John Amos of SkyTruth
Professionally trained as a geologist, John Amos began his career as a satellite and aerial imaging specialist for the energy and mining industries. After viewing images of environmental devastation in the Western United States, he decided to use his knowledge of remote sensing and digital mapping to work on behalf of fragile ecosystems at risk of human-caused destruction.
“I’ve always been an environmental advocate at heart,” says Amos. “In my work I started seeing more images that starkly illustrated human impacts on the environment — deforestation in Siberia, oil slicks in the Mediterranean and South China seas. And no one else was seeing this, no one was talking about it.” In 2002 Amos launched SkyTruth, putting his skills in remote mapping and digital technology to work for the environment. “We work on two complementary tracks: to produce compelling graphics that tell stories, and to conduct scientific analysis that provides robust, compelling data.” This includes image documentation and analysis of oil- and natural gas-drilling, mountaintop removal mining, forestry-related destruction and marine pollution, among others. “Overall, we look at the private, commercial use of public commons.”
Although SkyTruth analysts are experts in their field, they prefer to work in partnership with environmental advocacy groups in order to bring their images and analysis to a larger audience. Amos is clear about the backseat that SkyTruth takes in the advocacy arena. “SkyTruth’s role is not as a frontline advocate on these issues. We prefer to partner with advocates who will push issues, and who will take [the images] that we give them and use them to change the world in some way.”
Appalachian Voices is one of the advocacy groups with whom SkyTruth works to reveal the devastation wrought by mountaintop removal coal mining in the Appalachian region of the Southeastern U.S. Using a Landsat satellite image database and various methodologies for image classification, SkyTruth documented the extent of mountaintop removal in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. Appalachian Voices then linked this data with a groundbreaking energy database and a Google Earth map and put it live on the web so that citizens can connect the previously hidden links and trace the source of their electricity from utilities to power plants to the mines from which coal is sourced. As the data shows, 37 states now burn coal obtained from mountaintop removal.
Amos speaks glowingly of the partnership between his group and Appalachian Voices, “Our partnership with Appalachian Voices is exactly the kind we strive to find and develop. Appalachian Voices allows SkyTruth to take this complicated issue and present it to the public in a compelling way-showing people the mountaintops that are removed for their energy. You can’t get much more personal than that.”
To see an illustration of the joint work between SkyTruth and Appalachian Voices and determine if you are connected, go to www.ilovemountains.org to see if your utility burns mountaintop removal coal. To view SkyTruth’s website, go to www.skytruth.org.