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Monday, November 9, 2009

Out of the Blue: Islands Seen From Space

Islands are some of the most beautiful, peaceful, violent, desolate and unique places on Earth. While experiencing a tropical island from its sandy beaches, or a volcanic island from its towering peaks is wonderful, experiencing them from above can be inspiring as well.

We’ve collected images taken by astronauts and satellites from space of some of the most interesting islands on the planet.

Atafu Atoll, Tokelau, Pacific Ocean

Around 500 people live on Atafu Atoll, mostly in a village that can be seen on the corner in the left of the image above. Atafu is just five miles wide and is the smallest of three atolls in the Tokelau Islands, a New Zealand territory.

Atafu is made up of coral reefs that surrounded the flanks of a volcano that has since become inactive and submerged. Like many tropical atolls, Atafu is very low lying and vulnerable to sea-level rise. This photograph was taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station in January.

Image: NASA

Onekotan Island, Russia

An island within an island was created after a big eruption around 9,000 years ago caused the peak of Onekotan’s volcano to collapse, forming a caldera that subsequently filled with water. The island inside the caldera is known as Krenitzyn Peak, which is the highest point on the island at around 4,300 feet.

Onekotan is in Russia’s Kuril Islands between Japan and the tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula. The islands were formed by volcanic activity caused by the subduction of the Pacific Plate beneath the Eurasian Plate. Subduction can also generate some of the largest earthquakes on Earth, including a magnitude 9 here in 1952 which was followed a week later by Krenitzyn’s only historical eruption. This image was captured by the Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on NASA’s Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite on June 10, 2009.

Image: NASA

Galapagos Islands, Pacific Ocean

The Galapagos Islands are the tops of volcanoes on the sea floor off the coast of South America along the equator. The volcanic activity that formed the islands is thought to be the result of a plume of hot mantle material rising from deep in the Earth’s interior.

The largest island, Isla Isabela, is made of the lava flows of six gently sloped shield volcanoes. The northernmost of Isabela’s volcanoes, at the top of the image above, is Wolf Volcano, which has erupted at least nine times since 1797. This image was taken by the Landsat 7 satellite in 2001.


Maldives, Indian Ocean

The Maldives comprise 1,192 small coral islands adding up to just 115 square miles of territory. About 330,00 people live on the islands, the average elevation of which is a little more than 3 feet. It is probably the lowest country in the world.

This image of the North and South Malosmadulu Atolls was taken in 2002 by the ASTER instrument aboard NASA’s Terra satellite.


Henrietta Island, East Siberian Sea

This glacier-covered Russian island is just 6 miles wide. Beneath the ice, the island is made up of 500-million-year-old volcanic rocks overlain by younger sedimentary rocks. This image was taken by the Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on NASA’s Earth Observing-1 satellite on April 30, 2009.

Image: NASA

Eleuthera Island, Bahamas

The spectacular underwater formations to the west of Eleuthera Island are made of calcium carbonate sand that has been eroded off of coral reefs and deposited in dunes by ocean currents.

This 2002 image was captured by astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Located in the middle of the Bahamas, Eleuthra Island is 110 miles long, and in places just over a mile wide. Around 8,000 people live there.

Image: NASA

Augustine Volcano, Alaska

The most active volcano in Alaska’s Aleutian arc, Augustine Volcano’s biggest historical eruption occurred in 1883. It has been erupting for 40,000 years. This image, captured by The Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer on NASA ’s Terra satellite in April 2006, shows a steam or ash plume at the tail end of several months of explosive eruptions.

Image: NASA

Lesser Sunda Islands, Indonesia

The three largest islands in this image, and many smaller ones, make up Indonesia’s Komodo National Park which was established in 1980 to protect the world’s largest lizard species, Komodo dragon. The total area of the park is 230 square miles. The islands are volcanoes caused by the collision of two tectonic plates. This image was captured by the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer on NASA’s Terra satellite in 2000.


Hawaiian Islands, Pacific Ocean

The Hawaiian Islands were formed by an upwelling plume of hot mantle material, called a hotspot. As the Pacific plate moved over the hotspot, it formed a chain of islands that first grew larger as they actively erupted, and then slowly eroded and sank below the surface of the ocean as the crust beneath them cooled.

Today, the hotspot is causing active volcanism on the Big Island of Hawaii. Kilauea Volcano has been erupting continuously since 1983. The rest of the islands, which get older from right to left, are Maui, Kahoolawe, Lanai, Molokai, Oahu, Kauai and Niihau. This image was captured by the MODIS instrument aboard NASA’s Terra satellite.

Image: NASA

Alejandro Selkirk Island, South Pacific Ocean

This small member of the Juan Fernandez Islands off the coast of Chile measures just under a mile across. But its 5,000 feet of elevation is high enough to reach the layer of stratocumulus clouds pictured above. The result is a type of flow known as a von Karmen vortex street. This striking, curly pattern of eddies can also be seen in clouds, and fluids or air moving past rounded objects such as an airplane wing. This image was taken by the Landsat 7 satellite in 1999.


Millennium Island, Republic of Kiribati, South Pacific Ocean

Also known as Caroline Island, Millennium Island is made of coral reefs that grew around a volcano, which is now underwater, leaving behind a central lagoon. The maximum elevation of the island is less than 20 feet above sea level. In the past, the island has been inhabited and mined for guano, though today there are no people and it is among the world’s most pristine tropical islands. This image was taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station on July 1, 2009.

Image: NASA