Image of the Day: Colorado Plateau Under Snow

By Tom Yulsman | November 27, 2013 9:37 am
Colorado Plateau Grand Canyon Snow

Satellite image of the Colorado Plateau acquired on Nov. 26th, 2013.  (Source: NASA)

Snow blankets the higher terrain at the heart of the 130,000 square-mile Colorado Plateau in this image captured by NASA’s Terra satellite yesterday.

Left behind by the same storm system that’s now hammering the East Coast, the snow frames the deeply incised canyonlands of the Colorado River and its tributaries, which runs diagonally across the image. At lower left, where the river makes a big bend, you can spot the Grand Canyon. It bisects the Kaibab Plateau (part of the bigger Colorado Plateau), which reaches an elevation 9,241 feet above sea level. The darker, greenish coloring that edges the snow-covered area is indicative of forests that grow on this higher ground.

Also visible in the image is Lake Powell, the reservoir on the Colorado River that serves as a massive hydrologic savings bank for some 30 million people in seven states and Mexico who depend on water from the river and its tributaries. The snow is a good sign for a region plagued by drought for more than 10 years.

And with that let me wish everyone a very happy Thanksgiving!


  • Dave_Mowers

    Makes you wonder, if we hadn’t deforested the Rockies for short-term profits would all these storms drop their payloads on the West Coast instead of Eastern seaboard eliminating the frequent droughts they suffer?

    Sorry, using science to correct unbridled capitalism again, I know it is heresy.

    • jh


      A) The rockies haven’t been deforested, at least not compared to the UK or most of lowland Europe. There are few dense forests in this image because the region is a desert.

      B) Precipitation is controlled by atmospheric conditions which are influenced to some degree by topography, not by vegetation

      C) The region suffers frequent droughts (and has for millions of years) because most moisture coming from the Pacific falls as the wet air masses push up over the Sierra Nevada

      I doubt our economic system has any influence on the precipitation. Where the moisture goes after it hits the ground, though, is a different question.

      • Dave_Mowers

        The Rockies were deforested 100-200 years ago along with the Sierra Madres. Try history, it works!

        The “water cycle” is partly formed by forestation capturing water vapor. You can wiki it or GOOGLE IT.

  • Superyards

    awesome image. Comments extremely informative



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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