An astronaut aboard the International Space Station took this photograph of Adele Island, off of Australia’s north coast. The island is only 2.9 kilometers (2 miles) long, but the entire tidal zone—with concentric and extensive sandbanks—is 24.5 kilometers (15.2 miles) long.
The modern island is the dark central area, made up of a series of beach ridges built by sands washed up from the surrounding sandbanks during storms. The highest point is little more than 4 meters (13 feet) above sea level on this grassy but treeless island. A solar-powered lighthouse appears as a tiny white dot at the north tip of the island.
Adele Island has been classified as an important bird area because it is a breeding site of world importance for lesser frigatebirds and three other species. Efforts are underway to clear the island of Polynesian rats, which are a constant threat to the seabirds.
Lines on the wide platform around the island, at right angles to the shoreline, are probably produced by the high tides (6.3 meters, or 20 feet) at nearby Browse Island. Water floods towards the island, and then ebbs back out to sea—a radial pattern common on islands in this part of the world. Wave and tide movements give different sand patterns on opposite sides of Adele Island. The eastern shore shows tightly packed parallel lines of white sand, perhaps as a result of wave action concentrated in a narrow zone related to this steep slope. On the gentler western slope, the same sandy material displays a V-shaped pattern, possibly due to the longer in-out movement of water with each tide.
Shallow water surrounding the island is light blue, compared with the deeper open ocean. During times of low sea level (repeatedly during the glacial stages of the past 1.7 million years), the entire platform and surrounding zones would have been dry ground on a much larger island.
Astronaut photograph ISS044-E-00903 was acquired on June 11, 2015, with a Nikon D4 digital camera using an 1150 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 44 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 M. Justin Wilkinson, Texas State University, Jacobs Contract at NASA-JSC.
Named Isla de Aves in Spanish, (meaning “Island of the Birds”) Aves Island lies west of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. It provides a nesting site to green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) and, of course, birds. Because the abundant bird droppings, known as guano, could be used in fertilizer and gunpowder, guano miners worked on the island until they depleted the supply. Since its discovery by Europeans, likely in the late 16th century, Aves Island was subsequently claimed by several European nations. The island is currently claimed by Venezuela, although disputes about ownership of the island, and the surrounding exclusive economic zone in the Caribbean, continue today.
The ghostly white shapes northeast and immediately southwest of Wrangel Island are sea ice. Over the course of the satellite record, Arctic sea ice has advanced and retreated past Wrangel Island many times. From 1979 to 2000, the sea ice edge at the end of summer generally fell somewhere in the vicinity of Wrangel Island, but this is not the first summer when the sea ice edge has retreated well north of the island.
On September 25, 2002, astronauts aboard the International Space Station viewed Easter Island, one of the most remote locations on Earth. Easter Island is more than 2000 miles from the closest populations on Tahiti and Chile—even more remote than astronauts orbiting at 210 nautical miles above the Earth. Archaeologists believe the island was discovered and colonized by Polynesians at about 400 AD. Subsequently, a unique culture developed. The human population grew to levels that could not be sustained by the island. A civil war resulted, and the island’s deforestation and ecosystem collapse was nearly complete.