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10 Ground-breaking Earth Satellite Images from 2018

10 Ground-breaking Earth Satellite Images from 2018

In 2018, our satellites captured beautiful imagery from throughout the solar system and beyond. However, some of our favorite visualizations are of this very planet. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it does capture some Earth satellite images from this year that are both visually striking as well as scientifically informative. This list also represents a broad variety of Earth’s features, as well as satellite instrumentation. Take a journey with our eyes in the sky!

10. Hurricane Florence


Before making landfall, Hurricane Florence churned in the Atlantic for a full two weeks — making it among the longest-lived cyclones of the 2018 season. When it finally did hit land on Sep. 14, the storm devastated the southeastern U.S. coast with intense winds, torrential rains and severe flooding.

This natural-color image was acquired by MODIS on the Terra Satellite on Sep. 12, 2018. 

Images like this, as well as other satellite information, were used to anticipate the impact of the storm. Our Disasters Program created flood proxy maps that were shared with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Guard to estimate how many and which communities would be most affected by the storm, in order to help prepare recovery efforts ahead of time.

9. Australia’s Lake Eyre Basin


The Lake Eyre Basin covers one-sixth of Australia and is one of the world’s largest internally draining river systems. However, the rivers supported by this system are ephemeral, meaning that they only run for short periods of time following unpredictable rain — the rest of the time, the Basin is a dry, arid desert.

However, when the heavy rain comes, the basin erupts in an explosion of green. In this false-color image captured by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 on Apr. 25, 2018, you can see how the vegetation completely envelops the spaces where the water has receded. (Flood water is indicated by light blue, and vegetation is indicated by light green.)

Satellites are an excellent tool for tracking greening events that are followed by flooding. These events offer opportunities for predictive tools as well as recreation.

8. Alaska’s Chukchi Sea 


A Monet painting comes to life as the Chukchi Sea swirls with microscopic marine algae.

This image was captured off the Alaskan coast by OLI on Landsat 8 on Jun. 18, 2018. After the Arctic sea ice breaks up each spring, the nutrient-rich Bering Sea water mixes with the nutrient-poor Alaskan coastal water. Each type of water brings with it a different type of phytoplankton and the surface waters have just enough light for the algae to populate and flourish. The result is these mesmerizing patterns of turquoise and green.

This image represents one piece of much larger, incredibly complex ecosystem. While one would not normally associate the breaking up of sea ice with phytoplankton blooms, it is an intricate process of the phytoplankton life cycle. The size of the blooms have varied greatly from year to year, and experts are unsure why. Images like these can help scientists track the development of these blooms and link it to other environmental changes.

7. Hawaii’s Kilauea 


Sometimes fresh lava is best viewed in infrared.

This false-color image of Kilauea, captured by OLI on Landsat 8 on May 23, 2018, shows the infrared signal emitted by lava flowing toward the sea. The purple areas surrounding the glowing lava are clouds lit from below, indicating that this image was taken through a break in the clouds.

The Puʻu ʻŌʻō Kupaianaha eruption has been continuously spewing red-hot lava since 1983, making it the longest eruption at Kilauea in recorded history. However, new fissures opened up this year that forced many to evacuate the area. Hawaii’s largest lake evaporated in hours and hundreds of homes were destroyed in Vacationland and Kapoho. 

Imagery, seismometers and ground-based instruments were used to track the underground movement of magma. Infrared imagery can be incredibly helpful in disasters like this when you to view data that cannot be observed with the naked eye. 

6. California’s Woolsey Burn Scar


Nothing quite encapsulates the destruction of a wildfire like a photo from outer space.

This image of the Woolsey Fire aftermath in Southern California was captured on Nov. 18, 2018 by the Advanced Spaceborned Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on the Terra satellite. This false-color infrared image has been enhanced to clearly show the burned vegetation (indicated by brown) and the vegetation that survived unscathed (indicated by green).

The Woolsey Fire clearly left its mark, with almost 152 square miles (394 square km) and 88% of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area badly burned. Images like this one can assist fire managers in the area plan for recovery. 

5. Bangladesh’s Padma River


As the years go by, the Padma River grows and shrinks, twists and turns. It never has a fixed shape, and as a result, thousands of people must regularly adapt to the constant changes in the river’s 75-mile (130-km) shoreline.

This image captured on Jan. 20, 2018 by OLI on Landsat 8 depicts one of the major rivers of Bangladesh. For thirty years, scientists have been tracking the erosion of the river with satellite imagery. Combinations of shortwave infrared, near infrared, and visible light are used to detect differences year-to-year in width, depth, and shape of the river. Sometimes the river splits off, but then rejoins again later. These patterns are created by the river carrying and depositing sediment, shaping the curves of the path of water.

Monitoring the Padma River is going to become especially important as a new bridge development project advances in the Char Janajat area. Although the bridge will most certainly help shorten travel times for citizens, nobody is quite sure how the river erosion might affect the construction and vice versa. 

4. Alaska’s Yakutat Glacier 


It’s hard to believe that Harlequin Lake was once all dry land — but it only started to form once Yakutat Glacier started melting. The lake appeared at the beginning of the twentieth century, and has been growing rapidly ever since.

In this hauntingly beautiful image, captured on Sep. 21 2018 by OLI on Landsat 8, the effect of climate change is apparent — especially when compared to earlier images of the region.

Unless the climate warming starts to reverse very soon — which scientists consider very unlikely — Yakutat could be gone as soon as 2070.

3. South Africa’s Theewaterskloof


Cape Town is a seaside city planted on the tip of South Africa. It’s a city known for its beaches and biodiversity — it also almost became known as the first major city to officially run out of water.

This image of Cape Town’s largest reservoir — Theewaterskloof — was acquired on Jul. 9th, 2018 by OLI on Landsat 8. By the time this photo was taken, the city’s main reservoirs stood at 55%. This was a huge increase from where it stood just six months earlier: just 13%.

The severe water shortage in the region started in 2015, only to become more threatening after three successive and unusually dry years. The entire city was preparing for Day Zero — the day the tap water would be shut off.  

Despite forecasts that Day Zero would arrive in April, a combination of heavier rains and local conservation efforts restored the majority of the reservoir. 

2. Aerosol Earth


Aerosols are all around us. From the smoke from a fire, to the dust in the wind to the salt in sea spray — these solid particles and liquid droplets are always swirling in our atmosphere, oftentimes unseen.

The Goddard Earth Observing System Forward Processing (GEOS FP) model uses mathematical equations to model what is happening in our atmosphere. The inputs for its equations — temperature, moisture, wind, etc. — come from our satellites and ground sensors.

This visualization was compiled on Aug. 24, 2018 — obviously a busy day for aerosols in our atmosphere. Swirls of sea salt (indicated by blue) reveal typhoons Soulik and Cimaron heading straight towards South Korea and Japan. A haze of black carbon (indicated by red) suffuse from agricultural burning in Africa and large wildfires in North America. And clouds of dust (indicated by purple) float off the Sahara desert.

1. Camp Fire


With nearly a hundred fatalities, hundreds of thousands of acres burned and billions of dollars of damage, the world watched in horror as Camp Fire grew to become the most destructive California wildfire in recorded history.

This image was captured on Nov. 8, 2018 by OLI on Landsat 8 on the same day Camp Fire ignited. It consolidates both visible light and shortwave-infrared light in order to highlight the active fire. Strong winds and dry conditions literally fanned the flames and spread this wildfire like a rash. 

This image has not only become the iconic portrait for Camp Fire, it is also sobering representation of how quickly a fire can grow out of control in a short amount of time. Even from space, you can almost smell the massive plumes of smoke and feel the heat of the fires.

Whether you realize it or not, our Earth satellite missions are collecting data everyday in order to monitor environmental changes and prepare for natural disasters.  If your interest is piqued by this list, head over to the Earth Observatory. The Earth Observatory updates daily with fresh, new content — brought to you by none other than our eyes in the sky. 

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