Click to enlargeCape Cod Photo

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High quality ALI picture, slide, or Duratrans backlit transparency. NASA photograph ALI-2005308. Wide variety of sizes.

Land, sea, and air all meet along the coastline, and this intersection makes for some of the planet’s most compelling visual and scientific landscapes. But for all of their beauty, coastal regions are also among the most beautifully complex to study, particularly with satellites.

This natural-color image of Sandy Neck and Barnstable Harbor, on the north side of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, was acquired on November 4, 2005, by the Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on NASA’s Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite. The barrier beach—which started forming about 4,000 years ago—is covered by hardy coastal shrubs and trees, with sand dunes standing tens of feet tall. The back bay is shallow and surrounded by marsh, though a dredged channel descends anywhere from 7 to 20 feet (2 to 6 meters) deep. Not far offshore, near the top of the image, water depths reach roughly 40 feet (12 meters).

Satellite sensors can trace the shoreline and see the shallow bottom of some bays. They can trace oil and pollution slicks. They can detect the sediments—the sands, river mud, decaying organic matter, and even floating phytoplankton—drifting on or near the water surface. But in this turbid, colorful soup near the shore, it is hard for satellites to tell which ingredient is which.

Date Collected on November 4, 2005
Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon,
based on ALI data from Earth-Observing-1.
Caption by Mike Carlowicz.

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