Viewed from the International Space Station, patterns of sea ice in the Sea of Okhotsk reveal the dynamics of ocean currents that could otherwise only be seen in sunglint. In this photo, we see nearly 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) of the East Sakhalin Current, which is carrying winter ice south toward Japan’s Hokkaido Island. The current is marked by the narrow corridor of dense ice that hugs the coast of Russia’s Sakhalin Island. As it approaches Hokkaido, the ice patterns show a series of eddies and swirls.
The East Sakhalin Current wanes in summer when the Soya Current begins to enter the Sea of Okhotsk. This inrush of summer water starts in April and probably expresses itself in this image as ice pattern to the east above Hokkaido.
The Sakhalin current turns east and transports ice toward the Kuril Island chain. Some ice can spill through gaps in the islands, where it is swept southwest by the Kuril Current (image lower right). In 2010, astronauts captured a glimpse of ice stringers breaking through the islands.
The atmospheric haze in the image is likely industrial smog from China and Japan, made more visible by the oblique viewing angle.
Volcanic cones along the Kuril Islands extend the volcanic line of Hokkaido. Click here to view an image of snow-covered volcanoes on one of the islands.
Astronaut photograph ISS039-E-11773 was acquired on April 14, 2014, with a Nikon D3S digital camera using a 80 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 the Expedition 39 crew. It 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 M. Justin Wilkinson, Jacobs at NASA-JSC