Matthew Ross – Duke University

Statement of Purpose:

Mountaintop mining with valley fills is a way to excavate coal seams that are 10-200m below the surface using explosives and heavy machinery. Throughout central Appalachia–parts of Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Virginia–these mountaintop mines have been growing rapidly throughout the region since the early 1970s. Mountaintop mines are the single largest source of land-use change in the region and cause substantial impacts to human health, forest ecosystems, and streams that receive water from mines. Despite the large extent and deep impact of this landuse, the growing mining extent has not been mapped. Using Google Earth Engine, and Landsat Imagery from 1972 through 2016, we mapped annual mining extent for a nearly 90,000 km2 area of Central Appalachia. This cutting-edge and up-to-date dataset will be vital to future efforts to understand mining impacts on both human health and ecosystem function. By generating movies of the sweeping spread of mining operations throughout Appalachia is an effective communication tool that can help educate people on the dramatic and expansive changes brought about by mining. In addition to this two-dimensional planar view of mining’s impact, we have developed a tool that shows the three-dimensional impacts of mining. Using recent LiDAR data and historic elevation models, this tool can generate a morphing image that shows how mining dramatically reshapes watersheds by flattening ridges and filling valleys. Together these powerful, modern datasets and data visualization tools provide a useful and approachable way to better tell the story of how mining is reshaping Appalachia.


Description of Data Sets:

Google Earth Engine With Landsat Imagery – Google earth engine provides a powerful and efficient way to analyze Landsat imagery.
West Virginia Elevation Datasets – West Virginia provided historic, digitized digital elevation models and recent LiDAR imagery as detailed here:
All data is freely available through Landsat program or West Virginia Department of Natural Resources