Tag Archives: Landsat program

Amusing Monday: Earth becomes art when viewed from satellites

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey have created an “Earth-as-Art” collection of brilliant images from space, as seen from Landsat satellites.

Icy Vortex // Image: USGS, Landsat program

Some pictures of Earth formations are reminiscent of actual paintings; some include familiar objects; and some are like abstract creations. Some show the actual colors of earth, sea and sky, while some of the colors are created with filters to highlight natural colors or even to capture light beyond the visible spectrum.

These images remind me of the LIDAR images created by the Washington Department of Natural Resources, which I called works of art in a blog post nearly a year ago. See Water Ways, Dec. 11, 2017. I included images of Puget Sound among some satellite photos posted previously. See Water Ways, Sept.11, 2017.

Earth Selfie // Image: USGS, Landsat program

While the images are valuable to USGS scientists who wish to understand and describe features from space, they also stir the imagination. I enjoyed some of the comments written by the scientists, which I will share below along with the titles as shown on the USGS “Earth as Art” website.

Icy Vortex: “Appearing as if an artist imitating Jackson Pollock had randomly spurted ink onto the canvas, this image shows swirling ice in the Foxe Basin of northern Canada. Even though the image is from late July, there was still ice floating in the water this far north.”

Earth’s Aquarium // Image: USGS, Landsat program

Earth Selfie: “The tendency to recognize human faces in things that are not human is common. Can you see the eye, nose, and mouth in this satellite image of Morocco? The face captured in this ‘Earth Selfie’ appears to be quietly watching over the waters just off its coast. The city of Agadir is underneath the chin, and the irrigated farms of the Souss Valley appear in red.”

Earth’s Aquarium: Phytoplankton growing in the Bering Sea create green and blue swirls in the water. The microscopic phytoplankton cannot be seen with the naked eye, but their vast numbers are visible from space. Scientists called this “Earth’s Aquarium” because the white clouds resemble bubbles in a fish tank.

Bleeding Heart // Image: USGS, Landsat program

Bleeding Heart: “A feathery, blood red streak cuts across the heart of this image. The translucent red paint stroke is not actually a feature of the land. It is a cirrus cloud detected by Landsat 8’s cirrus band. This cirrus cloud, which hovers over the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan, is invisible in natural color imagery.”

Eerie Cloud Shadows: Clouds show up red in this infrared photo, casting eerie shadows of blue on the landscape of southern Egypt.

Van Gogh from Space: “In the style of Van Gogh’s painting “Starry Night,” massive congregations of greenish phytoplankton swirl in the dark water around Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea.” Currents bring nutrients to the sunlit surface, triggering the growth of the microscopic organisms, which contain chlorophyll.

Eerie Cloud Shadows // Image: USGS, Landsat program
Van Gogh from Space // Image: USGS, Landsat program

NOTE: This blog post was written yesterday, but something went awry during the publishing process, so it was not posted until this morning.

Amusing Monday: Satellite captures images that could pass for art

Landsat 8, an American observation satellite, was launched four years ago. Since May of this year, the satellite has recorded more than a million images.

Puget Sound, Aug. 27
Photo: U.S. Geological Survey

As one might expect, satellite images of the same place vary over time, considering that clouds, smoke, vegetation and geological phenomena alter the appearance of the Earth’s surface. You can see some differences in the pictures of Puget Sound on this page. The first was taken on Aug. 27 and the second on Sept. 7. The third picture, taken on Dec. 18, 2016, shows Mount Rainier in the lower portion of the photo with Puget Sound in the upper part.

Puget Sound, Sept. 7
Photo: U.S. Geological Survey

In some areas, the Landsat photos are so intriguing that they have been compared to works of art. Staffers at Live Science, an online magazine, chose 73 images to share with their readers. See their full collection of “Artistic Views of Earth from Above” at Live Science. I’ve picked some of my favorites and shown them below.

Mount Rainier, Dec. 18, 2016
Photo: U.S, Geological Survey

If you are interested, you can go to the source of the Landsat images, managed by the U.S. Geological Survey. I used a program called EarthExplorer to find the images of Puget Sound and Mount Rainier. Another search engine, LandsatLook Viewer, lets you zoom in on an area of North America or other continents to obtain satellite images. A third approach is GloVis, with its multiple filters to narrow your search.

The datasets are a collaboration between NASA, which developed and launched the satellite, and the USGS, which developed the ground systems for processing and sharing the data.

Following are four of the “artistic views” researched and provided by Live Science, which today is offering 73 fascinating photos of Hurricane Irma.

Putrid Sea // Photo: USGS

Putrid Sea: The various colors formed in a cluster of lagoons on the Crimean Peninsula provides an interesting painting, but the area has a reputation for foul odors caused by the algae that gives the water its color. The proper name of the area is Syvash, but some call it the Putrid Sea. The Syvash is part of the disputed area controlled by Ukraine until Russia sent in troops to annex the area in 2014.

Canyonlands // Photo: USGS

Canyonlands: Yellows, browns and blue characterize Canyonlands National Park in Utah, where the Green and Colorado rivers come together. The rocky and dry area of the park features unique geologic features, including steep canyons, eroded arches and interesting rock formations as well as ancient Native American rock paintings. The blue area in the photo is the peak of Mount Waas. Author Edward Abbey called the Canyonlands “the most weird, wonderful, magical place on Earth — there is nothing else like it anywhere.”

Eye of Quebec // Photo: USGS

Eye of Quebec: One of the Earth’s largest and oldest known craters was formed by the impact of a three-mile-wide meteor some 214 million years ago, experts say. The resulting Canadian lake, Lake Manicouagan, has been called the Eye of Quebec. The original crater was about 62 miles across, but erosion and deposition of sediments has reduced that to about 45 miles today. The island in the center of the lake is known as René-Levasseur Island. I suspect the purple image is produced by selecting one region of the light spectrum.

Green on Blue // Photo: USGS

Green on blue: The swirls of green and blue in the picture are largely phytoplankton floating in the Bering Sea, the body of water that separates Alaska from Russia. The plankton typically grow when there is an abundance of sun and nutrients, often reaching their peak at the end of summer. This photo, taken on Sept. 22, 2014, shows a few scattered white clouds dotting the sky.