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Earth Matters

November Puzzler

November 23rd, 2015 by Kathryn Hansen


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

October Puzzler Answer: Salt Glaciers in Xinjiang

November 6th, 2015 by Adam Voiland

Congratulations to Shadab Raza, a geologist with Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited, for being the first reader to decipher the location of our October Puzzler, Xinjiang in western China. Jonathan Aul followed up later in the day with the exact coordinates. “Roughly 41.6 N, 80.7 E, approximately 10-15 km south of Bozidunxiang, Wensu, Aksu, Xinjiang Province, China.”

In researching the area, I become most interested in the distinctive salt glaciers, though Raza pointed out something that I completely missed: there appears to be a coal mine just to the west of one of the salt glaciers. I am not sure if it is the same mine shown in our image, but Raza also noted that an Aksu coal mine has been in the news recently.

If you are interested in learning more about salt glaciers, read our October 25 Image of the Day and click through the references for more information. University of Leeds geologist Alex Webb was kind enough to share several photographs of the salt glaciers that he took during a research trip. I have posted a few of them below with his commentary.


Walking around on a the Awate salt glacier. Yellow bits in the foreground are gypsum concentrations. Courtesy of Alex Webb (University of Leeds).


Salt flow at the surface is largely controlled by dissolution creep, aided by rain water. Here, some patches of crystalline salt from the spout (still dislocation creep) remain within a largely reworked salt layer. Photo courtesy of Alex Webb (University of Leeds).


Salt extraction via water. They blast the salt glacier with water from hoses, and let that water (now enriched in salt) flow down into flat pools. In the pools, the water evaporates and relatively pristine salt is left behind for collection. Photograph courtesy of Alex Webb (University of Leeds).

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Salt evaporation ponds. Photo courtesy of Alex Webb (University of Leeds).

Satellites as Superheroes

November 2nd, 2015 by Adam Voiland


Usually, comic book heroes wear tight pants and have superhuman strength. In the new educational manga Raindrop Tales from NASA, one of the heroes (Mizu-chan) evaporates water with her hair. The other (GPM) rides on a 3,900-kilogram satellite that observes rain and snow.

Look carefully at the art in the screenshots above, and you will find some telling details. Mizu-chan wears a flowing blue dress that symbolizes the many forms of water (snow, ice, rain, hail, water vapor, fresh water, salt water, etc.) found on Earth. Notice how her hemline is surrounded by clouds. Depending on her mood, the clouds form different types of precipitation.

GPM—named after the Global Precipitation Measurement mission—has blond hair and wears a kimono with a rain pattern on one half and a snow pattern on the other. Though he rides atop the GPM Core Observatory, that does not mean he has free reign over the satellite. Read the full comic to find out how GPM deals with meddlesome managers on the ground and what happens when he meets a diverse cast of characters in space.

The new manga is the culmination of an anime challenge sponsored by GPM’s education and outreach team. They made a call to artists from around the world to develop anime-themed comic book characters that could be used to teach students about the mission. Yuki Kiriga of Tokyo developed the GPM character; Sabrynne Buchholz of Colorado developed Mizu-chan. See some of their winning artwork below.


After finishing the manga, you may want to learn more about water. If so, try this story about the water cycle. “Viewed from space, one of the most striking features of our home planet is the water, in both liquid and frozen forms, that covers approximately 75 percent of the Earth’s surface,” the story begins.


The vast majority (about 96.5 percent) of that water, of course, fills the oceans. As for the rest of it, approximately 1.7 percent of Earth’s water is stored in the polar icecaps, glaciers, and permanent snow; another 1.7 percent is stored in groundwater, lakes, rivers, streams, and soil.

Only .001 percent of the water on Earth exists as water vapor in the atmosphere. But that tiny fraction is what GPM sees the best. To get a sense of the data GPM is collecting on a routine basis, see this story about the devastating rains that struck South Carolina in October 2015.