Our view from the ground is a myopically thin slice of reality.
To bring those views closer to home, a group of architects, urban planners, mapmakers, and scientists formed My Orbiter.
The company curates, prints, and sells more than 100 of the best satellite images available as huge, ultra-high-resolution photo prints.
“We believe that education and science can make our planet a better place and that by giving people a way to bring this new perspective into their homes, we empower and remind people of who we are and the impact we have on our world,” Owen de Lancie, one of the company’s founders, told Business Insider in an email.
Here are a few of My Orbiter’s favourite images, all of which were taken by DigitalGlobe – a company that operates multiple Earth-observing space satellites – and Landsat-8, a spacecraft run by NASA and the USGS.
Grand Canal — Venice, Italy
More than 170 buildings line the banks of Italy’s most famous canal, many of them built between the 13th and 18th centuries.
“Venice has sunk 9 inches in the last century and currently floods about 100 times a year – a phenomenon called the acqua alta,” de Lancie said. “Now, after much research, underwater ‘mobile’ gates are being built on the floor of the sea where the open sea enters Venice’s lagoon. When the seawater rises above a certain level, air will be pumped into the gates, causing them to rise and shut out the Adriatic.”
Tulip fields — Lisse, Netherlands
Hundreds of tulip fields surround the town, feeding a huge international market for the multi-coloured flowers.
“The studied precision of the rectangular fields is not result of aesthetics. It is part of the businesslike efficiency of an industry that has made tulip bulbs one of Holland’s leading exports – and the central character in one of the 17th century’s strangest economic stories,” de Lancie said. “Tulipmania, speculation in tulip bulbs, was a mania that led to the world’s first stock market bubble.”
The Arc de Triomphe — Paris, France
The Arc de Triomphe is a monument at the center of twelve avenues that form a star.
“Built to honour the victories of Napoleon Bonaparte, it was finished after he died in 1821 and it was only his remains, brought back from his exile on Saint Helena, that passed under the grand arch in 1840,” de Lancie said. “It is now the resting place of the Unknown Soldier from WWI and an iconic background for many victory celebrations.”
Everglades — Florida, USA
Florida’s Everglades National Park is the biggest patch of wilderness in the US south of the tropics.
“The North and Roberts Rivers empty into Whitewater Bay, an inlet of the Gulf of Mexico,” de Lancie said. “The shallow rivers meander through a mangrove maze, the mangrove tree bark and red dirt sediment staining the shallow waters a rusty red.”
Mount Taranaki — North Island, New Zealand
Although Mount Taranaki last erupted in 1655, volcanic activity spikes about once every 90 years.
It’s one of the most symmetrical volcanic cones in the world, and it “stood in for Mt. Fuji in ‘The Last Samurai,'” de Lancie said.
Greenland Ice Sheet — Greeland
The Greenland Ice Sheet is second only to Antarctica’s as the largest mass of ice on Earth. It covers some 80% of Greenland’s surface, and coring of the ice suggests the landmass has been covered by ice for the past 18 million years.
“The oldest known ice in the current ice sheet is as old as 1 million years old,” de Lancie said. “Many scientists who study the ice sheet consider that a 2- or 3-degree-Celsius temperature rise would result in a complete melting of Greenland’s ice. If the entire sheet of ice were to melt, it would lead to a global sea level rise of 24 feet.”
Badain Jaran Desert — China
Some of the sand dunes in China’s Badain Jaran Desert, which sits just south of Mongolia in the Gobi Desert, tower more than 1,600 feet – some of the tallest on Earth.
“The desert also contains over 100 spring-fed lakes between the dunes that give the desert its name, which is Mongolian for ‘mysterious lakes,'” de Lancie said. “Some of these lakes change colour due to large populations of algae, brine shrimp, and mineral formations at different times of the year.”
De Lancie also noted how this desert is home to the mysterious “singing sand dunes” phenomenon.
“[I]t is believed to be caused by an electrostatic charge generated by wind blowing the top layers of sand down a dune slope,” he said, adding that this “emits a sharp, loud noise that can be maintained for more than a minute.”
Skaftá River — Iceland
Floods from glaciers feed this tributary about once every two years, and they often come with a smell of sulfuric acid.
“The floodwaters are from the Skaftárjökull Glacier, which, melted by the abundance of geothermal energy in Iceland, build up under the glacier and flow without any real course over the lava fields,” de Lancie said.
Superblocks — Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona boasts stunning architecture, including that of Antoni Gaudi. Some areas of the city are organised into pedestrian-friendly superblocks.
“[Gaudi’s] best-known work is the immense but still unfinished church of the Sagrada Familia, which has been under construction since 1882,” de Lancie said. “Recently, advancements in technologies such as computer-aided design have enabled faster progress, although completion is not planned until 2026. However, Gaudí is said to have remarked: ‘My client is not in a hurry.'”
Rice Terrace — Yunnan Province, China
Asia’s three great rivers – the Yangtze, Mekong and Salween – run almost parallel here.
“[T]he famous Rice Terraces rise above, fed by a complex system of canals and ditches moving rainfall and spring water,” de Lancie said. “Created by hand by the Hani people over 1,300 years ago, they are still tended by the inhabitants of the small villages that dot the landscape.”
Ipanema Beach — Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
“Although Ipanema is one of the most expensive places to live in Rio, the beach is one of many areas that suffers from the city’s poor waste treatment,” de Lancie said. “In its waters, ‘faecal coliform’ bacteria sometimes spike at 16 times the satisfactory level. Even so, beachgoers often applaud the sunset in the summer and the Travel Channel listed Ipanema Beach as the sexiest beach in the world.”
Islands of the Bijagós — Guinea-Bissau
Of these 88 islands off the coast of one of West Africa, only 23 are inhabited.
“Once a major part of the slave coast, it is now home to a rare herd of saltwater hippopotamuses,” de Lancie said. “It has one of the world’s few functioning matriarchies – women choose their mates, and it’s hard for the men to refuse! The islands are also home to dolphins, manatees, crocodiles, monkeys and striped antelopes; and five of the world’s eight species of tortoise are found there.”
Rub al Khali Desert — Middle East
Also called the “Empty Quarter,” the Rub’ al Khali is the largest nonstop sand desert in the world, covering one-third of the Arabian Peninsula and parts of Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
“The Empty Quarter is the most oil-rich site in the world and the sand dunes reach heights up to 820 feet,” de Lancie said. “Long ago, camel caravans loaded with Frankincense traversed this wasteland, now virtually impassable due to desertification. Traces of ancient caravan routes, imperceptible on the ground, can still be seen in satellite images.”
Shark Bay — Western Australia
“About 1,000 years ago, blue-green algae began building up stromatolites in the southern part of Shark Bay in Western Australia,” de Lancie said. “These structures are considered the longest enduring biological entities on earth. Shark Bay is also home to 10,000 dugongs, or sea-cows, and bottle-nosed dolphins, who exhibit one of the few known uses of tools by sea mammals as they protect their noses with sponges while they forage in the sand on the sea floor.”
Mekong Delta — Vietnam
“Known as the rice bowl of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta is a water world where boats, houses and markets float on the rivers and canals that ribbon the landscape,” de Lancie said. “Water buffalo wade in rice paddies, produce-laden boats float along the mud-brown waters, and mangrove forests are home to the remains of Viet Cong bunkers.”
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