In my original conception, this column was going to focus on fascinating images of our planet, many of them obtained from space. Thus the name: ImaGeoa combination of Image and Geo, as well as the motto for the column: the intersection of images, imagination and Earth.
With that in mind, as 2022 drew to a close, I sorted through multiple sources of remote sensing imagery to select ten particularly compelling examples from the past year. This article includes five of those images. I’ll follow up soon with a second article featuring the remaining five of my favorite photos of the year.
Let’s start with the picture above. It was captured by a crew member aboard the International Space Station as it orbited more than 250 miles above the South Pacific Ocean. The tilted view shows the Earth’s horizon, known as the limb. This allows us to see layer upon layer of atmosphere, along with the waning Moon shining through the thinnest layers. (The photo was first featured by NASA’s Earth Observatory in their Image of the Day feature. For a full-size version, see their story, “Atmosphere of research”.)
Tilted views of Earth seen from space can be particularly dramatic, as the following image also demonstrates:
Hurricane Ian as seen by the GOES-18 satellite on September 28, 2022, just after it made landfall near Cayo Costa, Florida. With maximum sustained winds of 150 miles per hour as it blasted the coast, Ian tied the record for the fifth strongest hurricane ever to hit the United States. (Source: Satellite Liaison Blog.)
This expanding cyclone is Hurricane Ian just as its eye was approaching Cayo Costa, Florida on September 28, 2022. Born from tropical wave over the west coast of Africa, the storm spun around quickly in a hurricane that first battered Cuba before blowing up the coast of Florida. With maximum sustained winds at landfall of 150 mph, Ian produced storm surges that caused massive devastation along the state’s Gulf Coast.
The portrait of Ian on land seen above is called a “sandwich” satellite product. It combines light collected in the visible and infrared parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, providing meteorologists with valuable information for analyzing the evolution of storms. (Note that this is a screenshot from an animation presented by the satellite link blog. I did a little processing to clarify the characteristics of the storm.)
The eye of Hurricane Ian is seen in this Landsat 8 image just before it made landfall on the southwest coast of Florida on September 28. (Credit: NASA Landsat Image Gallery)
As Ian moved towards Florida, the Landsat 8 satellite was perfectly positioned to see it – as this dramatic close-up of the eye of the storm shows three hours before landfall.
The turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico peak during the relatively fair weather at the center of the storm, which is surrounded by a towering ring of powerful thunderstorms that make up Ian eye wall. (For a clickable, full-size version of the image featuring incredible detail, check it out here in the NASA Landsat Image Gallery.)
After making landfall, Ian crossed Florida, headed over the Atlantic Ocean, and finally washed ashore again, this time in South Carolina. Ultimately, the storm caused an estimated $50 to $65 billion in damage. For the United States, it was the second costliest insured loss on record after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. according to reinsurer Swiss Re.
A different kind of storm
This image taken by the GOES-16 satellite on December 22, 2022 shows bands of drifting snow across much of the mid-US. (Credit: Satellite Links Blog)
The effects of a storm of a very different kind are seen in this image (screenshot from animation) obtained by the GOES-16 satellite. Consisting of imaging data in the visible and infrared parts of the spectrum, it highlights streaks of fresh snowfall blown by strong winds accompanying a brutal arctic outbreak in late December across much of the mid-US. Bands appear as long strands of golden color. Visibility was reduced to less than half a mile in the clouds of drifting snow.
I chose this image over others that zoom in more closely on the streaks of snow because, at least to my eye, it looks a bit like abstract art. Call it Earth art or “eARTh…” To appreciate this even more fully, see this post on the Satellite Liaison blog, where you’ll find the animation I took the screenshot from, along with other images.
The track of a February 2022 snowstorm in the US Midwest is seen in this nighttime image obtained by the NOAA-20 satellite. The track is revealed by a band of snowfall culminating at Lake Michigan. (Credit: CIMSS Satellite Blog)
The aftermath of another winter storm is visible in this NOAA-20 satellite image. It shows a streak of snowfall left by the storm in the midwestern United States.
While the black and white rendering may not be as instantly captivating as a color, art-like remote sensing image, to me it is just as dazzling. This is because the satellite was able to see the snow strip at night, with only the faint illumination of moonlight revealing its presence – of 22,000 miles.
Seeing at night from space is possible because of a special sensor aboard the NOAA-20 satellite called the Day/Night Band. It is designed to capture relatively low light from natural and man-made sources, such as city lights, ships, fires, flares from energy operations and lightning, as well as features illuminated by moonlight.
In the image, the winter storm track revealed by the snow band culminates in Chicago’s glowing urban area along Lake Michigan. Lights from other cities and the roads that connect them also stand out, as do the lake-effect clouds over the Great Lakes.
This image was originally published by the CIMSS Satellite Blog as part of their own 2022 Highlights post. Click here to see all these wonderful images. Over the years they have kindly allowed me to use many of their satellite images and animations and I am very grateful for that.
In the next part of this two-part series, I’ll include another example of dramatic nighttime images made possible by the Day/Night Band sensor, along with more “eARTh” and images featuring an erupting volcano, a forest fire, and evidence of drought in the Southwest part of the United States.