SkyTruth Alerts: When We Know, You Know

Key Takeaways:

  1. SkyTruth is looking for new sources for the environmental alerts we send out.
  2. Since relaunching Alerts in December, 2018, we’ve expanded Oil & Gas permitting to include West Virginia, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Montana and Utah. We’ve also added pollution alerts for Florida, New Mexico and New York.
  3. We rely on our users to let us know about potential new sources for Alerts. Email your ideas to info@skytruth.org.

Introduction

Where do you start if you want to monitor the environment in an area that’s special to you? How do you find useful data? You might have a specific issue in mind and you suspect there’s relevant data online if you could only find it. Data.gov alone contains 252,892 datasets last time you checked, and much of that’s related to the environment.

You could spend days researching online datasets, and when you find something relevant figure out how to navigate the website to pull out the data you need while somehow filtering for your Area of Interest (AOI). Repeat daily.

Or, you could register for a SkyTruth Alerts account, outline and save your AOI, then go live your life while we do the heavy lifting.

Example of an Alerts email.

SkyTruth Alerts was built in 2012, originally as an in-house tool for our staff to automate receiving notifications of incidents reported to the Coast Guard’s National Response Center (NRC). The NRC is a federal emergency call center that fields initial reports for pollution and railroad incidents. They make updates available usually once a week, which we then download and add to our database. SkyTruth Alerts was soon thereafter made available to the public and expanded to include Pennsylvania Oil & Gas Permitting events, which we “scrape” from PA’s Dept. of Environmental Protection website several times a day. SkyTruth makes Alerts available to anyone, and at no charge, for the purpose of providing access to tools, data and satellite imagery that environmentalists otherwise wouldn’t have. 

In 2018, Alerts was given a facelift and SkyTruth began looking for additional datasets that would help subscribers monitor their AOIs. We’ve since expanded Oil & Gas permitting to include West Virginia, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Montana and Utah. We’ve also added pollution alerts for Florida, New Mexico and New York.

Alerts In the Big Picture

Alerts is an environmental monitoring platform. In addition to receiving incident emails, users also have access to satellite imagery, relevant map layers, and the ability to annotate and share map views. Alerts is not a research platform — there are websites that do a great job with this (World Resources Institute, for one). And while we have some of the tools that allow you to monitor a species, we’re not really designed to do this task which, by the way, is already very aptly handled by sites such as iNaturalist.org. At the same time, if there’s a map layer that will help you monitor your AOI, let us know about it and we’ll see if it can be added to the set of layers we make available. 

Getting Started with Alerts

  1. If you haven’t already done so, register for an account.
  2. Identify your AOI(s).
  3. Identify the Alerts you want to receive.
  4. Check your email for new alerts.

What About Dataset XYZ?

We are always on the lookout for new datasets that can be a source for new Alerts, and we depend on our subscribers to help find these sources. If a dataset is important to you, it might also be important to others and we’d like to learn more. Email us at info@skytruth.org.

The number one requirement for an Alerts source is that the data must be available online. After that, to be meaningful the source needs to be related to the environment, have location information such as latitude/longitude or address, and include a date such as the incident date. Alerts don’t have to be about incidents that have already occurred. We’re also interested in new alert sources that would drive people to take action before there’s harm to the environment. Think upcoming hearings, permitting processes, etc. If the data’s online somewhere, it might make a relevant SkyTruth alert.

Our current plans are to add more oil and gas permitting states, pollution incidents and federal datasets such as those from the EPA. We love hearing from our subscribers about potential new sources and how they can be useful, and the more people who might use a source, the more likely we can add it to our database.

Coming Soon?

SkyTruth may soon be its own source of Alerts. Over the years we’ve compiled some unique datasets such as our global flaring data, which dates back to 2012. New flaring in an AOI equals a new alert, right? That’s the plan! We’re also working on algorithms that will automatically identify changes in the environment and our strategic plan includes feeding the results of Conservation Vision into Alerts. Stay tuned for progress on these fronts!

 

Annotate & Share Your SkyTruth Alerts Map

SkyTruth’s latest update to Alerts adds features that allow subscribers to annotate a map view and share it with co-workers, organizations and interested parties. These additions add to a rich set of features that are unique to online mapping and satellite imagery viewing — all available for free to the public.

New annotation features allow subscribers to:
  • Highlight traits found in satellite imagery
  • Measure the area of new development or changes in a habitat’s footprint
  • Add information to a SkyTruth Alerts incident
  • Measure boundary setbacks or the distance between 2 objects
  • Add text to the map in preparation for sharing with others

This is accomplished with a set of tools that can annotate by using shapes (rectangles, circles, polygons), lines, text, markers and measurements. A guide to these tools is available here.

New sharing capabilities allow you to save current map views either as a JPG image or a unique URL. Visit here for a  guide to sharing and some of its limitations.

The full online manual is available here.

We’ll be testing and fine-tuning these features throughout the summer. If you run into problems or want to suggest features you’d like to use with Alerts, please contact us at feedback@skytruth.org. We would also enjoy hearing about how you’re able to make use of these features!

PA and WV Drilling Alerts have Moved to SkyTruth Alerts

If you’ve been on the Pennsylvania Drilling Alerts or West Virginia Drilling Alerts pages lately, you know that they’ve been semi-broken for a while. The technology we’re using on the Drilling Alerts pages is pretty old and will be retired soon. However, you can now do the same county monitoring in SkyTruth Alerts. We’d love it if you’d take it for a spin and tell us what you think.

The PA and WV Drilling Alerts pages have been semi-broken for a while.

We’ve set up two public accounts at SkyTruth Alerts — one for Pennsylvania counties and one for West Virginia counties — that will let you view county alerts in pretty much the same way you did on the Drilling Alerts pages, and with some extra features that we use in-house and hope you’ll find useful too.

To view Drilling Alerts at SkyTruth Alerts:

  1. Go to https://alerts.skytruth.org
  2. Select Login from the top right of the map.  Log in using the UserID and Password information below.

    UserID: Pennsylvania or WestVirginia (no spaces)
    Password: skytruth
  3. Select the My AOIs tab from the left sidebar and choose a county.
  4. Select the Alerts tab from the left sidebar and choose which alerts you want to see.
  5. You can opt to view only alerts within the county you selected and view alerts for a particular date range (Alerts tab).
  6. You can also view near-real-time satellite imagery to help you assess what’s happening on the ground (My AOIs tab).

If you plan to keep using SkyTruth Alerts, consider creating your own account. You’ll be able to keep your settings instead of having to select them every time you log in, and you can optionally receive email notifications when new alerts come in. If you have comments, suggestions, questions, etc., contact us at feedback@skytruth.org.

Satellite Imagery comes to SkyTruth Alerts

Given SkyTruth’s mission of using the view from space to motivate people to protect the environment, it was only a matter of time before satellite imagery would find its way into our Alerts application. With 2019 comes the ability to visually check out what’s taking place in your areas of interest (AOIs), all inside the same application that notifies you about environmental events in those areas.

Newly available imagery in Alerts comes from Sentinel-2 satellites, an Earth observation mission from the European Union’s Copernicus Program. Copernicus systematically acquires optical imagery at high spatial resolution (10 to 60 meters) over land and coastal waters, with new images available about every five days in many areas.

What you can see with 10 meter resolution imagery

The 10m resolution images from Sentinel 2 satellites should work well if you’re searching for new roads, expansion of large disturbance areas, or changes in natural boundaries. But you’ll be disappointed if you’re trying to identify tree cover or the type of vehicle that’s parked in your driveway.

In a 10m resolution image, one pixel represents a 10 meter by 10 meter area, so objects will need to be considerably larger than that for any detail to be discernible.

Here are two 10m images over a gas drilling site in Pennsylvania, taken one year apart.

 

Viewing satellite imagery inside SkyTruth Alerts

Most new features in Alerts require you to login. From alerts.skytruth.org, click on the  LOGIN  link in the header and follow the instructions. First time users will need to register for a new account.

NOTE: If you used our original Alerts, you’ll still need to register for an account the first time. Just remember to use the same email that you used to subscribe to AOIs in the original Alerts.

 

2. Identify the Area of Interest (AOI)

Start by clicking on the My Areas tab.

If you’ve already subscribed to an AOI, you can easily select it by clicking on its thumbnail.

Or, you can start a new AOI by clicking “Explore a New Area”.

 

3. Click the Sentinel Imagery checkbox.

 

4. Select your image date

Notes

  • Feel free to adjust the cloud cover or enter a date range, then click Filter to change the images that are available.
  • You can remove the alerts markers by, 1) Clicking the Alerts tab, 2) checking/unchecking the alerts you want on the map, 3) Clicking the My Areas tab to return the AOI controls.
  • If you like the AOI you’ve created, don’t forget to click Add this AOI to my list.
  • Use cloud cover percentage as a guidance. This represents the larger satellite image, which may cover substantially more area than your AOI. So it’s possible to have a low percentage of cloud cover and still have your AOI covered mostly by clouds.
  • You can add highways, towns, etc., to your image by clicking the Show Labels checkbox.

What’s next with Alerts and imagery

The true color images shown throughout this post are just part of what’s possible with satellite imagery. In addition to the red, green and blue bands that give images their true color appearance, most satellites catch additional bands that can include near-infrared, mid-infrared, far-infrared and thermal-infrared. Identifying landscape patterns and features using combinations of these spectral bands starts with additional processing by various data enhancement techniques, and is often followed by some type of classification algorithm to help understand what each feature or pattern represents. Doing this work is one of the challenges faced by SkyTruth Geospatial Analysts and other scientists around the world.

What do you think?

We’d like to know what you think about the addition of Sentinel-2 satellite images to the Alerts system: Will you use this new feature? What does it help you do? How does it fall short? We’re working to make continual improvements to Alerts and we’d love to hear from you! Send us an email at at feedback@skytruth.org.