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NASA image captured March 9, 2011


On March 9, 2011, clouds drifted over northeast Iceland, creating a white-on-white portrait of the icy late-winter landscape. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite captured this true-color image on that same day.


Although Iceland is aptly named, the island has steamy volcanic underpinnings. Iceland lies on a volcanic “hot spot”, an area where hot molten magma from deep within the Earth nears the surface. Also, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian tectonic plate pull apart, runs roughly northeast to southwest through the country. The hotspot remains constant, and the plates slide over the magma-rich and thermally active area, resulting in abundant volcanic activity.


In Iceland, much volcanic activity occurs under the glaciers, but above-ground eruptions occur frequently. In 2010, the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull gave rise to a large volcanic ash plume, which disrupted air travel in northern Europe for several weeks. While dramatic and newsworthy, this event was small compared to an eruption of the Skaftareldar volcano from 1783-1785. That eruption has been named the most fatal volcanic eruption in history, as well as the largest known eruption in quantity of lava flow. About one-fourth of the population of Iceland died due to the eruption and due to the local climate change and disease that followed.


In this image, Iceland seems to be at rest, with no plumes or evidence of current volcanic activity. The white blanket of ice and snow covers the mainland, and a light cover of clouds appear to drift across the northern half of the island. A tan ridge of exposed land can be seen eastern coast, and this land is brushed with green, which indicates vegetation. Tan dust plumes blow from the uncovered coastal land over the blue North Atlantic Ocean. Eyjafjallajokull sits near the southern tip of Iceland, and appears to be peaceful at this time.


Credit: NASA/GSFC/Jeff Schmaltz/MODIS Land Rapid Response Team


NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission.


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Uploaded on March 29, 2011