Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Google Earth As Art


Detail of a marshy region near the Amazon River as viewed from 15 miles altitude in Google Earth. North is right.

Amazon
You had so much and now so much is gone
What are you gonna do
With your life?

What a lucky man.
To see the earth before it touched his hand
What an angry fool
To condemn.

One more night to go
One more sleep upon your burning banks
A greedy man never knows
What he's done.

A natural beauty should be preserved like a monument to nature
Don't sell yourself too short, my love
Or someday you might find your soul endangered...

-Neil Young,
Natural Beauty

Once more, seemingly disconnected events have coalesced in my life to produce something unexpected and new. I see karma in this though you may call it what you will, haphazard chance perhaps.

Early last fall, The Economist featured
a cover story of the world's great forests, particularly the Amazon rain forest. I read the article with interest but it was an isolated incidence in my life. It was an impressive, balanced, report on what is being done to preserve “the world’s lungs” from further clearing and intrusion by humanity, given that these forests are so important to ecosystem of the planet.

Then, when I posted months ago about
H.P. Lovecraft I mentioned a couple of podcasts I had discovered. The Cthulhu Podcast features readings of the works by Lovecraft along with songs from the 1920's and, by chance, it is currently working its way through Theodore Roosevelt's Through the Brazilian Wilderness; 8-10 minutes at a time. Like the music, the Roosevelt book hearkens back to the time in which Lovecraft was his most prolific as an author of fiction. I listened to just a couple of these readings from the chronicle Roosevelt’s adventure out of curiosity, but, once more, never really connected it to anything. The readings did strike me as exceptionally vivid in their descriptions and detail. Indications of a quality writer. Can you imagine anyone like Teddy Roosevelt being president today? Almost unthinkable.

Shortly after that, I purchased
the Blu-ray collector’s edition of Avatar, which I have now watched a couple of times at home. Even without the 3-D element, the visuals remain stunning and almost trance-like to behold. A very magical film, even if the story lacks much originality. I waited until after Christmas to make the purchase because, first of all, it was on my gift list and I thought someone might give it to me (which no one did).

Secondly, I chose not to purchase
the “Earth Day” release of Avatar last year because it contained no bonus features. This marketing tactic of offering the same film over and over with a few additions in seemingly ever-cooler editions has grown old on me and I resist it. So, I waited many months for the extras on how the movie was made and such. I was not disappointed. One of the features was a brief documentary on James Cameron’s trips down to the Amazon to raise awareness to a massive dam project intended for the river which will displace many native tribes in the area. Again, I observed with interest but didn’t connect it to anything else in my life.

It wasn't until I used
Google Earth to obtain a satellite view of my own property that these events became more interwoven. I had not visited or planet with Google Earth recently until it came time for me to blog about my sense of stewardship about my property.

I like Google Earth a lot. It is kind of like the
Starry Night of planet Earth for me. Anyway, after posting the satellite image of my property, I randomly decided to tour the world a bit. I saw the Great Pyramids, the Great Wall, the Congo, Mount McKinley, Mount Kilimanjaro, the City of Tokyo, various other places. Then I happened upon the Amazon River Basin in South America. As I searched around the huge area for what there was to see I was amazed by the natural beauty of it all, even from space.

It was only then that all of these moments from the recent past came back to me as a kind of path to the present discovery. Given this seemingly arbitrary exposure to the Amazon on numerous occasions the past few months, how could I have possibly toured the world in Google Earth and not eventually wandered over to check out the vast river basin?


A pristine area of the Amazon rain forest along one of its minor tributaries. I love the ethereal energy of this imagery. North is left.

Since then I have spent a dozen hours or more (who marks time when one is so absorbed in the moment?) exploring the region and taking various screenshots, stitching them together into what feel to me to be striking mosaics. Many of them strike me as art. So, I decided to share these in my blog.


A partially deforested region of the northern Amazon rain forest. It appears to me like a subtle, colorful abstract painting.

The pics represented here are, of necessity, much smaller than the original stitched screenshots, some of which were over 10-15 megs in size. I took most of the images from an altitude of 25-50 miles, though a couple were captured at 15 miles. It just depended upon the size of the region and the amount of detail I wanted to display. Wherever possible, I avoided sections that displayed older, less colorful satellite imagery.

One of my favorite stitched images. This represents about 50 screenshots. I have no idea what geography is actually depicted in this pic. Probably a shallow lake region and subsequent water flows.

Detail of the previous image. Wonderful color and abstract nature. It doesn't even look "earthly" to my untrained eye.

I wish to stress that I did not retouch any of these images. The colors and textures are all there in Google Earth for anyone to behold. I can’t explain the way some things look. Their color or the angle and quality of the sunlight must have had something with the time of day and season of the year, although, as far as I know, there is only one season along most of the Amazon River.

Also, I’d like to point out that I know very little about the precise nature of what is depicted in these images. I am able to figure out some of the tributaries and other features by researching on the web. But, I have no reference books to turn to and, from what I read regarding books about the Amazon on amazon.com, there is no single, good atlas overview of the geography, which is rather surprising.

So, I offer these images without much rational understanding. But, that doesn’t really matter. They are more of a feeling for me than a thought process. As I mentioned, for my part I would classify these images as art and might even have some of them printed sometime for the purpose of private collection and enjoyment.

Here are
a few facts
about the Amazon River Basin that I would like to point out and might be of interest to you...

  • 20 percent of the world's supply of oxygen is supplied by the Amazon River Basin.
  • 25 percent of pharmaceuticals are derived from plants in the Amazon region. Yet, less than 1 percent of the flora there has been tested by scientists.
  • 20 percent of the world's supply of fresh water is in the Amazon River.
  • Since 1970, 20 percent of the Amazon rain forest has been deforested.



Signs of human habitation in the rain forest. A sprawling fractal of houses and buildings and roads etching through a thickly forested area. This is one example of human intrusion.

This is a deforested region located in the northern Amazon basin in Guyana near the border with Brazil.

Another deforested region seen from 50 miles altitude. Many miles of denuded rain forest are visible here.


This is my favorite mosaic of satellite imagery. I want to have this one printed and framed. It reminds me of some photos taken of nebula by the Hubble Space Telescope. Does this look like earth or space? Amazing stuff.

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