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Earth Matters

May Puzzler

May 24th, 2016 by Adam Voiland


Every month on Earth Matters, we offer a puzzling satellite image. The May 2016 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 a blog post, 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!

Update: The answer is posted here.





Readers were quick to name the Caspian Sea as the location featured in our April 2016 puzzler. It took just a bit longer to puzzle out what caused the curious lines that crisscross the image. Are they gouges on the seafloor produced by trawling? Or are they are related to the movement of marine animals? Those are good guesses, but it turns out that the real culprit is ice.

Ice’s impact on the area becomes evident when you look back in time. The puzzler image (top) was acquired in springtime, on April 16, 2016; it shows open water in the vicinity of the Caspian Sea’s Tyuleniy Archipelago. On January 17, 2016, (second image) the same area is covered with fragmented ice.

Ice cover in some areas is easily deformed, rising upward and downward into hummocks. The keels of these hummocks can extend down through the shallow water to the seafloor. As wind and currents push the ice around, the keels drag along the seafloor like a rake to produce the gouges. Read more about the phenomenon in our April 23, 2016, image of the day.



Go even farther back in time and you see that the phenomenon is not new. “These scratches were found on the aerial photographs as early as the fifties of the last century,” said Stanislav Ogorodov, a scientist at Lomonosov Moscow State University. “They were published in the Russian-language scientific literature and unambiguously interpreted as ice gouges.” The image above shows ice gouges photographed from aircraft in 1954 and is described in this 2015 paper.

A number of readers suspected early on that the gouge marks had icy origins. James Varghese and Rachel were the first to comment on the blog and correctly describe the location and phenomenon. On Facebook, Jaouhar Mosbahi was the first to post a correct description. And Rodney Forster contributed insight in a twitter conversation with @NASAOceans, where the image was first released.