For almost 20 years, SkyTruth has illuminated the environmental impacts of human activities on Earth using satellite imagery, aerial photography, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and other data analysis. Our work often has been driven by what satellites can see, allowing us to reveal industry actions that previously remained hidden from view. As satellite technology improves and expands, and computing capabilities become more powerful, our ability to detect an ever-wider variety of destructive activities globally expands as well.
Much of our early work focused on the proliferation of oil and gas wells throughout the western United States – easily visible from space — and then in Appalachian states such as West Virginia and Pennsylvania. We documented the escalation of wells in Wyoming’s Upper Green River Valley (the southern part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem), which transformed a rural landscape populated by ranchers and wildlife into an industrial zone that overwhelmed nearby communities. We enlisted scores of volunteers with our FrackFinder projects in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, who scanned hundreds of satellite images and aerial photos to help us map the spread of hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) throughout the region. That work led to scientific studies by researchers at Johns Hopkins University documenting the human health impacts of fracking.
Jonah Gas Field Upper Green River Valley Wyoming 2003. Landsat satellite image
SkyTruth cumulative BP spill as of July 16, 2010.
In 2010, SkyTruth was the first to document that the amount of oil gushing from BP’s Deepwater Horizon blown-out wellhead was vastly greater than the amounts BP and the U.S. Coast Guard claimed. The media focus on our findings generated public pressure for the federal government to determine more accurate estimates of the size of this disaster, and set the stage for the large restoration fees BP ultimately owed to coastal states and communities.
We began our SkyTruth Alerts in 2012, tracking oil and chemical pollution reports from the Coast Guard’s National Response Center and later sharing email alerts to any subscriber interested in particular areas of the U.S. Since then, we’ve added oil and drilling activity in key states as well as more pollution reports.
Our focus on protecting the world’s oceans expanded during our partnership with Google and Oceana, when we developed Global Fishing Watch – a program that maps all of the trackable commercial fishing activity in the world, in near-real time, and makes it accessible to researchers, regulators, decision-makers, and the public. Using cloud computing, machine-learning, and vessel location data picked up by satellite, we developed a tool that became its own independent organization in 2017, turbocharging seafood supply chain transparency and scientific research.
In the past, we conducted most of our analysis of satellite imagery manually – using people to view and process images individually and spot harmful activities. Now, the number of satellite images captured daily has exploded. SkyTruth is developing and using new computing techniques such as machine learning to scan thousands of satellite images a day, and detect harmful activities in near real-time.
Today we are applying these new techniques to stop oil pollution at sea, detect oil and gas well pads in remote areas, identify illegal mining in tropical forests, and track other activities that can damage protected areas and other important habitat. We call this new approach Conservation Vision, and we believe it will transform conservation. Read about our current work to learn more.
One of the things that makes SkyTruth such an impactful partner is its continued dedication to applying new and creative tech solutions to some of the world’s most pressing environmental issues at both local and global scales.
SkyTruth is using machine learning to stop oil pollution at sea.
Harmful Algal Blooms
SkyTruth has partnered with researchers at Kent State University to flag toxic algal blooms.
SkyTruth updates its map of mountaintop mining in Central Appalachia annually to illuminate the spread of this destructive practice. We currently are developing metrics to document recovery at previously mined sites.
Overfishing and Illegal Fishing
SkyTruth works with Global Fishing Watch to encourage nations to make vessel tracking data available and allow everyone to monitor fishing activity.
Protected Area Monitoring
SkyTruth partners with conservation groups and develops machine learning techniques to monitor valuable habitat around the world.