In this Envisat image, acquired on 2 December 2011, a phytoplankton bloom swirls a figure-of-8 in the South Atlantic Ocean about 600 km east of the Falkland Islands. Different types and quantities of phytoplankton exhibit different colours, such as the blues and greens in this image.
Earth-observing satellites like Envisat can monitor these algal blooms. Once a bloom begins, an ocean colour sensor can make an initial identification of its chlorophyll pigment, and therefore its species and toxicity.

This Landsat image from 19 July 2011 shows Lake Powell, a reservoir on the Colorado River in the southwestern United States. Straddling the border of the states Utah (to the north) and Arizona (to the south), it is the second largest artificial lake in the country. The area to the north of Lake Powell is known as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and covers over 760 000 hectares. Appearing green in this false-colour image, the Kaiparowits Plateau makes up a significant portion of the Monument, with the Fiftymile mountain (dark green) separating it from the Escalante Canyons. Another feature of the Monument is the Grand Staircase – a sequence of sedimentary rock layers – part of which is visible in the lower-left corner.

Korea’s Kompsat-2 satellite captured this image over the sand seas of the Namib Desert on 7 January 2012. 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. At the road’s 45th kilometre, seen at the lower-central part of the image, a white path shoots off and ends at a circular parking area at the base of a dune. This is Dune 45, a popular tourist stop on the way to and from Sossusvlei. In this image, there appears to be some shadow on the western side. From this we can deduce that the image was acquired during the late morning.

The foothills of the Andes mountains near the southern coast of Peru were captured by the Kompsat-2 satellite on 4 May 2011. The Andes stretch about 7000 km from Venezuela down South America’s west coast to the top of Argentina. The mountain rage is the result of the Nazca and Antarctic tectonic plates moving under the South American plate – a geological process called ‘subduction’. This process is also responsible for the Andes range’s volcanic activity.

In this image from the Envisat satellite, clouds cover the North Sea and sweep down to the strait between Denmark (lower-right corner) and Norway (upper-centre). In the upper-right corner, a thicker blanket of clouds covers south eastern Norway and spreads into Sweden. 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. 

An area covering northern Namibia and southern Angola is pictured in this Kompsat-2 image. Running across the image, the Okavango River forms the border between Namibia to the south and Angola to the north. Zooming in on the upper left corner, dots of white and other bright colours near a road show rural settlements. The red soil typical of many tropical and subtropical areas of Africa is also evident. In the lower-right corner, we can see large-scale, circular agricultural plots up to about 600 m in diameter. The white lines running through the circle could be maintenance roads.

The Tibesti Mountains, located mostly in Chad with the northern slopes extending into Libya, are captured in this image, acquired on 4 March 2012 by Envisat’s MERIS instrument.
The mountains’ highest peak is Emi Koussi – pictured here as a circular structure in the lower-right portion of the dark area. The westernmost volcano is Toussid√©. Our satellite view shows the dark peak with lava flows extending to the left. The white depression to the southeast gets its colour from the accumulation of carbonate salts, creating a soda lake. Surrounding the Tibesti Mountains, the sands of the Sahara appear like orange, yellow and white brushstrokes.

How gorgeous are these satellite photos taken by the European Space Agency? I have talked about how much I love space photos before (here and here), but these remind in particular just how incredible our little planet truly is. Look at the colors! The texture!

See more gorgeous images of our fair Earth on the ESA website here.

(thanks to 'but does it float' for the tip)

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