Surface Mining and Quality of Life in Appalachian Region

Photo of Surface Mining and Quality of Life in Appalachian Region of KentuckyStudy Area for the Surface Mining and Quality of Life in Appalachian Region of Kentucky

Program Overview

The goal of the research is Enhancing Research-and-Extension Capability by Studying Land Cover Change, Quality of Life and Microclimate Variation in Kentucky

Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountain Region has a history of coal-mining beginning in the 1800’s, which has increased the scale of land used for coal extraction and has impacted people’s life, local environment, and economy. Surface mining for bituminous coal since World War II has led to a widespread transformation of the mountainous landscapes (Townsend et al. 2009). Knowledge of extent of mining and reclamation is critical to managing or mitigating the potential impacts of surface mining on socioeconomic and microclimate of downstream settlements.

Mountaintop removal mining using explosives is a common practice in many parts of West Virginia and the Kentucky Appalachian Region. The land must be cleared of all vegetation and topsoil before mountaintop removal operations can begin. Removal of tens of millions of tons of bedrock deeper to 500-800 feet is accomplished by blasting and drilling into the mountain. In the digging stage, millions of tons of waste and rubble created by the blasting are removed. The dumping of the waste from the mining operation, known as overburden or spoil, creates a “valley fill” in nearby valleys, burying pristine streams and creeks. The final stage of washing for removal of debris and other impurities (such as rock and sulfur compounds) from coals discharge excess mixture of water, coal dust, clay, and toxic chemicals (called slurry or sludge), which are stored behind hundreds of earthen dams throughout Appalachia. These dams have caused tragic consequences to downstream communities and the environment. The reclamation stage is very important to restore the mined areas with vegetation and enhance safety of valley fills. Although reclamation is intended to prepare mined areas for afforestation and commercial developments, many mountaintop removal sites have suffered structural damage due to the instability of the land after blasting and mining.

This project addresses National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA) high-priority research on impacts of natural resources extraction on environment and rural communities, as well as for advancing the body of knowledge in human and climate change sciences.

The overarching goal of this integrated proposal is to strengthen the research-and-extension capacity of KSU’s faculty, students, and extension personnel through studying surface mining and reclamation efforts and assessment of their impacts on microclimatic conditions and quality of life of the people of the Appalachian region in Kentucky.

The specific objectives are to: (1) examine land cover change between 1980 and 2014; (2) assess the effects of surface mining and reclamation on human livelihood and microclimatic conditions, and develop an extension program to address these effects; and (3) strengthen the research-and-extension capacity by creating research and extension skills enrichment and experiential learning opportunities. The major activities include creation and analysis of land cover change, microclimatic condition, and quality of life data, interviews and focus group discussions, recruitment and training of students and stakeholders, and development of Extension curriculum using research and stakeholder feedback. The impacts are: expansion of extension program in new counties, creation of databanks of satellite imageries, LiDAR, and Extension curriculum, which will ultimately enhance institutional research-and-extension capacity and synergy among faculty, agencies, stakeholders, and local communities. Participating faculty will have elevated science-based knowledge and ability and increased confidence to develop competitive innovative research-and-extension programs and grants aligned with the University’s mission to address emerging agriculture and climate change problems, adaptation, and mitigation strategies.


Offshoot Research Product

One offshoot from this research was a compilation of Land Cover changes for 53 of Kentucky counties from 1992 to 2011.  These were compiled into a map book that can be accessed here.  You will notice that as you surf through the county maps the inset location map shows you where in the commonwealth you currently looking. The map book can be accessed by clicking on the image below: (for optimal viewing, wait until the whole document loads and the download to Adobe Acrobat Reader)

State of Kentucky Land Cover Change Mapbook (1992 - 2011)