advocacy is not limited to southern Appalachian coal communities. SkyTruth works to illustrate the impacts of natural gas drilling in Wyoming; diamond mining in Canada; oil and tar sands in Canada, Australia, and Colorado; trawling in the Gulf of Mexico, and the list goes on. What lies at the heart of SkyTruth’s mission is a deep concern for the planet’s shared ecological commons, and the commitment to bringing images of their destruction to the public.

Another Gigantic Frozen Mudsicle in Colorado?!

Colorado environmentalists who flew up to the head of Garden Gulch in western Colorado on March 19 were hoping to take some aerial pictures of a frozen “waterfall” of spilled drilling fluid that had been investigated by state Department of Natural Resources staff in late February (see our previous posting on the spills that have plagued this area of intensive drilling for natural gas).

Photo by Pete Kolbenschlag / Mountain West Strategies and EcoFlight

Instead, they found something truly astonishing that hadn’t been reported: a 100′ tall tower of frozen mud, apparently caused by severe erosion of soil from dirt roads and pipelines that were being built near the rim on the Roan Plateau. Two backhoes and several trucks are plainly visible in these pictures, taken by Pete Kolbenschlag of Mountain West Strategies during a low-altitude flyover by our friend Bruce Gordon of EcoFlight.

What else is lurking out there? Let us know if anything strange pops up…