Rampal Coal-Fired Power Plant Threatens Sundarbans

The Sundarbans: a near-mythic landscape of forest and swamp, byzantine river channels and tidal mud flats, one of the last strongholds of the highly endangered Bengal tiger.  Straddling the border separating India and Bangladesh, this impenetrable wilderness spans the mouths of the Ganges River as its broad delta meets the stormy Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean.  This is one of the special places on earth that is recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  That’s why concern is mounting over the construction of a new coal-fired power plant just upstream in Bangladesh, near the town of Rampal. One of the world’s poorest countries, Bangladesh needs stable sources of electricity to improve the general standard of living. But the location of this power plant is problematic. It’s being built along the bank of a distributary channel of the Ganges, one of the world’s biggest rivers, prone to regular flooding.  It is essentially at sea level, in a region routinely thrashed by strong tropical cyclones that push massive storm surges up those channels and far inland.  As global warming pushes up sea level, and is predicted to make tropical storms more intense, these problems will only get worse. (Irony alert: much of the global warming that imperils low-lying island nations and coastal nations like Bangladesh is a due to CO2 emissions from… coal-fired power plants.)

UNESCO spells out the risks to the Sundarbans in this report. Air pollution and fly-ash deposition downwind will impact the mangrove forests and alter the chemistry of surface waters; onsite storage of coal-ash in such a flood prone area poses a significant risk of water contamination (as we’ve seen here in the US, with a massive coal-ash spill in Tennessee and currently ongoing spills caused by flooding in the wake of Hurricane Matthew); and the transport of coal by large cargo ships increases the possibility of large oil spills, as we observed when two ships collided in the Sundarbans in December 2014.

We thought we would take a look at the Rampal power plant site using Google Earth to show what’s happening as the construction progresses:


Location of the Rampal coal-fired power plant in Bangladesh, currently under construction. The remaining intact mangrove forests of The Sundarbans are dark green.


A closer look at the Rampal power plant site, on the eastern bank of a distributary channel of the Ganges River.


Detail view of the Rampal site as it appeared in 2001, prior to any construction activity.  See time-series of matching views below.


Rampal site in November 2010, prior to construction activity. Note that most of the area is flooded.


Rampal site in April 2013. Construction activity is underway. Fill material (light brown) is being used to build up the site.


Rampal site, March 2016. Fill material has been added to elevate and level the site, and levees (?) (bright strips?) are apparently being added along the perimeter.


Rampal site, March 2016. The site footprint now covers an area of 520 acres (nearly one square mile).


Olympic Park, Sochi

Here’s a “before-and-after” view of the Olympic Park showing some of the transformation that has occurred in the vicinity of Sochi to accommodate the ongoing Winter Olympics:

Future site of Olympic Park near Sochi – 2007
Olympic Park – November 2013

Anyone else tired of figure skating and snowboarding yet?

Timelapse: Three Decades of Powder River Basin Coal Mining

Earlier this year Google launched the Timelapse project,  a global interactive map that uses three decades of Landsat imagery to show how our world is changing. One stunning example of human impact on the planet is the rapid buildout of Powder River Basin coal mines in the Thunder Basin National Grassland.

In addition to domestic power production, coal exports are an increasingly controversial issue as demand in Asia increases. Exporting coal means even more mining here at home, long coal trains transporting it to ports through busy cities, increased train derailments, and more dirty coal terminals that spill and flood

If you can’t see the embedded map above, please check it out on our website: http://skytruth.org/issues/mining/energy/

Be sure to check out past posts on this issue to see mines like this one compared with more familiar features like San Francisco, and get an idea how big the trains are that carry all this coal to foreign markets. And do some skytruthing of your own at: 

Panama Canal Getting Bigger. Much Bigger.

A man, a plan, a canal. Panama!

It’s not just a quaint anagram. In this age of relentlessly expanding global commerce, Panama has been planning ahead, and is investing billions of dollars in supersizing the canal (photo gallery here) to allow the passage of the new breed of supersized cargo ships.  Even more coal mined from Appalachian mountains and Montana/Wyoming prairies — and possibly natural gas extracted from shale by hydraulic fracturing — will likely be shipped to Asia and other markets once this expansion work is completed.

The global warming-driven decline in Arctic sea ice might divert some of the cargo traffic Panama is counting on to pay for this expansion, if the Northwest Passage becomes a viable trade route. So in a bit of irony, by feeding the world’s addiction to fossil fuels, Panama may be undercutting its business plan.  Just sayin.

Here are a couple of images from Google Earth showing the area around the Caribbean end of the Panama Canal near the Gatun Locks, as it appeared in 2005 and with the expansion project well underway in 2012.

Panama Canal near Gatun, in 2005.


Panama Canal near Gatun, in 2012. Expansion of canal in progress to accommodate much larger ‘New Panamax’ cargo vessels.


More post-Sandy NOAA Aerial Photography Available

NOAA has posted a new set of post-Hurricane Sandy aerial photography covering much of the New Jersey shoreline and parts of the New York City metro area.  The images were shot yesterday, November 1.

It’s remarkable how much beach erosion is evident from these photos.  It’s possible the “before” images were taken during low tide, but breaking waves are apparent much closer to roadways and homes along the shore than on the pre-Sandy photos.

Here are a few examples to follow up the ones we posted yesterday.  You can view all the photos from October 31 and November 1 on NOAA’s handy interactive website. NOAA has also created a small gallery of before/after image pairs using a neat slider tool for easy comparison. [Another, bigger gallery is here.]

BEFORE: Lake Como, NJ.
AFTER: Flooded neighborhoods surrounding Lake Como, NJ. November 1, 2012.

BEFORE: Beach near Monmouth, NJ.
AFTER: Beach erosion near Monmouth, NJ. November 1, 2012.
BEFORE: Sandy Hook, NJ.
AFTER: Beach erosion, Sandy Hook, NJ. November 1, 2012.

Before-After Aerial Photography Shows Damage, Shoreline Changes from Hurricane Sandy

NOAA has published their first round of post-Hurricane Sandy aerial survey photography, covering the Atlantic coastlines of parts of Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey.  You can view this detailed, high-resolution color imagery in a convenient, easy to use map viewer.  You can choose a street map or recent Google imagery for a backdrop; and you can flicker between that backdrop and the new aerial imagery by toggling the check boxes next to the aerial imagery layers shown along the left side of the map, to get a direct “before and after” comparison.

In many places, the damage is quite stark.  Homes and businesses have vanished.  The shoreline has changed dramatically, and new inlets have opened up.  Here are a few examples that we found after just a few minutes of review.  The post-Sandy images in these examples were shot yesterday (October 31):

BEFORE: Bridge south of Point Pleasant, NJ.
AFTER: New inlet; damaged/destroyed houses; flooding. October 31, 2012.
BEFORE:  Amusement park, Seaside Heights, NJ.
AFTER:  Partial collapse of amusement park pier; wreckage of roller coaster lying in surf (see photo below); mounds of debris piled up on beach. October 31, 2012.

Roller coaster at Seaside Heights amusement park, October 31, 2012. Photo: Mario Tama, Getty Images / 2012 Getty Images. SOURCE: Stamford Advocate.

BEFORE: Barrier island near Great Bay, NJ.
AFTER: Severe erosion, dune washover, shoreline change. October 31, 2012.

We’ll be looking for more NOAA aerial survey photography in coming days, covering additional parts of the affected coastline.  Let us know if you see anything you find particularly interesting.