Earth Matters

November 2016 Puzzler

November 15th, 2016 by Adam Voiland


Every month on Earth Matters, we offer a puzzling satellite image. The November 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 or a trip to Mars, 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. After we post the answer, we will acknowledge the person who was first to correctly ID the image at the bottom of this blog post. We may also recognize certain readers 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!

Editor’s Note: Congratulations to James Varghese, David, and John Dierks for being some of the first readers to solve the puzzler on Earth Matters and Facebook. See a labeled version of the November puzzler with a more detailed discussion of El Jorf and the qanats here.

18 Responses to “November 2016 Puzzler”

  1. Vivian Sank says:

    Not a clue how but the face looking down looks like Lucy in Charlie Brown.

  2. Joan Heather says:

    Tremors or a tremor caused these lines.

  3. Sue Nethercott says:

    Death Valley, boulders rolling?

  4. Santiago Alpuy says:

    It looks like a devastated city of Iraq or Syria, i go for Mosul. The black patterns are buildings that were destroyed by bombs.

  5. catherine says:

    Ariel view of civilization in a desert environment. Maybe Las Vegas; Maybe Namibia?

  6. M.L. Paxton says:

    This is northwest of Ciudad Oruro, Oruro Department, Bolivia. 17°49’34.1″S 67°21’04.6″W

  7. Ronald L. Nance says:

    I think its a city, the black is large polution areas?

  8. Vic Habersmith says:

    It looks like a geyser basin in Yellowstone Park. The scoured lines are from landslides and/or water runoff from snow melt and the dark areas are forest.

  9. James Varghese says:

    Coordinates: 31°29’28.72″N, 4°24’4.56″W
    Part of the city of El Jorf, Errachidia Province, Drâa-Tafilalet region of Southeast Morocco.
    The El Jorf Monkara Monolith (a geological mount) is clearly visible adjacent to the dark green vegetation (which consists mostly of palm trees). This geological structure is most probably part of the Atlas Mountain range which covers most of Greater Maghreb (western North Africa). The periphery of the Monolith shows signs of intense erosion which must be due to the dominant wind erosion. This region of Morocco is part of a typical semi-arid climate characterized by lack of rainfall with occasional showers. Such an inhabited city in the Meghrab with attached houses and other structures is widespread among the oasis population of North Africa. Most assuredly this is a historically important location in Morocco. A part of an almost dry river is visible at the northeast corner of this Natural Color Satellite Image. This Image seems to be acquired with OLI Sensor of Landsat 8. A closer look at high resolution Google Earth Images reveal some intriguing structures that are white dots and lines moving towards the west from the city. The white lines are probably desert roads, however the white dots are some small stone cliffs that doesn’t seem to be connected. My gut feeling says these are human made structures.

    • david says:

      Qanats are ancient underground water channels designed to transport water down slopes without active pumping. While the channels that convey the water lay below the surface, the access shafts used for construction and maintenance are visible above ground.

    • June R says:

      Bingo. Well done.

  10. Jolann Horkey Jones says:

    I believe this is Las Vegas, Nevada

  11. John Dierks says:

    This is an area in Southeast Morocco. The most interesting thing in my mind is the white trails in the desert. It seems they are holes that lead to an underground canal system that brings water from springs to the city.

  12. James Varghese says:

    Some searching revealed these white chain of dots are the historical underground ‘Khettara (Qanat)’ irrigation channels that deliver mountain water to the dry areas. Source:
    This is very interesting.

  13. Leonel Concha Aillon says:

    Villa de Jorf, provincia Errachidia, Marruecos 31°28’18″N y 4° 23’27″O

  14. Irene Marzolff says:

    This is an oasis, an agricultural area with irrigated fields (dark blue-green patches) in a desert environment close to a mountain range. A probably tarmacked road crosses the area from NE to SW. In the lower left corner, sedimentary fans at the edge of the mountains can be seen. Crossing the unvegetated area from the mountain foothills to the agricultural fields are many thin dotted lines (best visible against the greyish soils in the upper left part of the image): these are qanats, subsurface irrigation channels that bring water from the higher water table of the mountain area in the west to the agricultural land in the east. The access shafts of these tunnels are visible as dots along its course on the surface.
    This is an ancient irrigation system which is common in many drylands, in particular in North Africa, Arabia and the Middle East. I have no idea where in this vast region this image was taken.

  15. Irene Marzolff says:

    Addendum: I found it – it is El Jorf near Erfoud in Morocco, at the eastern edge of the Anti-Atlas mountain range. So the qanat tunnels are what in Morocco is called khettara. The access shaft holes are beautifully visible on Google Earth.