Cloud Art Over New Zealand

By Tom Yulsman | May 10, 2013 12:22 am

This false color view over New Zealand was captured by NASA’s Terra satellite in April. (Image: NASA)

This beautiful squadron of clouds formed over New Zealand’s South Island on April 27 — and I’ve been meaning to showcase it ever since. I spotted it using NASA’s Worldview web site.

The false-color image, captured by NASA’s Terra Satellite, emphasizes wavelengths of light that are particularly good at revealing snow and ice, including ice crystals in clouds that register in peach colors. The bright red tones toward the top of the image reveal snowpack in New Zealand’s Southern Alps mountain range.

I’m no meteorologist, so I could be wrong, but these look to me like lee-wave lenticular clouds. These can form when wind blows across a mountain range, becoming disturbed in such a way as to create standing waves in the atmosphere. Depending on conditions, clouds can form at the top of the wave crests. For a technical explanation (very…), see this paper.

Some of the clouds in the image above have materialized downwind of The Remarkables mountain range, which form a dramatic backdrop for Lake Wakatipu on the South Island. The wind seems to be torquing one of the clouds into what appears like a weird corkscrew shape. Look in the lower right quadrant for it.

A screenshot of a timelapse video showing a lenticular cloud over New Zealand’s North Island. Click on the image to watch the video. (Video: Primal Earth Images)

New Zealand seems to produce its share of spectacular cloud formations. And not just on the South Island. The image above is a screenshot of a timelapse video showing a saucer-like lenticular cloud hovering over the Rangipo Desert on the North Island. Make sure to click on it to watch the mind-blowing video. And definitely check out Primal Earth Images for more. After looking at their amazing stuff, I am really tempted to drop everything and just move to New Zealand.



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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