One problem in understanding coal mining operations is that the operations are difficult to experience. Aerial and satellite photography is notoriously difficult to understand, and with mining work it’s even worse because the only size reference features are the trucks and roads are then assumed to be “normal” size. But there’s nothing normal about the size of these operations.
When faced with unfamiliar images, it is often difficult for people to get a sense of scale of the things that they’re looking at. Often times, the media refers to numerical comparisons that are just difficult to understand, like the size of the national debt. Another example was the coal ash spill in Tennessee in late 2008 which caused 5.4 million cubic yards of fly ash to be spilled — “enough to flood more than 3000 acres one foot deep”. While all those numbers are accurate, very few people know how big 1 cubic yard is, much less visualize how big 5.4 million cubic yards is, or even 3000 acres.
To address this, we try to provide frames of reference In each of the following experiences, you’ll be shown two images. On the left is an image that is related to coal mining in the western United States, and on the right is an image of something that is more familiar to. In each case, you’ll be asked to change the size of the images so that they’re brought into scale with each other.