SkyTruth and TimeLapse: Documenting Environmental Change from Above

07 Aug

A terrific article in the Washington Post online magazine about SkyTruth, a small environmental organization in West Virginia, that uses satellite and aerial photography to monitor environmental change. Find the full story (complete with videos) here. You could also visit the SkyTruth website where you’ll find more details about their work. Here’s the URL. And down below are a few choice paragraphs from the Washington Post story:

“Somewhere in the South Pacific, thousands of miles from the nearest landfall, there is a fishing ship. Let’s say you’re on it. Go onto the open deck, scream, jump around naked, fire a machine gun into the air — who will ever know? You are about as far from anyone as it is possible to be.But you know what you should do? You should look up and wave. Because 438 miles above you, moving at 17,000 miles per hour, a polar-orbiting satellite is taking your photograph. A man named John Amos is looking at you. He knows the name and size of your ship, how fast you’re moving and, perhaps, if you’re dangling a line in the water, what type of fish you’re catching.Sheesh, you’re thinking, Amos must be some sort of highly placed international official in maritime law. … Nah.

He’s a 50-year-old geologist who heads a tiny nonprofit called SkyTruth in tiny Shepherdstown, W.Va., year-round population, 805. Amos is looking at these ships to monitor illegal fishing in Chilean waters. He’s doing it from a quiet, shaded street, populated mostly with old houses, where the main noises are (a) birds and (b) the occasional passing car. His office, in a one-story building, shares a toilet with a knitting shop. With a couple of clicks on the keyboard, Amos switches his view from the South Pacific to Tioga County, Pa., where SkyTruth is cataloguing, with a God’s-eye view, the number and size of fracking operations. Then it’s over to Appalachia for a 40-year history of what mountaintop-removal mining has wrought, all through aerial and satellite imagery, 59 counties covering four states.Fracking site

“You can track anything in the world from anywhere in the world,” Amos is saying, a smile coming into his voice. “That’s the real revolution. ”Amos is, by many accounts, reshaping the postmodern environmental movement. He is among the first, if not the only, scientist to take the staggering array of satellite data that have accumulated over 40 years, turn it into maps with overlays of radar or aerial flyovers, then fan it out to environmental agencies, conservation nonprofit groups and grass-roots activists. This arms the little guys with the best data they’ve ever had to challenge oil, gas, mining and fishing corporations over how they’re changing the planet.” (This is only part of the WP story. Do read the whole fascinating feature)

Related, is that Time Magazine and Google have combined efforts to put together a new website called “TimeLapse” that documents urban growth and environmental change using the historical time slider in Google Earth. You’ll find the website here. While I think the website and TimeLapse commentary still needs work, it’s nevertheless worth several minutes of your time to peruse their new offering. Let me know what you think.

Mountain top removal in West Virginia

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Posted by on August 7, 2013 in Global Environment


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