Sunday, December 28, 2008

Google Earth versus the bad guys!

One of the great things about Google Earth is its ability to show the world what's really going on around the world. An excellent example was its exposure of the destruction in Darfur, with burnt villages marked for all to see.

So this morning I got the brilliant idea (about five years after everybody else) that it might be nice to examine the extent of surface coal mining. As it happens, a quick Google search shows a number of websites that use aerial photography to present compilations of environmental damage:

I'm sure that there are more, but I was unable to find them without digging through lots of unrelated material. I'd therefore like to request readers to present links to any such compilations of which they are aware.

To give you an idea of the magnitude of the problem, I present coordinates for a number of sites that I found in a small region of central West Virginia:

Lat 38º 20' 46" Long 81º 01' 25" 6 mile diameter
Lat 38º 26' 42" Long 80º 36' 37" 2.5 mile diameter
Lat 38º 29' 13" Long 80º 35' 45" 1.0 mile diameter
Lat 38º 23' 34" Long 80º 44' 22" .64 mile diameter
Lat 38º 25' 24" Long 80º 40' 59" .25 mile diameter
Lat 38º 24' 13" Long 80º 40' 58" .25 mile diameter

This last is an older surface mine site that has been partly grown over. What's interesting is the paucity of foliage. It appears to have some grass, but little else. And once you see that and learn to recognize the pattern, you'll find sites like this almost everywhere. 

Not all non-forested areas are old strip mines. There are areas cleared for farms or homes; those are identifiable by the fact that they tend to line up in the drainage valleys. The valleys are often marked with public roads; if you see a line of open ground adjacent to a road, it's unlikely to be old strip mine. Structures are also contraindicators to strip mines. You might also be fooled by logging areas, which are brown and are most easily identified by a series of parallel dirt roads on a hill slope. 

But where you see open, sparsely forested land away from a road, with no structures on it, it's probably an old strip mine. I think you'll be appalled at how much land is covered by them. And this does not show all the land that's affected. A lot of the spill goes into the watercourses below.

So take a Google Earth stroll over West Virginia sometime. 

1 comment:

Sue said...

Another place that you can see the impact of strip-mining on The Weather Channel's website. They use the same satellite imaging photos, and when use use satelite view, you can see the coal mining scars.