Verdant volcano in a silvery sea

By Phil Plait | March 5, 2012 7:00 am

I am endlessly fascinated by volcanoes — their power, the science behind them, and of course their terrible beauty. I’ve stood on a few (though never an active one — but that’ll happen someday!) and they are among the most amazing geological features on our planet.

In the past few years, we’ve started getting incredible high-resolution pictures of volcanoes from space, and they never cease to amaze me. One I saw recently really got to me: the south Pacific volcano Tinakula, located over 2000 km northeast of Australia:

Ye. Gads. [Click to hephaestenate.]

This shot was taken by the Earth Observing-1 satellite, and shows the volcanic island in the ocean. The colors are stunning: the deep green of the vegetation on the volcanic slope, and the bizarre silvery color of the ocean. This image is actually natural color; the silver is due to the way the sunlight is reflecting and glinting off the choppy water.

Tinakula is sporadically active, and you can see the plume of steam (probably with some ash mixed in) blowing out. You can also see the shadows on the water; the sunlight is coming from the right.

This is a sparsely populated region, and observations of the volcano are pretty rare. But from space, everything on the surface of the Earth is visible at some point. And while you can’t keep a constant eye on such things, even the occasional shot like this helps scientists understand what’s going on below the surface. This helps us understand volcanoes, of course, but also adds to the knowledge database of geologists, vulcanologists, and seismologists. And given the number of people who live near active volcanoes, this knowledge saves lives. It really is that simple: the better we understand the world — the Universe — around us, the better off we are.

Image credit: NASA/Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon (Earth Observatory)

I love these satellite views of volcanoes from space, and I’ve collected quite a few into a gallery slideshow. Click the thumbnail picture to get a bigger picture and more information, and scroll through the gallery using the left and right arrows.]


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (17)

  1. Isobel_A

    You left off the one volcano that I would be instantly able to recognise – Mt Fuji. Of course, I’ve heard of all the volcanoes you mentioned, but wouldn’t be able to recognise them I don’t think.

  2. I am endlessly fascinated by volcanoes

    We’ve noticed! 😛 Are you sure you’re not a closet vulcanologist?

  3. Tara Li

    I’m not sure why you have the full picture behind a click – you cropped out the only interesting part and presented it on the main page at full resolution!

  4. Daniel J. Andrews

    In grade school, I was disappointed to learn that all volcanoes had shut down due to old age and the amount the earth had cooled down. I suspect this was probably the same grade that told me that if the earth stopped spinning we’d all fly off and this was reinforced with a cartoon of people and cows flying off the earth (or some such cartoon). With education standards like that, you wouldn’t think we’d ever be voted ‘smartest’ nation (i.e. Canada) on earth–which apparently as of yesterday, we now are. Look out, world, a new age of intellectualism arises. Grovel before our great white northern might or be pelted with insolent snowballs.

  5. Wzrd1

    @4, Daniel J. Andrews, the US is countering such education with creationism, a cultural revolution against “elitist universities” that are full of “socialists” (aka liberals) and all manner of other inane lunacy.
    As for your insolent snowballs, we’re fixing that access to snow as we speak. :/

  6. John Olavesen

    You can almost see the interference pattern as the waves wrap around the island. Very nice.

  7. Gary Ansorge

    5. Wzrd1

    “we’re fixing that access to snow as we speak”

    Go, global warming. Remove the Canadian rebel thinkers ability to eject those heinous, insolent snowballs,,,(Won’t Frosty the SnowMan object to your stealing his SnowBalls??? Just asking,,,:)

    Gary 7

    I just hope Yellowstone doesn’t put ITS two bits worth in this,,,(ok, maybe its two billion bits)

  8. Monte Davis

    “I’ve stood on a few (though never an active one — but that’ll happen someday!)”

    Step 1: Stay where you are.

    Step 2: Wait.

    Your Friend the Plume

  9. Haleakala!

    Holy Haleakala!

  10. You’ve never been to Yellowstone National Park, and stood within one of the world’s largest active volcanoes?
    Just because it’s not one of those obvious strato or shield volcanoes, Don’t dis it!
    Visit Yellowstone before it visits you!

  11. Messier Tidy Upper

    Verdant volcano in a silvery sea
    Please don’t, please don’t, erupt on me!
    Tinakula volcano, nice & small
    Glad a supervolcano, you’re not at all! 😉

    Great image. :-)

  12. Wzrd1

    @Nina F, the last time I checked, Yellowstone qualifies as dormant. Or have we now requalified dormant as being millions of years without eruption, rather than thousands of years (where Yellowstone has been dormant for 70000 years)?
    If the latter is true, the Earth has MILLIONS of volcanoes. Which is NOT reflected in current geological texts.

    @Messier Tidy Upper, LOVE the work! I only manage such creative prose during very long drives…
    Probably because only then am I uninterrupted… 😕

  13. @ ^ Wzrd1 : Thanks. Glad you liked that bit of doggrel. :-)

    As for Yellowstone being dormant, I’m not so sure. There’s still a lot of geothermal activity as shown by the geysers there like Old Faithful. Wikipedia – click on my name for link – notes :

    Non-explosive eruptions of lava and less-violent explosive eruptions have occurred in and near the Yellowstone Caldera since the last supereruption. The most recent lava flow occurred about 70,000 years ago, while the largest violent eruption excavated the West Thumb of Lake Yellowstone around 150,000 years ago. Smaller steam explosions occur as well – an explosion 13,800 years ago left a 5 kilometer diameter crater at Mary Bay on the edge of Yellowstone Lake.
    – Wikipedia -Yellowstone hotspot page linked to my name here.

    Suggests it could be expiring but there’s still, I think, some uncertainty about this. Aussie ABC TV showed a great fictional doco -drama ‘Supervolcano’ a few years ago about a hypothetical present day eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano.

    PS. How did you get that last emoticon there? Didn’t know you could have that one here.

  14. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ See :

    on youtube for that docudrama in six parts apparently & see :

    for the wikipage on it. WARNING – SPOILERS there.

    This youtube clip :

    is excellent albeit too &, I think, accompanies that series albeit it’s an hour long. Worth watching though I reckon. :-)

  15. db26

    Anyone else see the face? Black hair and beard…eyes nose and mouth are very detailed…eyebrows too!


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