As often seems to happen in a project this complex, I'm aware of at least two details about which I'll need to clarify my explanation. Specifics on those some time later today. This kind of rapid-update function is where the web is a help.
Thanks to my colleagues Sullivan and Green for their notes about the story; and to Alexis Madrigal, for his detailed explanation of how "mountaintop-removal" coal mining (MTR) looks when you see it from relatively low altitude in a small airplane. He also has a don't-miss map of how far the the largest West Virginia "MTR" mines would extend if overlaid on Washington DC.
On his site Alexis has posted a video that Jennie Rothenberg Gritz edited, with conversation between the two of us and some brief clips of the mines as seen from the air. If you're interested in longer, "B-Roll" footage from our overflight, see the clip below. Starting at about time 3:00 (of a 10 minute clip), you will see what Alexis Madrigal was recording as we flew over some of the most extensive MTR areas of southern West Virginia. (The earlier part shows our approach to some of the most heavily mined areas, and the clip opens with one very stark mine.)
The chatter you hear in this clip is byplay between me and Alexis over the plane's intercom, as we try to match the areas we've marked on maps with what we're seeing below us. You will soon figure out that not all of it was uttered with a potential audience (outside the plane) in mind. You'll also hear discussion about bumpiness and winds--we'd decided not to fly the preceding day, when the winds over the Appalachians were very strong with resulting whitewater-style turbulence in the air. Even though winds were much lighter on the day of our trip, the bumps were enough to show up in the video and to be a theme of discussion.
Nonetheless, if you watch for a minute or two (again, starting around 3:00), you'll have a sense of the scale of these marks on the earth. As Alexis Madrigal says in his post:
>>Coal is the land in some places. When you mine it from the surface, the land is just gone, hence the name "mountaintop-removal" coal mining.<<