Satellite aesthetics: the poles from the sky | Polarjournal
When nature takes her paintbrushes, the result is the Belcher Islands. Located on Hudson Bay, they are home to the small community of Sanikiluaq and its thousand inhabitants. Image: Landsat 7 / USGS

From the convolutions of frozen rivers to concentrations of phytoplankton or sediment, from the advance of a glacier to the symmetry of ice, satellite images of the polar regions offer a breathtaking spectacle.

Whether it’s spotting penguin colonies in Antarctica or observing the evolution of glaciers in the Arctic and Antarctic, the satellites that orbit over the polar regions are essential to their surveillance. In addition to their scientific interest, satellite images also have an admirable aesthetic quality. If you’ve ever been to polar regions, you already know that they are of a breathtaking beauty. But today, PolarJournal takes you high in the sky to discover the Arctic and Antarctic from a different angle.

Lena freeing herself from ice. These images, taken on June 4, 2019, show dissolved organic matter in the water (top image) and ponds of still-frozen water in permafrost depressions (bottom image). Images: Landsat 8
The famous Jakobshavn glacier spilling its tons of ice near Ilulissat , West Greenland, in April 2019. Image: Copernicus Sentinel-2
An icefall feeds the gigantic Lambert Glacier. Located on the east coast of Antarctica, it is the world’s largest glacier, 400 kilometers long and 100 kilometers wide. Image: Landsat 7 / USGS
Taken on January 30, 2024, this image shows the Yukon and its delta encased in ice. With its source in British Columbia, the river stretches 3 000 kilometers across Alaska before ending in the Bering Sea. Its delta offers a vast expanse of marshland that is home to a dense wildlife, including large colonies of birds that come here to breed. Image: European Union / Copernicus Sentinel-2
Taken in February 2023, this image shows sea ice off the coast of Liverpool Land, on the east coast of Greenland. The entrance to Scoresby Sund is clearly visible between the two areas of land. Image: Copernicus Sentinel-2 / ESA
Scoresby Sund, East Greenland in 2018. Kangertittivaq, as it’s known in Greenland, is the world’s largest fjord system. Its total surface area is 13 700 km2. Image : NASA
Granite Harbour, near the Ross Sea. Phytoplankton on the surface of the water tint the ice green, making for a pretty sight for Landsat 8. These images show these microalgae growing under favorable conditions. The absence of fast ice, offshore winds and sunlight made this proliferation, captured in March 2017, possible. Image: Landsat 8 / NASA
The Mackenzie River carries its sediments into the Beaufort Sea in Canada’s far north. Inland melting ice and snow brings large quantities of freshwater and sediment into the river, which then carries them into the sea. Image: Landsat 8 / USGS
Ross Island in November 2021. On the left, you can see Mount Erebus, which rises to a height of over 3 700 metres. Still an active volcano, it is the neighbor of the now extinct Mount Terror (right). Image: Landsat 9 – Michelle Bouchard / U.S. Geological Survey
It is rarely seen, as it is often hidden beneath the clouds. Elephant Island has decided to show off in this shot taken in February 2023. It was on this desolate island that part of the Endurance crew survived for four months, waiting to be rescued by Shackleton. Image: Copernicus Sentinel-2 / ESA
The Columbia Glacier in Alaska, photographed here in 2023. It is one of the world’s fastest-moving glaciers, and has experienced significant retreat since the 1980s. Image: Copernicus Sentinel-2 / ESA
When air flows over and around objects in its path, spiral vortices, known as Von Karman vortices, can form. The vortices in this image were created when prevailing winds sweeping east across the northern Pacific Ocean encountered Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. Image: Landsat 7 / USGS

For more satellite images of the Arctic and Antarctic, as well as other regions of the planet, visit Earth As Art which has put together a truly impressive collection of images. The image databases of the European Space Agency and the Copernicus and NASA Earth Observatory also offer superb satellite images.

Mirjana Binggeli, PolarJournal

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