January 8, 2005
These stunning true-color images provide a rare, cloud-free look at the island nation of New Zealand, including all of North and part of South Island. This scene was acquired by the Aqua MODIS instrument on December 27, 2004. New Zealand is situated in the South Pacific Ocean, roughly 2,000 km (1,250 miles) southeast of Australia. Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, is located on the southern tip of the North Island, looking across Cook Strait toward South Island. Surrounding the islands like a silver halo is a swath of sunglint, while north of the Bay of Plenty in the Pacific Ocean is a blue cloud of phytoplankton. The New Zealand land mass is ancient. Geologists estimate that it separated from the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana around 80 million years ago as a single land mass, which geologists call Rangitata. Around 5 million years ago, NewZealand's North and South Islands began to take the shape they have today. Rainforest covered most of New Zealand's land area as recently as seven thousand years ago. Isolated from the rest of the world by vast expanses of ocean, New Zealand was a haven for unique species of flora and fauna, including many species of flightless birds that evolved in safety at ground level through the millennia. Perhaps the most well-known of these flightless birds today is the Kiwi, which adapted to a forest environment, feeding mainly upon earthworms and larvae.
Topics: Environment, Supercontinents, Biogeography, New Zealand, Biodiversity of New Zealand, Gondwana, Polynesia, South island, Flightless bird