Tracking coal mining in Appalachia


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Mountaintop removal in West Virginia (KKC/flickr)

Eden DeWald| August 1st, 2018

Researchers at Duke University are using a satellite imagery mapping tool to track mining activities in Appalachia. According to their paper, published in PLOS ONE, the experts at Duke estimate that 21,000 acres of land has been transformed each year since 1985 due to mountaintop mining. The study tracked areas in the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Mountaintop mining is categorized as surface mining, unlike traditional mining strategies. Vegetation is clearing from the top of a mountain, then explosives are used to destroy the surface of the hill or mountain. This process exposes any coal underneath. Mountaintop mining poses many problems. Rubble leftover is often pushed into the existing valleys, which blocks and contaminates streams and destroys animal habitats.

Tracking landscapes that have been destroyed and transformed due to mountaintop mining is necessary to better understand the effect that this process has had on Appalachian ecosystems. The data from this study is free and open to the public. You can find downloadable files of the imagery here.