The red and green colors of the salt ponds in South San Francisco Bay are
brilliant visual markers for astronauts. The STS-111 crew photographed the bay
south of the San Mateo bridge in June, 2002. This photograph is timely because
a large number of the salt ponds (more than 16,500 acres) that are owned by
Cargill, Inc. will be sold in September for wetlands restoration—a restoration
project second in size only to the Florida Everglades project. Rough
boundaries of the areas to be restored are outlined on the image.
Over the past century, more than 80% of San Francisco Bay’s wetlands have
been filled and developed or diked off for salt mining. San Francisco Bay has
supported salt mining since 1854. Cargill has operated most of the bay’s
commercial salt ponds since 1978, and had already sold thousands of acres to the
State of California and the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge. This new
transaction will increase San Francisco Bay’s existing tidal wetlands by 50%.
The new wetlands, to be managed by the California Department of Fish and Game
and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will join the Don Edwards National
Wildlife Refuge, and provide valuable habitat for birds, fish and other
wildlife. The wetlands will contribute to better water quality and flood control
in the bay, and open up more coastline for public enjoyment.
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) took this photograph of the San Francisco Bay area in April, 2002. The gray urban footprint of San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, and their surrounding suburbs contrast strongly with the green hillsides. Of particular note are the Pacific Ocean water patterns that are highlighted in the sun glint. Sets of internal waves traveling east impinge on the coastline south of San Francisco. At the same time, fresher bay water flows out from the bay beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, creating a large plume traveling westward. Tidal current channels suggest the tidal flow deep in thebay. Because the ISS orbits are not synchronous with the sun, astronauts view the Earth with variable solar illumination angles. This allows them to document phenomena such as the sun reflecting differentially off surface waters in a way that outlines complicated water structures.