Since 1975, the European Space Agency has served as Europe's gateway to space; sharing research facilities, high-resolution images and satellite archives with the world.
In their collection, the archive, "Observing the Earth," is a particularly poignant college. The ESA describes it:
“Earth Observation images show the world through a wide-enough frame so that complete large-scale phenomena can be observed to an accuracy and entirety it would take an army of ground-level observers to match. A single satellite image has the potential to show the spread of air pollution across a continent, the precise damage done in a region struck by an earthquake or forest fires, or the entire span of a 500-km hurricane from the calmness of its eye to its outermost storm fronts. Earth Observation provides objective coverage across both space and time. The same space-based sensor gathers data from sites across the world, including places too remote or otherwise inaccessible for ground-based data acquisition.
“While satellite acquisitions are most often presented in the form of pictures, they are actually digital data. So the same raw data can be processed with computer software in many different ways to extract whatever information the particular end-user requires.”
1. Namib Desert
"The blue and white area is the dry river bed of the Tsauchab. Black dots of vegetation are concentrated close to the river’s main route, while salt deposits appear bright white."
2. Venice, Italy
"The islands that make up the Italian city of Venice and the surrounding Venetian Lagoon are pictured in this image. Snaking through the central districts is the Grand Canal, with the Santa Lucia train station at its northern end and the Saint Mark Basin at its southern end. Zooming in, we can see water buses and taxis navigating the canal and gondolas docked along the edge. The square island to the north is San Michele. Once a prison island, it became a cemetery when Napoleon’s occupying forces declared burial on the main islands unsanitary."
3. Algerian Sahara
"The region is known as ‘land of terror’ because of its lack of water and vegetation. As visible, this region is characterised by dark sandstone hills, steep canyon walls, salt flats (white), stone plateaus, sandstone outcrop patterns of concentric loops and sprawling seas of multi-storey sand dunes known as ‘ergs’. Erg Mehedjibat, which appears as a yellow bouquet of flowers (upper right), is made up of a cluster of small star dunes that grow upward rather than laterally."
4. The Imperial Valley in Southern California
"The valley begins from the southern end of the Salton Sea (top left) and extends southward for some 80 km into Mexico. The cities of Brawley (bottom right), Westmorland (bottom left) and Calipatria (top) are visible, along with Ramer (top) and Finney Lakes (centre right)."
5. Plentiful Plankton
"This Envisat image captures a plankton bloom larger than the country of Greece stretching across the Barents Sea off the tip of northern Europe. "
6. Rainforest River, Brazil
"Along the river’s main course are free-standing ‘oxbow lakes’, formed when a river changes course."
7. Scandinavian snows
"Located on the Scandinavian Peninsula, Norway is Europe’s northernmost country and is famed for its fjords. Some of these are visible in the image as dark lines between the white and snow-covered land. Near the top of the image, we can see part of Norway’s longest and deepest fjord, the Sognefjord. In the lower-right corner, we can see part of Denmark’s Jutland peninsula, with small and large bodies of water speckling the flat terrain."
8. The ‘Treasure Peninsula’ of Kazakhstan
"The majority of the image is dominated by flatland covered with low-lying vegetation. The bright web of roads in the lower left section of the image is the Karakuduk oil field. The white squares in this ‘web’ indicate where wells are located. We can also see buildings and other structures related to oil production. Kazakhstan – and in particular, the Mangistau oblast – has large fossil fuel reserves and an abundant supply of other minerals and metals. Because of this, Mangistau is sometimes called the ‘treasure peninsula’ of Kazakhstan."
9. The Palouse region
"The area pictured is part of the Palouse region – an agricultural zone that mainly produces wheat and legumes. The rolling, picturesque landscape has sometimes been compared to Italy’s Tuscany."
10. Ganges’ Dazzling Delta
"The delta plain, about 350-km wide along the Bay of Bengal, is formed by the confluence of the rivers Ganges, the Brahmaputra and Meghna. As radar images represent surface backscatter rather than reflected light, there is no colour in a standard radar image."
11. Agricultural structure in Kansas
"This false-colour Landsat-5 image from 4 May 2012 shows agricultural structures in the US state of Kansas. The cropland is divided into circles and rectangles due to the different types of irrigation systems. The false colour makes vegetation look mostly red and brown in this image, allowing for better discrimination between different vegetation types. In the bottom right corner, the agricultural patchwork breaks for the Cimarron River. Sometimes, the water in this river disappears entirely under the sand in the river bed. In the central right portion of the image is the city of Ulysses."
12. Iceberg Alley, Labrador
"More than 1000 icebergs flow off southern Labrador and northern Newfoundland from late May to late June, earning the area the nickname ‘Iceberg Alley’. Ice floes (top) are visible drifting southwards in the sea. White swirls indicate drift of the small pieces of ice in response to ocean vortexes, or ‘eddies’, and are an expression of the ocean surface currents."
13. Libya’s Al Jawf oasis
"Between the city and the plots we can see the two parallel runways of the Kufra Airport. The agricultural plots reach up to a kilometre in diameter. Their circular shapes were created by a central-pivot irrigation system, where a long water pipe rotates around a well at the centre of each plot. Since the area receives virtually no rainfall, fossil water is pumped from deep underground for irrigation."
14. Southern Central Romania
"The tree branch-like pattern is the result of erosion along rivers and streams. Running down the centre of the image is the Cotmeana river. Zooming in, we can see that large areas have been divided into hundreds of small agricultural plots."
15. Snowy Siberia
"In the lower-left corner we can see the Yenisei river, which flows north into the Kara Sea (not pictured). The Yenisei is considered to be the boundary between eastern and western Siberia. The majority of the area pictured lies above the Arctic Circle. This is also an area of continuous permafrost, where the soil is at or below freezing throughout the year."
16. Golden curves
"The blue and white area is the dry river bed of the Tsauchab. Black dots of vegetation are concentrated close to the river’s main route, while salt deposits appear bright white. Running through the river valley, a road connects Sossusvlei to the Sesriem settlement."
17. Mississippi River Delta
"In this false-colour image, land vegetation appears pink, while the sediment in the surrounding waters are bright blue and green."
18. Agricultural Crops in Aragon and Catalonia
"Many agricultural crops can be seen growing including wheat, barley, fruits and vegetables. The circular shape of many of the fields indicates central-pivot irrigation is being employed; a well drilled in the centre of each circle supplies water to a rotating series of sprinklers."
Credit: European Space Agency