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South Africa
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South Africa

November 30, 2010
The lands of western South Africa are painted in tans, rust and greens on a sunny spring day. The Moderate Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Aqua satellite passed over the region on November 24, capturing this true-color image.

On the west coast, the scythe-shaped Cape Peninsula juts into the Atlantic Ocean, forming the northern coast of False Bay. Cape Town, the legislative capital and the second most populous city in South Africa, sits on the northern coast of Cape Peninsula inland of Robben Island. The city appears as a faint gray smudge on the coastline.

The Cape of Good Hope is the rocky headland of Cape Peninsula. When navigating the western side of the African coastline, the Cape of Good Hope marks the point where a southern-sailing ship turns eastward. Called “rounding the Cape” by sailors, the event always carries a certain amount of suspense because the waters near the Cape are known to be treacherous, with strong currents, fast-changing weather and sea conditions as well as unusual wave phenomenon.

Rounding the Cape, however, does not mean passing the southernmost point of South Africa. To accomplish that, one must travel about 150 km (90 mi) to the east-southeast to Cape Anulhas. It is here that the cold Benguela current of the Atlantic Ocean and the strong Aghulas current of the Indian Ocean meet.

Much of the land between Cape Peninsula and Cape Anulhas can be seen to sport patches of green. This represents the shrub and heathland vegetation of the fynbos ecoregion, which contains about 9,000 species of vascular plants. This part of the country is known for wet winters and dry summers. In contrast, the great inland Karoo plateau to the north is very dry and hot in the summer yet can be icy in winter. It is considered a semi-arid region, containing sparse vegetation, primarily succulents and shrubs. The northern area is also marked by expansive salt flats on the Verneuk Pan. These can be seen as gray-white blotches on the gray-green background of the Karoo.


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