FAQ

Questions about SkyTruth

SkyTruth is a 501(c] 3 nonprofit organization. This means we are approved by the Internal Revenue Service as a tax-exempt charitable organization dedicated to fulfilling our mission to use the view from space to inspire people to protect the environment. As a nonprofit, we receive most of our funding from charitable foundations [LINK TO PARTNERS] and individual donors who believe in our mission. We occasionally perform work for other nonprofits and academic partners on a fee-for-service basis, but that’s a very small part of our funding.

SkyTruth does not own satellites, and we don’t have the ability to point a satellite at a specific location on a certain day and time.. As technology improves, governments and private companies around the world are launching increasing numbers of satellites.  SkyTruth relies heavily on government satellites that provide data for free. We also have established partnerships [LINK TO PARTNERS] with private companies to use their satellite data for free or at a reduced cost. You can learn more about the technology we use to do our work here  [LINK TO TECHNOLOGY PAGE] and a list of imagery we regularly use here.If you are interested in developing a partnership with SkyTruth to share your data, please contact ???

Yes.  As a nonprofit technology conservation organization, all of SkyTruth’s analysis, tools, databases, images, and maps are free. SkyTruth was founded to level the playing field, and provide citizen’s groups, small conservation organizations, researchers, policymakers, journalists and others access to the same sophisticated tools and technology available to extractive industries. You can learn more about our story here. [LINK TO OUR STORY].

Questions about Satellite Imagery

No. Most of the free imagery that SkyTruth has access to does not provide high enough resolution to detect individuals or items as small as cars.

What we can see depends on the resolution of a specific satellite and when that satellite is flying over the area we want to look at.(Depending on the satellite, the amount of cloud cover can also affect how much we can see. Radar satellite imagery can penetrate clouds.)

For example, Sentinel-2 satellite imagery, available from the European Space Agency, has 10-60 Meter resolution. If the image has 10 meter resolution, each pixel in the satellite image represents an area on the ground that’s 10 X 10 meters. Sentinel-2 satellites re-visit the same location about every 5 days [CONFIRM WITH SOMEONE OR REMOVE].

You may be wondering about Google Maps Satellite views, which lets you zoom in extremely close in some areas. The images used for Google Maps are a mix of satellite and aerial images. This makes for extremely high-quality imagery, but it can’t be used for monitoring environmental incidents that happened very recently. The images are often composites – several images stitched together – to show a cloud-free view of the ground, and there is no way to know the exact date and time the image was taken.

Questions about SkyTruth Alerts

Anyone can use SkyTruth Alerts for free. It was funded and developed to be used by individuals and organizations working to protect the environment. If you happen to be using SkyTruth Alerts for commercial purposes, we’d really appreciate you making a donation to help us cover costs. 🙂

Anyone can view the SkyTruth Alerts map without creating an account. You can move around the map, look at recent reports, and filter the types of alerts you see by type and date. However, if you want to receive email notifications, save your areas of interest (AOIs) to make monitoring easier, annotate and mark up a map, or create issue maps to share with other people, etc., you will need to sign up for  an account.

There are three steps to signing up to receive email alerts: 

  • sign up for an account
  • select your area of interest
  • select which types of alerts you want to be notified about 

We have a quick start guide to get alerts for your county that you can use as a starting point.

We’re very interested in adding new alerts to add to SkyTruth Alerts, in particular state environmental agency alerts. If you know of an alerts source that makes its data publicly-available by providing any one of these:

  • A website that allows us to “scrape” the data
  • A spreadsheet we can download
  • An API that allows us public access

Please email us a link. 

Satellite imagery in Alerts comes from Sentinel-2 and Sentinel-1 — Earth observation missions 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. SkyTruth uses Sentinel-Hub, a platform for handling and delivering satellite data, to make the imagery available in Alerts.

Imagery from Sentinel-Hub is made up of a mosaic of “scenes” based on zoom level, the size of your AOI, and the imagery available. If your AOI is small, chances are the image will be from a single scene. However, for larger AOIs the satellite image you see is created from several stitched together scenes, which may or may not be from the same date. For this reason, we include the date of the imagery on top of each scene so it’s clear what’s being presented.

When you select a map date, the corresponding scene for that date may only represent a small part of the AOI. Sentinel-Hub will back-fill the rest of your map view with the most recent imagery available, regardless of cloud cover.

In some cases, especially for very large AOIs, the scenes presented might even change based on zoom level. This is because Sentinel-Hub’s image vault may not have the same view available for each zoom level.

We have added several data sets that we find useful in-house to the Layers tab. If you have an idea for other layers that can be helpful to environmental and conservation organizations, email us a link describing the data.

We’re working on adding this as a feature. Stay tuned!

Yes. More information about how to download alerts and which format area available is on the Download Alerts Data page.

In most cases, data obtained from the Pennsylvania DEP includes a unique ID rather than a well name. It’s called the Well API number. You can use this number to find out the name of the well at the Pennsylvania DEP website.

To find the Well API number:

  1. Click on an Alert icon to open the report info window.
  2. Click View full Report at the top of the window.
  3. In the lefthand sidebar, look for the Well API Number. (You may have to scroll to see it.)

Once you know the Well API number, you can use the keyword search to find other alerts with the same ID.

  1. Check the boxes next to the types of alerts you want to see.
  2. Copy and paste (don’t type) the Well API Number into the Keyword Search (Alerts tab).
  3. Click the Search icon.

Questions about Bilge Dumping

Questions about Flaring

The data for this map was originally made available by NOAA’s Earth Observation Group. As of 15 October 2019, the data is now freely-available from EOG, Payne Inst. for Public Policy, Colorado School of Mines.

The Earth Observation Group have authored the following papers for those interested in the VIIRS instrument and how the flare volume is calculated.

Elvidge, C. D., Zhizhin, M., Hsu, F -C., & Baugh, K. (2013).VIIRS nightfire: Satellite pyrometry at night. Remote Sensing 5(9), 4423-4449.

Elvidge, C. D., Zhizhin, M., Baugh, K. E, Hsu, F -C., & Ghosh, T. (2015). Methods for global survey of natural gas flaring from Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite Data. Energies, 9(1), 1-15.

Elvidge, C. D., Bazilian, M. D., Zhizhin, M., Ghosh, T., Baugh, K., & Hsu, F. C. (2018). The potential role of natural gas flaring in meeting greenhouse gas mitigation targets. Energy Strategy Reviews, 20, 156-162.

Here are a few things that we do at SkyTruth to processes and present the data:

  • We eliminate detections under 1,500º Celsius to remove “cooler” heat sources like forest fires.
  • The data are limited in the extreme northern and southern latitudes due to continuous sunshine and atmospheric noise.
  • In order to eliminate noise and false detections in the temperate and tropical regions, we filter out detections from locations that have only had 1 or 2 detections in 30 days prior to the date displayed. For all detections where there are ≥3 detections in the previous 30 days, we display each detection on the day it was recorded.
  • Detections <926m from each other are adjusted to a spatial average of all detections in the previous 30 days to smooth out the coarse ~750m resolution of the sensor.
  • There was no data available from NOAA between Sept. 29 – Oct. 16, 2013.
  • Starting in December, 2017, the VIIRS instrument started to collect nightfire data on an additional band. This results in many more temperature determinations, which you may see reflected in the timeline.

Applications for this map include:

  •  Demonstrating the tremendous amount of natural gas flaring around the world.
  •  Learning if flaring is a chronic problem in your community or places you care about.
  • Tracking active drilling in gas-producing regions where flaring occurs only during the drilling and completion of wells.
  • Verifying when petrochemical facilities were flaring in order to aid identifying the source of noxious air emissions polluting fence-line communities.
  • Holding companies accountable for wasting public and private resources through routine flaring.
  • Informing public health research on the impacts of flaring on respiratory health and other disciplines.
  •  Let us know how you could use flaring detections to skytruth an issue in your community or speciality.

Verified on the ground by a team we sent out North Dakota’s Bakken Shale and further cross-referenced against aerial and satellite imagery of other flaring hotspots such as Russia, Africa, and the Middle East, this map is updated daily to show the frequency of infrared detections hot enough to be gas flares.

 If you don’t see a flaring detection you expected to see, it may be because of the ways that we process and present the flaring data. Some flares don’t burn hot enough to be included in our dataset, they may not have been burning when the satellite passed overhead, the flare may not be frequent enough to make it past the 3 detection threshold, heavy clouds have obscured the flare from the sensor, etc.