Big Changes Coming to SkyTruth Alerts

For the last year or so we’ve been working to revamp SkyTruth Alerts, an app we built for ourselves in 2011, and then opened up to the public a year later. The Alerts lets you see environmental incidents and notifications on a map as they are reported, and allows subscribers to sign up to receive email notifications about reported environmental incidents in areas they care about (aka “Areas of Interest” or AOIs). Technology has made a few leaps since then, so it was time for an overhaul. We’ve added some new features too. We’re excited about the changes, and we hope you will be too.  

What’s Changed?

In a lot of ways, the new SkyTruth Alerts app works the way it always has: anyone can view the map and see the latest reported alerts for a particular area. These notifications come from federal and state websites that we have “scraped” to obtain the reports. The largest source of data is the nationwide oil and hazardous materials spill reports collected by the National Response Center (i.e., NRC Reports). Anyone can sign up to receive email notifications about incidents in their AOIs.

New and Restored Sources of Alerts

As part of the Alerts revamp, we’ve restored and/or added the following sources of alerts:

  • West Virginia oil & gas drilling permits –  restored
  • Colorado oil & gas drilling permits – new
  • Florida Pollution Reports – new

Account Management

We’ve also added account management so you can update your AOIs or change your email address more easily. Signing up for an account will also let you take advantage of new tools we’ll be rolling out in the coming months (we’ll keep you posted after the launch).

New Look!

This is what SkyTruth Alerts looks like right now:

This is what you’ll see when you first open the revamped SkyTruth Alerts (subject to some possible changes over the next few weeks, as we respond to feedback and suggestions from our alpha testers):

New Features!

Here are a few of the new features we’ve added:

New Ways to Create AOIs

Right now, SkyTruth Alerts lets you create AOIs that are a square or rectangle, but that’s not always the ideal shape. In the new version, we’ve added some tools that give you a little more control: you can draw a polygon, take a “snapshot” your current map view, or select a state or county boundary from a list of pre-defined AOIs):

After you create an AOI, you can edit your AOI (or delete it and start again) before giving it a name and saving it to your My Areas list.

Filter Out the Noise

We’ve added several ways to filter what you see in Alerts, so that you can focus on what’s important to you. SkyTruth Alerts shows you the 100 most-recent incidents in your map view (double what’s shown in the current version), so filtering has the added benefit of showing you more of the types of alerts you want to see. You can filter alerts by:

Date Range

Type of Alert

Base Layers

Select from a couple of different map backdrops (“base layers”) so you can focus on what’s important to you. Below is a screenshot of SkyTruth Alerts using the “Minimal” base layer.

Alerts Within AOI Only

This can be useful if there are a lot of alerts in the surrounding area that are more recent than the alerts within your AOI.  

In the image below, there are only a few alerts are shown in the West Virginia AOI:

However, once alerts are limited to within the AOI, the picture changes:

New Ways to View Alerts Markers

In some places, there are many, many alerts in the same location. This can make it hard to move around the map because you end up clicking or tapping an alert marker when you wanted move around in the map view. It can also be hard to “grab” a particular alert marker from a stack of them.

In the first screenshot, clustering is turned on, making it easier to move around the map. Click on a cluster marker to zoom in on that area and see more alerts.

Once you’ve zeroed in on your area of interest, it can still be hard to see the forest for the trees in some locations. In the next image, clustering is turned off. You can see that there are a lot of alerts in this area, but how many exactly?

The image below shows the same area as the one above. If you click on one of the alert markers, it will “explode,” showing you all of the alerts in that location. Click on any of the exploded markers to view the report.

So when’s the Launch?

We’re getting ready to begin alpha testing in in mid-November. Lots of our current subscribers have volunteered to be testers and will be helping us put the finishing touches on the app. A big thank you to all of you who are helping us with that! Testing will last four weeks, and during that time we’ll be making continuous updates based on feedback we receive. We expect to go live with the new version by the end of the year.

SkyTruth Alerts – Try It!

Ever wonder what’s going on in the environment around your home, your school, your favorite vacation spot? Us too: the world is a big place, and it takes a LOT of satellite images to cover it all. Here at SkyTruth we scour the infosphere for hints telling us where to look, and when. Over the years we’ve accumulated a collection of information sources that we use to decide which satellite images to analyze, and then we use this blog to report our findings and publish our images. We’ve been working on a system to easily share those sources with our partners, and now we’re ready to share it with everyone.

SkyTruth Alerts

Today we are launching a new service on our website called SkyTruth Alerts where we publish environmental incident reports, as we get (and produce) them. We are starting off the service with reports collected from three sources – focused heavily on oil and gas drilling and related activities in the US. The sources are reported oil and hazardous materials spills from the National Response Center, pollution response and investigation reports from NOAA’s Incident News, and incident analyses published on our own SkyTruth blog. We will add more information sources over coming weeks, and extend our focus to include gas drilling and fracking in the Marcellus Shale.

How it Works

The system works by displaying on a map or in Google Earth the most recent incident reports from all sources for whatever region you are interested in. You can browse through the list of incidents geographically on the map, or chronologically in a list. Each incident report identifies the source of the report, the location, and details about the incident. Incident reports are pulled automatically from the various sources several times per day and updated immediately on the website. A visitor to the site can type in the name of a city or a street address and go directly to that location to see the recent incidents that have been reported nearby.

Automatic Update Notifications

Of course, no one wants to have to keep returning to a website every day just to see if anything new has been posted, which is why we offer a subscription system that delivers updates within your personally selected geographic area via RSS feed, or straight to your email (you’ll get one “daily digest” message per day).

So give it a try to get informed about pollution incidents happening in the places you care most about. And please let us know what you like, what you don’t, what you wish you could do with the Alerts. We will continually work to improve this system, so your feedback is very important!