British Virgin Islands

British Virgin Islands

The Lesser Antilles island chain separates the Atlantic Ocean from the Caribbean Sea. Part of that island chain consists of the Virgin Islands, some governed by the United States, and some by the United Kingdom. Of the British Virgin Islands, the largest is Tortola, roughly 5 kilometers (3 miles) wide and 19 kilometers (14 miles) long. Tortola’s origins are volcanic, and the island consists of a chain of rugged hills. With an elevation over 500 meters, the island’s highest point, Mt. Sage, is also the highest point in the British Virgin Islands.

On September 17, 2005, the Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on NASA’s Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite captured this true-color image of Tortola and its smaller neighbors, Guana Island, Grand Camanoe, and Beef Island. The islands follow a roughly southwest-northeast trajectory. Gray-beige urbanized areas cling to the coast while Tortola’s interior remains mostly green, an arrangement driven by the islands’s topography. The biggest settlement fringes Road Bay. A straight line crossing Beef Island gives away the location of a small airport.

Tortola’s carpet of green suggests a lush rainforest, but the island actually supports a patch of drought-resistant forest, in addition to plants accustomed to more water. Tortola’s climate and land surface are well suited to raising livestock, but tourism and financial services are the primary industries.

NASA Earth Observatory image created by Jesse Allen, using EO-1 ALI data provided courtesy of the NASA EO-1 team and the United States Geological Survey. Caption by Michon Scott.

References & Resources

  • CIA World Factbook. (2009). British Virgin Islands. Accessed November 25, 2009.
  • Encyclopedia Britannica. (2009). Tortola. Accessed November 25, 2009.
  • Wikipedia. (2009, November 4). Tortola. Accessed November 25, 2009.