Summer Research Focus

It’s an exciting time around the office. We finalized our summer research program and added a couple of new faces—interns Brian Wong from Duke University and Flynn Robinson from West Virginia University—to help us expand our skill set and cover more ground.

Brian is helping us improve our mountaintop removal (MTR) mining work. We’ve already mapped the footprint of MTR in 74 counties in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and Virginia. Our analysis used 30-meter resolution images from the Landsat satellite, and it computed mining footprints on an annual basis. But thanks to an exciting partnership with Planet, we now have access to satellite imagery collected daily with a resolution less than 5-meters. This is a game-changer. This new imagery will let us calculate more accurate and timely impacts of MTR in the Appalachians, and we’re excited to have Brian leading this work!

Flynn is helping us improve our natural gas flaring work. We’ve already mapped the distribution of natural gas flaring across the globe. But the data set that we’ve developed isn’t able to account for clouds or other natural “noise” that can throw off the sensor and create false detections. Yet. But we’re excited to have Flynn leading the effort to validate our flaring data set using the newly available imagery from Planet! We’ll be able to identify flaring events with much greater confidence and if everything goes to plan, send out ‘Flaring Alerts’ so that people can know when a new well is coming online near them.

We’re also very fortunate to have Brady Burker stay with us through the summer. Brady will also be helping us to improve our MTR work. He’ll be adapting the approach that we developed in the Appalachians to map the impact of coal mining in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Brady’s work will also help deepen our understanding of mining reclamation. Using the data that he creates, we’ll be evaluating the effectiveness of reclamation – looking at whether the environment can return to its previous level of ecological health and productivity. As far as we know, our research will be the first to use a remote-sensing approach to measure reclamation effectiveness, and we’re excited that Brady will be leading this effort!   

Monitoring for offshore oil spills and tracking the impact of hydraulic fracturing will round out our research priorities this summer. We’re excited about the opportunities to create and share these powerful data sets, apply them to real-world conservation problems, and generate public and policy engagement that can make meaningful change. Thanks for staying around, Brady, and welcome to SkyTruth, Brian and Flynn!

-Ry Covington, PhD