Surface mining disturbances have attracted attention globally due to extensive influence on topography, land use, ecosystems, and human populations in mineral-rich regions. We analyzed a time series of Landsat satellite imagery to produce a 28-year disturbance history for surface coal mining in a segment of eastern USA's central Appalachian coalfield, southwestern Virginia. The method was developed and applied as a three-step sequence: vegetation index selection, persistent vegetation identification, and mined-land delineation by year of disturbance. The overall classification accuracy and kappa coefficient were 0.9350 and 0.9252, respectively. Most surface coal mines were identified correctly by location and by time of initial disturbance. More than 8 % of southwestern Virginia's >4000-km(2) coalfield area was disturbed by surface coal mining over the 28-year period. Approximately 19.5 % of the Appalachian coalfield surface within the most intensively mined county (Wise County) has been disturbed by mining. Mining disturbances expanded steadily and progressively over the study period. Information generated can be applied to gain further insight concerning mining influences on ecosystems and other essential environmental features.