Earth Art: Wildfire Abstraction

By Tom Yulsman | July 20, 2014 1:01 pm
abstraction

Wildfire smoke filling valleys in British Columbia creates an abstract pattern in this highly processed image based on data acquired by NASA’s Aqua satellite on July 16, 2014. (Source image: NASA. Processed image: © Tom Yulsman)

By mid-afternoon on Saturday, July 19th, raging wildfires in Oregon and Washington had consumed 947,583 acres, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. That’s an area more than three times the size of New York City, and up from a bit more than 300,000 acres on Thursday.

About 100 homes have been destroyed in Washington, and many more have been threatened. So it is without question a terrible situation. But in one satellite image of an area to the north in British Columbia, I found a kind of savage beauty — an almost abstract, tendril-like pattern created by smoke filling a network of river valleys.

abstraction

Source: NASA Earth Observatory

I spotted the phenomenon in an image posted yesterday by NASA’s Earth Observatory. Click on the thumbnail at right to see the original image, acquired by the Aqua Satellite on Wednesday, July 16. Look in the upper left quadrant for the pattern that caught my eye.

To call attention to the abstract pattern, as opposed to the natural phenomenon of smoke filling the valleys, I decided to do some digital post-processing. The result is the wildfire abstraction image at the top of this post.

My intent was not to create an accurate portrayal of the scene as seen by the satellite. Instead, I was hoping to produce a derivative image that conveys a sense of menace while also being visually compelling. If you’ve got a minute to comment below, let me know what you think.

Meanwhile, the Northwest may finally get some relief starting Tuesday in the form of cooler, wetter weather . Let’s hope so.

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    The power, destruction and beauty of Nature should never been underestimated. Thank you very much, much appreciated, this is amazing footage. It is amazing that one can find beauty in destruction. May all those dear souls recover from this devastation

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ImaGeo

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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