Beauty Carved by Nature’s Violence

Beauty Carved by Nature’s Violence

This photograph of the Alaskan Peninsula, shot by an astronaut from the International Space Station (ISS), offers an oblique view of Katmai National Park. Many of the mountains are active volcanoes—part of the Aleutian Range—and several are topped by glaciers.

Just northwest of the coastal mountain range lies the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, a river valley that was buried by an eruption of Novarupta volcano in 1912. It was the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th Century.

Large quantities of hot ash and pumice were ejected during the eruption. The rain of hot debris buried the snow and glacial streams, immediately flashing them into steam. Those volcanic deposits remained hot for years afterwards and often converted subsequent precipitation and surface stream flows into steam—hence the name Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. During the same eruption, the summit of Mount Katmai collapsed, forming a deep caldera that has filled with water as a crater lake.

Katmai National Park has multiple sediment-rich rivers that deliver freshwater to the ocean. These rivers and streams provide avenues for anadromous fish species, especially salmon, to migrate and spawn upstream in the park. The abundance of fish is important for some of Katmai’s other residents: bald eagles and brown bears.

Astronaut photograph ISS060-E-33914 was acquired on August 11, 2019, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a 500 millimeter lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 60 crew. The image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by Laura Phoebus, Jacobs Technology, JETS Contract at NASA-JSC.