Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Appalachian Mountaintop Removal

Screen Shot of Appalachian Mountain Top Removal project

This week I review 'Appalachian Mountaintop Removal' (related site) which can be accessed by finding Global Awareness in the Layers column. I think it is an excellent use of Google Earth because topography (see [1] below) is a key part of understanding the issue, the purpose of the project is crystal clear and it links intelligently to all kinds of other web and Google Earth based materials if users require other details. My major criticisms are that the introduction is unclear and that use of sub layers in the Layers column would help users navigate more easily. That being said, overall it is one of my favorite Google Earth projects.

1. What do the users get out of looking at the project?

This project is an excellent use of Google Earth for two main reasons: the 3D topography is a key part of the story and the problem of mountain top removal is difficult to explain because before Google Earth it was very difficult to see the scale of the problem.

The basic idea of the site is to inform of the problem of mountain top removal in remote areas of the US. It is clear and simple. The project links well to a support web page where users can choose to get involved or donate.

2. Is there a good introduction?
There is an introduction and it leads users onto an introductory tour which is good. However, there are two conflicting placemarks 'Mine Site Overview' and 'User's Guide', it is not clear which is the proper introduction. It would be better to name one 'Introduction' and the other 'More information' since those labels better suit the content. The introduction also does not outline what users can access in the site which is a problem.

3. Is the text written concisely?
Fairly good, although there is some room for being more focussed. For an example see my attempt and editing some text from a placemark below, I think I capture the essence of the story in about half the words. The content I have edited out would be good to link to under some kind of 'more info' link.

4. Have icons, lines and areas been used well?
Yes pretty good. I like the flags in a blue circle placemark, they can be differentiated from each other nicely. A nice touch is the halo around the blue, it is both light and dark which means the icon can be differentiated from the background of Google Earth easily. Very smart.

However, I don't think much of the red target on a blue triangle. This is trying to say 'target mountain' however, it would be better to use something closer to the default mountain icon that Google Earth provides as it's unclear what the icon is trying to be.

Having said that, the unfilled square with an overlay icon in the corner is a nice design, immediately obvious that it is a flag for further content that the user can access.

5. Have acronyms been avoided?
Yes. None US users may not be aware of the state abbreviations but this may not be an audience the project is aimed at.

6. Is the Places column structured well?
No. They have chosen to rely only on screen navigation, this is a shame because it can help users to navigate the project. See USHMM: Crisis in Dafur also in 'Global Awareness' for a good example.

7. Is there an appropriate amount of data in the project?
Yes and they link to other sources without including them in the core project which is good. However, it would be nice if these links were flagged better i.e. there was a placemark that said something like 'further reading'. I think it is a little confusing that multiple further reading links are included in the placemark balloons, e.g. Glen Alum Mountain pop up balloon has 13 links, a simple balloon structure would have been better with the links collected in a dedicated placemark.

8. Have advanced elements been used that could be avoided?
I have a problem with the use of regions to hide the links to overlays. There should be some signal to the user when at altitude that there is content hidden there that they could zoom in on. See my post for details.

Otherwise the project is fairly simple.

9. Is there Map Junk?
No, in the main clean and clear. I think the placemark design is a little busy, e.g. the site graphic could be reduced in size but this is a small point.

10. On entry is the level of visible features appropriate?
Yes, further data is hidden from immediate view maintaining clarity.

Original (Marsh Fork Placemark)
Marsh Fork Elementary School in Sundial, West Virginia is located directly below the 2.8 billion gallon (yes, with a B) Shumate sludge impoundment on Cherry Pond Mountain, secured by a 385 foot tall earthen dam. Operated by a coal company, this ill-constructed sludge dam is one of West Virginia's largest and most dangerous, threatening the lives of 230 children each school day. According to a Mine Safety and Health Administration report, released under the Freedom of Information Act, this dam is leaking.Should the earthen dam of the Shumate impoundment ever be breached, there would be less than three minutes to evacuate the Marsh Fork Elementary School before the water at the school was 6 feet deep, and in only minutes more it would rise to over 15 feet. Residents of the community are particularly concerned because the emergency response plan calls for notification of school children and others at risk by bullhorn.

This coal company also operates a coal preparation plant about 200 feet from the school. Coal dust from the plant perpetually coats the school with a black film, which many residents complain is making their children sick. A geologist at Marshall University confirmed that there was coal dust in every air sample he took in and around the school.

Ed Wiley, whose 12-year-old granddaughter attends Marsh Fork, walked for 40 days from Charleston, WV, to Washington, DC, in August and September of 2006 to call attention to the plight of the children at Marsh Fork Elementary School. When he arrived in Washington, Ed held a news conference and met with Senator Robert Byrd to discuss Marsh Fork Elementary School. Despite Ed's reports that Senator Byrd "had tears in his eyes," and had promised to "leave no stones unturned," there has been no action to date on Ed's requests. Ed has formed an organization to raise money to build a new school called Pennies of Promise More about Ed's walk and the effort to move the school can be found on their website, or by contacting the community organization Coal River Mountain Watch .

My Version
Marsh Fork Elementary School in Sundial, West Virginia has 230 children and is located directly below a huge sludge impoundment (a kind of dam). According to a Mine report this dam is leaking, should it collapse there would be less than three minutes to evacuate the Marsh Fork Elementary School before the school was flooded.

The coal company that owns the sludge impoundment also operates a coal preparation plant about 200 feet from the school. Coal dust from the plant coats the school with a black film, a geologist at Marshall University confirmed that there was coal dust in every air sample he took in and around the school. Local residents think that it is making their children ill.

Ed Wiley, whose 12-year-old granddaughter attends Marsh Fork, walked for 40 days from Charleston, WV, to Washington, DC, in 2006 to call attention to the plight of the children. When he arrived in Washington, Ed met with Senator Robert Byrd to discuss the issue. Ed reported that Senator Byrd "had tears in his eyes," and had promised to "leave no stones unturned [to resolve the issue]" but there has been no action to date.

Ed has formed an organization to raise money to build a new school called Pennies of Promise More about Ed's walk and the effort to move the school can be found on their website, or by contacting the community organization Coal River Mountain Watch .

3 comments:

Kevin said...

There is another good overview on the Earth Observatory: "Coal Controversy in Appalachia" http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Study/MountaintopRemoval/

Rich Treves said...

Thanks for that link Kevin, to make it clear, the link is an overview of the problem rather than an overview of the Google Earth project.

Rob said...

It's very unfortunate to read about the Appalachian Mountaintop removal that is taking place. This was the first I'd heard of it (actually, I saw this as a feature of Google Earth, so it got my attention.)
Good work getting the news out about this.