December Puzzler

December 22nd, 2014 by Adam Voiland


Update: The answer has been posted here.

Every month on Earth Matters, we offer a puzzling satellite image. The December 2014 puzzler is above. Your challenge is to use the comments section to tell us what part of the world we are looking at, when the image was acquired, what the image shows, and why the scene is interesting.

How to answer. Your answer can be a few words or several paragraphs. (Try to keep it shorter than 200 words). You might simply tell us what part of the world an image shows. Or you can dig deeper and explain what satellite and instrument produced the image, what spectral bands were used to create it, or what is compelling about some obscure speck in the far corner of an image. If you think something is interesting or noteworthy, tell us about it.

The prize. We can’t offer prize money, but, we can promise you credit and glory (well, maybe just credit). Roughly one week after a puzzler image appears on this blog, we will post an annotated and captioned version as our Image of the Day. In the credits, we’ll acknowledge the person who was first to correctly ID the image. We’ll also recognize people who offer the most interesting tidbits of information about the geological, meteorological, or human processes that have played a role in molding the landscape. Please include your preferred name or alias with your comment. If you work for or attend an institution that you want us to recognize, please mention that as well.

Recent winners. If you’ve won the puzzler in the last few months or work in geospatial imaging, please sit on your hands for at least a  day to give others a chance to play.

Releasing Comments. Savvy readers have solved some of our puzzlers after only a few minutes or hours. To give more people a chance to play, we may wait between 24-48 hours before posting the answers we receive in the comment thread.

Good luck!

41 Responses to “December Puzzler”

  1. Dan Mahr says:

    This is definitely a scene of the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica. Specifically, I think this is Wright Valley, and the body of water at center is Don Juan Pond, one of the most saline lakes in the world. The high salinity prevents the water from freezing despite the temperature being well below the freezing point of normal, non-saline water.

  2. Lee Saper says:


    That would be a Landsat 7 image of Don Juan Pond, the hypersaline lake in Wright Valley in Antarctica.

    The lake maintains its fluids by a combination of fresh water melt off nearby snow/ice as well as water leached directly from the atmosphere during periods of high relative humidity into nearby dry, salt-rich soils. (


  3. Mike Murphy says:

    Grand Canyon

  4. Nathan Ronning says:

    Noah’s ark. Bible says it came to rest on mount Ararat in Turkey.

  5. Gauri Sinha says:

    Its a mars picture. in which nasa was talking water was on the mars.

  6. Edwin Clatworthy says:

    Antarctica, near the Olympus and Asgard Range, 77°33’46.74″S, 161°11’28.83″E

  7. Yves gelineau says:

    Dry valleys (valles Secos) ,Antartic

  8. Jeff Lambert says:

    Looks like the volcano in Iceland under the glacier. Not sure the name of it but the soot and ash is covering the snow. You can see the flow away from the caldera to the coastline.

  9. Khizar Haider says:

    u r looking at a valley in some mountains in the tropical region n earth where the waves are at their peaks, their is sand around. i think its the alps region.the image was acquired i summer season when the topography of this place was high for its beauty.the image simply shows a valley leaving to the sea or lake, or vice versa .the scene is interresting as it is beautiful and thetopography if the place is changing!

  10. paul morin says:

    Don Juan Pond. Most saline lake in the world. Named after two pilots; Don and Juan.

  11. Celeste says:

    To me it looks like the Anaconda (?) mountains in Chile, and is caused by the many volcanoes and mud slides. Just mt perspective.

  12. Celeste says:

    To me it looks like the Anaconda (?) mountains in Chile, and is caused by the many volcanoes and mud slides. Just mt perspective.

  13. Celeste says:

    Also the earthquakes that bend and twist the land.

  14. Kanishka Samanta says:

    It is a shot of the Don Juan Pond in Antarctica…the saltiest water body on earth

  15. rob says:

    A Fresh water lake discovered not to long ago within the transantactic mountain range

  16. Tom says:

    Icelandic coast?

  17. Neha Dubey says:

    This is a global warming effect image captured from a satellite.this is a polar regions where the ice caps are melting due to high effect of global warming. the ice lands are melted and is covered with a carbon layer(top view) as the snap is taken from the top view and this melted ice covered with a blanket of carbon makes the scene interesting.

    Thank you.

  18. Adam N. Wlostowski says:

    This image is from the Wright Valley, Victorialand, Antarctica. This portion of the Valley is just west of Lake Vanda and just east of the Labyrinth. We can assume this image is from the Dry Valleys of Antarctica, based on the rocky and sandy exposed soils, an ice-covered lake, and snow accumulations in frost polygons. The image was likely acquired recently (during the austral summer) due to the clear presence of sunlight and topographic shading. Judging by the orientation of the shadowing,the image was acquired between 10:00 and 14:00. This is one of the most beautiful places on earth!

    Big shout out the McMurdo Long-Term Ecological Research Project (! Long-term ecological observations for over 21 years!

  19. Paul Ramsey says:

    I’m guessing that this is either Mars or a terrestrial Mars analog. I’m leaning towards a snowy day on Mars where melting snow is feeding springs. Headward erosion and slope retreat has created an environment similar to some Utah badlands. Unless, of course, it is Utah badlands.

  20. Lyn Kolf says:

    This looks like view of mountain range. Possibly Rockies or the Alps.
    The photo would be helpful for spotting areas likely for an avalanche.
    How this would be done I have no clue.

  21. ENRICO MIRANDA says:


  22. Caleb Hubbell says:

    Dry valleys in Antarctica.

  23. rafael a. giner-cerros says:

    the ice lost at the west coast of Groenland in the north pole.
    la perdida de hielo en la costa oeste de Groenlandia en el polo norte.

  24. rafael a. giner-cerros says:

    the ice lost in the west coast of Groenland in the north pole.

  25. dani gujol says:

    This is a picture of Iceland focused on a thawing glacier. This phenomenon is important because if it will not stop, it will cause the rising of ocean levels.

  26. Jorge Garza Jr. says:

    Looks to be a once large glacier that has meet it’s demise and melted away. Not sure if I am right but I also thought it was somewhere in Greenland.. Just going off what I see and what I know in my head.

  27. anastasio says:


  28. AKHILESH KUMAR says:

    It is global warming effect on Arctic region.Due to absorbing more solar radiation ICE is melting swiftly and erosion occurs.We should acknowledge that if persists regularly then our sea level grows and many seashore habitants will be in difficulty.Many country submerged into ocean.So we should take care of CO2 and CFC emission.It is also depleting OZONE LAYER.If ozone layer damaged then CANCER patients occurs rapidly due to solar radiations.

  29. Darryl weiss says:

    Greenland….a melted glacier…….

  30. Jacob Wasilkowski says:

    McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. Landsat 8 OLI rgb true color composite.

  31. david says:

    1. Don Juan Pond in the Wright Valley of Antarctica freezes at -57 C. The major solute in the pond is CaCl2. Estimate the mole fraction of CaCl2 in the pond water, assuming that CaCl2 is a strong electrolyte.
    2. A solution of Mercury(II) Choloride is a poor conductor of electricity. A 40.7 g sample of HgCl2 is dissolved in 100 g of H2O and the freezing point of the solution is found to be -2.83 C. Explain why HgCl2 is a poor conductor of electricity.
    3. You wish to determine the unknown molecular weight of a macromolecule you have recently synthesized. Using a membrane osmometer, you measure a pressure differential of 11.4 mm Hg upon adding 1g of the macromolecule to 50 mL of H2O. What is the unknown molecular weight?

  32. Dan Stowens says:

    Well, poop, looking at the comments here, as opposed to in Google+, it seems I was way off base, way on the other side of the world. I commented there:
    Maybe glacial lakes in Iceland – responsible for several aspects of glacial degradation? Hey, it was on NPR so I thought there was a chance…

  33. khusro mirza says:

    This feature shown in the photo is typical of meandering river. The regional gradient is probably 2 to 3 degrees. The topography suggests the rock type in the area comprises a soft recessive lithology probably shale. I would say it is either taken in winter time in ‘Utah-Arizona’ border not too far from (Mokey Dugway highway) or some where in summer in the Arctic Islands.

  34. Son says:

    I think its a close up of a volcanic beach, maybe the canaries

  35. Fernando Ricardo says:

    To me is Cabo Verde-Fogo.

  36. Abdulaziz says:

    Valley of Antarctica, i think.

  37. Neale Barltrop says:

    I think it is the Don Juan Pond in the Wright Valley (Dry Valleys) just west of Lake Vanda in the Antarctic.
    Situated at latitude 77°33′S and longitude 167°10′E between the Asgard Range and Olympus Range, it is quite near the Vanda Station in the next valley.
    The lake is small, shallow (12 inch maximum) and extremely hypersaline with 18 times the salinity of the ocean due to its high calcium chloride concentration (about 413g/kg water) making it the saltiest place on earth, even more salty than the dead sea.
    The lake is not frozen where other water in the area is (even at -30 deg C)
    Image possibly taken from ERS-2 satellite, but more probably the Envisat using the Radio Altimeter – 2 instrumentation and the ASAR instrumentation, or the later Sentinel 1 satellite.
    The lake is approx 580 feet above sea level at its lowest point.
    The dry valleys are possibly a good simulation of conditions on Mars due to its virtual sterility.

  38. George says:

    This is moving ship formed hill!