The Earth as Art: 18 Stunning Satellite Images

Here an abstract composition of acid green and vivid violet; there, a sweeping brushstroke in a thick sea of pastel paint. These images aren’t modern art exactly, nor are they ordinary artistic interpretations of landscape, though they’re definitely beautiful enough to frame and hang on your wall. Created by the USGS EROS Data Center, these works of art are RGB compositions of Landsat 7 satellite images capturing everything from flowing iridescent glaciers in Antarctica to black and orange night shots of Icelandic fjords.

Akpatok Island

Turquoise and white with hints of red, this incredible image of Akpatok Island calls to mind close-ups of gemstones. It’s hard to believe that the faceted expanse of aqua around the snowy island is actually ice on the surface of the sea. Accessible only by air, this island in Ungava Bay in northern Quebec is a popular respite for walruses and whales.

Ganges River Delta

Who knew that such a jarring combination of acid green and vivid purple could occur in satellite imagery? The Ganges River Delta, shown where it empties into the Bay of Bengal, is covered in swamp forest that is home to some of the world’s few remaining wild Royal Bengal Tigers.

Lambert Glacier

It seems as if an artist dragged the bristles of a paintbrush through a thick layer of oils in this dreamy shot. It’s actually the Lambert Glacier in Antarctica, the largest glacier in the world. This image shows a small tributary glacier flowing down from the East Antarctic Plateau. The icefall flows like water, but at a much slower rate – about 500 meters per year.

Richat Structure

What’s this – the site of a meteor impact, beautifully rendered in watercolors? Not exactly, but the Richat Structure is definitely one of the world’s most curious geological formations. Found in the Maur Adar Desert in Mauritania, the Richat Structure formed when a volcanic dome hardened and then gradually eroded. What resulted was strange concentric rings of rock.

West Fjords

Resembling a cross-section of coral, this EROS image depicts the West Fjords, a series of peninsulas in northwestern Iceland. It’s the island nation’s most remote region, and though it’s relatively small in land area, its jagged edges account for more than half of Iceland’s total coastline.

Lena Delta

Delicate and colorful, the Lena River Delta is one of the largest deltas in the world at over 23,500 square miles. It’s also Russia’s biggest protected area, and a vital swath of wilderness habitat for many species of fish and birds, including swans.

Alluvial Fan

Like flowers, alluvial fans literally blossom across the landscape. Most often found in desert areas subject to periodic flash floods, these unusual patterns are caused when fast-flowing streams slow down and spread out, usually at the exit of a canyon onto a flatter plain. This particular alluvial fan, found between the Kunlun and Altun mountain ranges in China’s XinJiang Province, contains active flowing water on the left side, hence the blue shade.

Bogda Mountains

The colors in this image of the Turpan Depression at the foot of China’s Bogda Mountains are almost too striking to be real. Greens and blues of salt lakes and mustards and whites of sand dunes contrast with the violet and plum of the mountains. The Turpan Depression is one of a very small number of places on land that are below sea level.


Blood red and sky blue combine in this beautiful image of the Terminos Lagoon in the Campeche state of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Though it’s not clear why the land appears so red here, it’s a fitting representation of a region known for its red dye.

Delta Region, Netherlands

Segments of the Netherlands’ Delta Region reach out into the sea like pink fingers. Many of the small islands seen in this image were created by the sediment-rich rivers that pour into the North Sea. These rivers also broke up into smaller waterways that further separate the land.


It’s hard to believe that what we’re looking at in this photograph is not a microscopic image, but a mountain range. The Himalayas present themselves in a jagged pattern of pale blue, white, and varying degrees of red.

Niger River

Against a mottled impressionistic landscape, the Niger and Bani Rivers twist and turn like snakes. The pale expanse of land to the north shows the dunes of the Sahara, an entirely different landscape altogether from that of the river deltas with their rich greens and browns.

Von Karman Vortices

These gaseous swirls and scrolls seem intentionally created, etched onto some unknown surface with a pattern in mind. They’re actually what’s known as Von Karman vortices, which form when air flows over and around objects in its path. These ones were created when prevailing winds encountered the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.

Byrd Glacier

You can almost imagine someone taking their finger and wiping it across a wet painting of a landscape, blurring it right in the center. Of course, that blurry area is there for a good reason – it’s the fast-moving Byrd Glacier, flowing from the polar plateau on the left to the Ross Ice Shelf on the right. Or at least, it’s fast-moving compared to the massive stationary ice all around it.

Icelandic Tiger

EROS calls this image ‘Icelandic Tiger‘, and it’s easy to see why. Presumably taken at night, the image depicts the mainland, blanketed in some areas with snow, against the black of the water. The tiger’s ‘mouth’ is the Eyjafjorour fjord.

Meandering Mississippi

What a contrast of seemingly pixelated developed land and the organic, free-flowing swirl of the great Mississippi River. The river appears to invade the land, loop back on itself and yet push relentlessly southward in this area right on the border between Tennessee and Arkansas, south of Memphis.

Sierra de Velasco

A muted yet powerful palette characterizes the Sierra de Velasco Mountains in northern Argentina. The greens show us the highest points of the mountains, while the blues are vineyards and fruit-growing areas.

The Dhofar Difference

Perhaps nowhere is a juxtaposition of climates so visually clear as in this image of Oman along the Arabian Sea. Leafy and lush, the coastline is green and fertile thanks to the monsoon rains that come during the summer months. In contrast, just over the stripe of dark purple mountains is a vast expanse of arid interior.


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