Image (c) Planet Labs, inc.

Seeing Change from Above; Introducing Planet’s Firehose

Every day at Planet Labs we receive a barrage of data—tens of thousands of new images from all over the globe, captured mere hours ago. This imagery streams into our platform and we can watch it populate in real time — we call this data stream “the firehose,” and it’s awesome.

As you can imagine, it’s also addicting. It’s addicting to see the latest image from someplace on the planet that you’ve probably never seen before. It’s addicting because the images we’re seeing are incredibly recent, which, if you’ve ever watched a live broadcast of the news versus a taped delay, you understand the natural desire to have the latest, most up to date information. We all want to be the first to see the most recent image, and so as a company we all “drink” from the firehose.

Internally, we use a Slack channel called “#interesting-pics”, where everybody and anybody trolling the firehose can post images they find and talk about them.

Up until now, the images in this channel remained confined within the walls of Planet. Starting today, we’ll start to make some of those internal discussions public. We’re going to post popular imagery from #interesting-pics along with a short summary of why we found the image relevant, interesting, or worthwhile of a larger story. We’ll also ask readers for their thoughts on the contents in an image.

We’re calling this series “From the Firehose”. We hope you find it as awesome and interesting as we do! Without further ado, take a look at our first image from the firehose.

From the Firehose: Gas Flares in Saudi Arabia

Shaybah oil field in eastern province, Saudi Arabia on February 20, 2016. Image (c) Planet Labs, inc.

In the image above we see the Shaybah oil field in Saudi Arabia where we hypothesize a gas flare is active.

At first the billowing smoke caught our eye. But then, we noticed something unique around what appears to be treatment ponds. Take a look:

Zoomed in on the suspected treatment ponds. Image (c) Planet Labs, inc.

Then some intrepid Planeteers dove into our imagery archives. In an image we captured 8 days prior we found that the ponds looked different.

Image (c) Planet Labs, inc.

Finally, we compared our imagery to a public base map and saw massive transformation. Check out the sweeping change in the image when compared to recent imagery in Mapbox’s base map:

Image (c) Planet Labs, inc.

Imagery like this is wildly interesting to analyze and interpret.

What caused the change in the treatment pond?

How often and for how long a duration is the gas flare active?

What does the development observed between our imagery and the base map suggest about investment, oil production, and economics of the region?

We hope you’ll help us answer some of these questions. If you have any insights, comment below—the folks on #interesting-pics will thank you. Stay tuned for our next update from the firehose.

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