Stunning infrared images taken by satellites and drones worldwide capture the abstract beauty of Earth’s landscapes from above.
Collated by the U.S. Geological Survey and NASA the images, collected for scientific purposes, show a painterly quality to the shapes and colours observed across several continents.
The project, Earth As Art, began in the early 2000s after scientists found the visual data they were collecting from satellites of earth had more value than just their scientific data, and should be available to everyone living on earth.
Jon Christopherson, a founder of the project said: ‘Our goal for the first one was, wouldn’t it be neat if everybody could look at all these images as art and only afterwards we tell them they’re actually pictures of the Earth.’
Satellite and drone images below show not only the wavelengths of light visible to the human eye but the wavelengths that Landsat sensors detect in the infrared electromagnetic spectrum – which helps to create the vibrancy of the colours featured as well as providing more comprehensive data for researchers.
It is a hoped that the project will help educate the public on the value of satellite imagery.
Salty Desolation: A vast, open expanse in Namibia is one of the largest salt pans in the world. The pan is within Etosha National Park, protected since 1907. The horizontal line across the image is the national park fence. The wild patterns in this infrared interpretation are from numerous episodes of water evaporation following seasonal rains. The salt from the water is rearranged into new patterns every time the shallow water dries out. The surrounding blue shades are dry bushland savanna
Torn Apart: A frantic-looking scene in northeastern Ethiopia shows the location of three tectonic plates shifting away from each other. In this region, Earth’s crust is rifting at 1 to 2 centimeters per year. New fissures opened in the Erta Ale shield volcano in January 2017, and this image from March 2017 shows the locations of the fresh lava. The shapes streaking away from the center are previously erupted, cooled, and solidified lava flows
Luminescence: A mesmerizing plume creates a paradox of light and dark, brilliant and murky. The dark water of the Suwannee River flows from the Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. The river’s inky colour comes from decaying vegetation at the river’s swampy source
Deep Blue Cubism: A bit of blue cubism in southern Uzbekistan highlights the intensive irrigation that is common along rivers that flow into the Aral Sea. However, so much water is used for irrigation that very little actually reaches the Aral Sea. The perplexing variety of blue and green shades are farm fields with actively growing vegetation among the scattered residential zones
Re-entry: Jebel Kissu, in northwestern Sudan, emerges abruptly like an island in the vast Sahara Desert. The plateau is the eroded remnant of a granite dome. The bright linear features are truck tracks, common in the Sahara where there are no paved roads. Resembling graphic novel art style, this image could be an asteroid hurtling toward Earth, burning across a twilight sky
Painting the Desert: The Lake Eyre Basin is one of the driest places in Australia. But this image features a rare green flush to this otherwise parched landscape. Streams and creeks that drain into the basin are usually dry, but storms in March 2018 delivered water to these braided channels. By April, the floodwater had receded and left a green expanse behind. Scientists use satellites to track such flooding and greening events
Outburst: Red and black seem to mar the icy glacial landscape of southern Iceland. The gray-black filaments are past glacial melting outbursts called jökulhlaups. These abrupt flooding events gush down this outwash plain called Skeiðarársandur, one of the world’s largest. The Skeiðarárjökull Glacier reaches down from the top left of the image. The plain is mostly devoid of vegetation, but red colouring indicates low moss, birch shrub, and other grass species
Copper and Blue: The copper colour in this infrared combination is the presence of lake ice in the Northwest Territories in northern Canada. The lake on the right side is Whitefish Lake, in a region with numerous glacial landforms. Bright wrinkle-like lines are eskers, ridges made of sand and gravel formed by glacial sediments deposited by meltwater rivers flowing on the ice. The blue colour is land dominated by shrub tundra with some spruce stands
Facing the Tide: Rupert Bay, an arm of James Bay, extends into Quebec, Canada. Many rivers carry sediment into the bay and combine with seawater coming in from the tide. A prominent sediment stream extends past Stag Island and a vortex curls off Stag Rock in the middle of the bay. Sediment trails off the islands toward the mainland, indicating the tide was coming in at the time of image acquisition
Rapid Ice Movement: One glacier on Russian islands in the Arctic Ocean surprised scientists with its rapid change. After decades of normal, slow movement, a glacier draining Vavilov Ice Cap sprang forward, accelerating rapidly after 2013. This fast movement is extremely rare for cold-based glaciers. In 5 years, the ice tongue doubled in size. In this inverted rendition, land is blue and fractured sea ice appears tan across the top of the image
Palmyra: Palmyra Atoll is an ancient volcanic remnant located about 1,000 miles from Hawaii. The Nature Conservancy, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, manages the atoll as a science and research station. Multispectral sensors on drones efficiently capture high-resolution images of land and coral reefs. Part of the atoll, an islet named Pelican Island, shows green vegetation as blue
Blue Ice: Near the Queen Fabiola Mountains, also called the Yamato Mountains, is a classic example of blue ice in Antarctica. Blue ice emerges where wind scours glaciers clean of snow and forms when air bubbles are squeezed out of layers of partially compacted snow left over from previous seasons. The ice appears blue because red and yellow wavelengths of light are absorbed. Deeply penetrating light is uniformly scattered at blue wavelengths by the enclosed air bubbles
Desert Ribbons: Rock folding on a tectonic scale occurred in northwestern Africa. These motley ribbons dancing across the desert in Morocco are folds caused by the prolonged collision of tectonic plates. The long continuous line is Jbel Ouarkziz, a ridge that rises 200–300 meters above the valley floors
Irritated: This natural landscape might appear more like a medical illustration of itchy nerve endings. In Western Sahara, Africa, an intense network of wadis drains toward the west, eventually reaching the Atlantic Ocean. These drainage courses are almost always dry in this remote part of the Sahara Desert
A Study in Algae: Algal blooms occur annually on Milford Lake, Kansas, U.S, in the summer and can be harmful to fragile wetland ecosystems. The USGS Kansas Water Science Center uses multispectral sensors on board drones to identify harmful algal blooms and study how they affect local businesses and human and animal health
Wondrous Wetlands: Seventeen rivers flow into the Bangweulu Wetlands in Zambia, but only one drains out. Green tendrils randomly sweep through the image, a landscape dominated by various grasslands, open water, and dense Papyrus grass and Phragmites reeds. The entire wetland covers an area about the size of Connecticut
Mezen Mixing: In northern Russia, the freshwater of the Mezen River meets the saltwater of the Arctic Ocean. The funnel-shaped estuary has a strong tidal current that mixes sediment in the water rather than building up a delta. In this colourful composition, the increasing brightness marks an increase in water turbidity