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March 11, 2011
Patagonia is a land of extremes. It has high mountains and low basins, lush green vegetation and arid tan desert, and it is noted for both fire and ice. On February 19, 2011 the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite passed over the region and captured this nearly cloud-free view of the Patagonian extremes.

Patagonia encompasses the entire southern cone of South America, from the Colorado River (located off the upper edge of this image) to the southern tip of the continent.

Along the west coast, the Southern Andes Mountains make up the forest-covered spine of the region. The peaks are high - Mt. Aconcagua rises 6,962 m (22,841 ft) - and are often violent. The Southern Andean Volcano Observatory (OVDAS) monitors eight volcanoes (Chaiten, Cordón Caulle, Lonquimay, Llaima, Villarrica, Mocho-Choshuenco, Osorno and Calbuco) for activity. In recent years, there have been major eruptions at Llaima, and Chaitén. A major ash eruption occurred at Chaiten in 2008, and steam continues to rise from the volcano to this day. In this image, Chaitén is marked by a red hotspot and a cloud of white steam near the top of the image.

Further south, the Andes are home to two major glacial ice fields, both of which can be clearly seen in this image. These are the vestige of the Patagonian Ice Sheet, an extensive ice sheet that covered the area during the Quaternary glaciations. The Northern Patagonian Ice Field is the smaller of the two, about half the size of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. These ice masses feed dozens of glaciers which slowly move down the mountains. The westward-flowing glaciers end in the fjords of the Patagonian channels and ultimately melt into the Pacific Ocean. Those flowing to the east melt into glacially carved lakes, most of which appear bright blue in this image, and then into rivers which lead to the Atlantic Ocean.

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