Earth Matters

August Puzzler

August 18th, 2015 by Kathryn Hansen


Every month on Earth Matters, we offer a puzzling satellite image. The August 2015 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!

63 Responses to “August Puzzler”

  1. Anthony says:

    This is a picture taken from the inside of the human intestines and represents the world of micro-organisms, liguids and tissues that help to digest the food that we eat into useful nutrients ready to be absorbed.

  2. aimen hassen says:


  3. Fred says:

    It looks like high clouds and the line on top may be a Russian space capsule or the space shuttle during re-entry

  4. Helen Macintyre says:

    Initially I thought hurricane, but the strands in the upper left seem too sharp and thin. I think this is an algal bloom swirling in ocean currents. The line near the top I think is a large ocean liner cutting through this, leaving a darker coloured wake.

  5. Jordan Evans says:

    It is either a giant algae plume or sediment that is being churned up by a strong current. It is odf the coast of California, the line is a ship, and it was collected in Fall 1998 during the last major El Nino event. It is interesting nature El Nino is shaping up again.

  6. Irene says:

    The wave-like pattern of the brightly reflecting matter could be caused by either wind or water movement. The white object close to the top edge is trailing a straight dark line behind it, so something disturbs the strong reflectance here – suggesting a smoothing or displacement of the brightly reflecting matter. The image reminds me of the sand and sediment plumes seen around coral reefs or shelf edges which are created by water currents. However, the pattern here seems more spikey, fractured. Could it be an effect of upwelling water, possibly freezing freshwater in the ocean? And could the white object close to the top edge be a ship displacing the ice particles in its wake? Then we might be somewhere near the coast in an Arctic region.

  7. Rob van Olmen says:

    Aurora borealis, on the north pole.

  8. Laura says:

    Rough ocean water

  9. Matias Blazevic says:

    Dense high altitude clouds getting frozen, almost like the noctilucent or cirrus kind, picture taken from the top not from the ground.

  10. Justin Smith says:

    Fun! I will guess a pic of zoomed in waves from a typhoon. Looks to be circling counterclockwise, so somewhere in the northern hemisphere. Total guess, thanks,

  11. Jorge A. Cazares says:

    This is a natural color satellite image of an ocean phytoplankton bloom. The Barents Sea is an ideal environment for phytoplankton blooms of diatoms and coccolithophores. Blooms are common in the spring when the warm shallow waters of the sea melt the winter ice forming a separate layer of fresh water that allows coccolithophores to thrive. Later as the summer months progress, the waters clash with the cold Atlantic currents creating enormous swirls of creamy white coccolithophores and rich green diatoms. In the top right of the image you can spot a ship sailing across the top of the water as a scale reference.

  12. beck says:

    Frozen waves

  13. marcelo primiani says:

    plume sediment. Maybe California, Mayby Maxican Gulf or Spain…

  14. Pauly Metesh says:

    Looks like ice crystals inside the roof of a cave. OR some type of cave crystal formation.

  15. Jestrbob says:

    It is the top of a glacier, showing the flow and melting of ice. The spirals are, directional flow of ice around and over a unseen obstruction.

    My just is take in Antarctic reagion close the sea.

  16. Kari Nöjd says:

    My guess is that this picture shows sea surface where algea is blooming. The line is from the boat which is driving through the sea surface. Picture could have been taken from the Baltic Sea where has been big algea blooming fields forming for the past mont… Unfortunately this is also effect of a human behaviour. Nutrients from fields and waste waters increase the algae blooming.

  17. Geetha Stephan says:

    This is a satellite image of a tropical storm, more specifically a typhoon, closer to an island in Asia. Taiwan would be the most likely location as it is in the direct trajectory of several typhoons. Given the August month, the image is that of the Soudelor Typhoon.

    The coloured image reveals three important charcateristics: the state of ocean surface, the wind speed and its direction.

    Shades of blue indicate the range of wind speeds (lighter blue and green represent faster-moving winds).

    This satellite image is most likely to be from NASA’s Aqua satellite. However, the image appears to be exaggerated. If then, it has used RapidScat which does not measure wind speed and direction directly. Instead microwave pulses from the instrument are bounced from the ocean uneven surface and back towards the sensor.

    RapidScat observes the storm build up and relent losing wind speed. Rough waters would pick or send stronger signals than smooth waters. From the following information, data about wind speed, as well as its direction based on the position of the waves could be ascertained.

  18. Caroline Hunt says:

    I think it’s sea ice by Greenland which has been affected due to global warming and the line and dot at the top is a science vessel ploughing through it doing some research.
    Probably wrong but this is my first ever attempt at one of these quizzes and I’m enjoying reading the guesses so far:)

  19. Joaquin Willim says:

    Some crazy looking clouds. The black line could be an antena from the satelite ?

  20. DLSmith says:

    My guess – the surface depth backwash from a passing submarine, in arctic waters, with a sonobuoy coming down from a helicopter above.

  21. Lawrence Thomas says:

    This image compares very closely to the perimeter of a Typhoon taken by a satellite ….I’m going with the outer bands of a Typhoon ,primary and secondary circulation depicting Carnot heat energy , with flanking lines ..Possibly Typh Goni , Atsani or Soudelor …The line crossing the top right of the image is possibly a weather aircraft with contrail traveling right to left in the image… Blue color depicts the measure of cloud vapor density The area depicted is cropped and magnified from a larger encompassing image of a larger area.

  22. Vicky Gorman says:

    Night clouds or noctilucent clouds of polar region. Looking from above at the entire polar mesospheric cloud layer in the upper atmosphere. During twilight. Clouds are made of crystals of water ice.

  23. Davor Maksimović says:

    Melting ice

  24. Henry Sieverling says:

    Eroded limestone in wet tropics, maybe New Guniea.

  25. Conzatti e says:

    Smoke associated with the massive explosion in Tianjin, China last week. The reasson may be for knowing its impact on the enviroment.

  26. Muhammad says:

    It can be two things it can be the wind creating waves then it all froze cause of a strange phenomenon or it might be a recent pocture of Pluto taken by a statalite.

  27. mary says:

    looks like a hideous algae bloom or seaweed farming gone amok?
    The straight line, a boat deploying a net, since there is no wake?
    Lake Erie?

  28. Adrian Ianculescu says:

    Altocumulus clouds with supercooled tops over Atlantic ocean and the line is the result of higher temperature of the aircraft’s jet.

  29. mojtaba rezvani says:

    Unrest wave of ocean !

  30. Gary Moeller says:

    Glacier on a mountain?

  31. D says:

    Not a clue, but I want to hear more about it.

  32. Henry Sieverling says:

    Eroded limestone in the wet tropics, New Guinea perhaps.

  33. Annica Larsson says:

    Hello. I think this is east of south sweden, out in the water of Östersjön.We have every august algae blooms (in sweden we call it algblomning). Its dur to the marine enviroment. Newstelevision is often warning of bathing in this, because small children and dogs can become a little bit sick. Sorry for my swenglish

  34. Alfonso J. says:

    I think it could be a photomicrograph of a nanostructure

  35. Kashmala Khan says:

    These are the waves of a turbulent ocean.

  36. Dubravka says:

    South Pole – Ice formation

  37. Justine Fuller says:

    Underwater landscape created by volcanic activity and hydrothermal vents. The line is a longline let out by the fishing boat at the left end of the line.

  38. Bryan Butler says:

    A computer graphics design created by a talented artist of what a roaring sea would look like during a typhoon/hurricane…..

    • Bryan Butler says:

      Or maybe its a painters rendition of what a roaring sea would look like during a typhoon/hurricane.

  39. Mohammad Hossein Shoushtari says:

    This is a picture of sea or ocean. The swirls related to the phytoplanktons that are effected by convections of water and we also see a ship that travel from right to left.

  40. Jill Martin says:

    I too will guess algae bloom, although it could also be some sort of sediment (ash? dust?) settling on the surface of the water and then trailing out behind as it’s blown or moved by waves. It does look a little like an aurora viewed from above, but it’s too dense and that’s definitely a ship/boat creating the line at top. No idea as to location, though.

  41. Łukasz Cegłowski says:

    The beginning of a whirlwind over the ocean.

  42. M. Douglas Gerrard says:

    These appear to be the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) very near to geomagnetic north. You can see the “curtains” of charged particles interacting with the magnetic lines of the Earth.

  43. Janet Borchardt says:

    Looks like the photo of the algae bloom off the coast of New Jersey you posted on August 3rd. there is a ship in the bottom right quadrant that looks a lot like the object in this image.

  44. Adrian Ianculescu says:

    Altocumulus clouds with supercooled tops over Atlantic ocean and the line is the result of higher temperature of aircraft’s jet.

  45. Pallavi Garg says:

    This is a picture of frozen mountain range. This place is quite dangerous yet very beautiful! The trees on the mountain range are covered with snow forming whirls.

  46. Chris S says:

    This is ooid sand off the Bahamas. The picture is of the sea surface, seeing through to the patterns of the sand at the sea floor. It was taken during the day. It is interesting, because these sands are not exactly common, making the Bahamas very distinctive from space, and the patterns are lovely.

  47. Srinath Belur says:

    Eye of the Storm!

  48. Mr. Woloszyn says:

    Frozen glaciers in Antartica

  49. Mr. Woloszyn says:

    Frozen ice caps near Antartica

  50. Emmanuel Soto says:

    South polar capsule melting. The Hubble space telescope captured this image.

  51. Spot Winkler says:


  52. Spot Winkler says:

    do to the counter clock wise rotation

  53. Isabella Shrimpton says:

    It is part of the great white spot on Saturn, taken by cassini. The line at the top is just part of the spacecraft caught in the image.

  54. Homo Universalis says:

    Pared vertical de nubes en el perímetro interior del ojo en un ciclón, los vientos veloces a gran altura favorecen la formación de cirros. Saludos desde Guadalajara, Jalisco México.

  55. Andrew Klein says:

    The image above Was taken in niagra falls, and the image is taken in the winter of the freezing fresh water on the ridge of the falls

  56. Ajay says:

    Great Barrier Reef?

  57. Marinela says:

    To me looks like an alien ship taking off from some ocean …hhhhmmmmm ???

  58. stephanie sills says:

    I think it’s smoke from all the forest fires going on in the western United States

  59. champ goss says:

    its the kraken on the Bermuda triangle

  60. Keith says:

    Smoke from the California wildfires