Photo essay: Doves
The first flock of tiny Dove satellites started snapping shots of Earth in January 2014.
1. Photo essay: Doves
The first flock of tiny Dove satellites started snapping shots of Earth in January 2014.
2. Photo Essay: Doves
In this image of Portage la Prairie in the Central Plains Region of Manitoba, Canada, you can see snow covered fields and creeks. The buildings and other features leave streaks in the snow from the prevailing southeast wind.
3. Photo Essay: Doves
Vivid red maples stand out against the dark green evergreen forest and brown scrub landscape of the Pleasantview Hills. In this region of southern Idaho, forests grow mainly on north-facing slopes and stream valleys, where they are sheltered during the hot and dry summers.
4. Photo essay: Doves
The Kashima Industrial Zone in Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan, is one of the country's largest industrial parks, home to an estimated 1,500 factories. The plant at the image’s centre manufactures steel sheets found in home appliances and auto parts. A low-density residential area (upper left) lies just west of the industrial zone.
5. Photo essay: Doves
The red, sediment-filled Colorado River contrasts with blue-green Havasu Creek in the heart of Grand Canyon National Park. The Colorado River is almost always red in spring and summer, since it collects silt from a huge watershed. Short tributaries, however, usually run clear—only picking up significant sediment during flash floods.
6. Photo essay: Doves
This dramatic landscape—clusters of hills with steep sides and rounded tops—is known as “cone karst”. The distinctive topography is the result of bedrock that is dissolved by acidic water, rather than the mechanical action of ice, wind, or water.
7. Photo Essay: Doves
Rectangular ponds along the coast of China’s Bohai Sea indicate the presence of aquaculture. Species farmed in the area include shrimp, sea cucumber, and abalone. The inland landscape is also intensively farmed, featuring small villages surrounded by fields.
8. Photo Essay: Doves
Dark green fields stand out against the pale desert floor in Pinal County, Arizona. The region’s farms rely on irrigation, since they receive less than 10 inches of rain a year. Irrigation water comes from two main sources: the Colorado River and aquifers.
9. Photo essay: Doves
Pielinen Lake is the fourth largest in Finland. The dark water color is attributed to humic substances that drain into the lake. This image is just north of Koli, one of Finland’s 37 national parks.
10. Photo Essay: Doves
Jeollanam-do, the southernmost province on the Korean Peninsula, is known for its farming. In the small town of Hanja Ri, patchwork grain fields line the shore of an inlet, while intricate rows of seaweed are farmed in the protected waters of the Myeongnyang Strait.
11. Photo Essay: Doves
In the Sequoia National Park mountains southeast of Fresno and northeast of Bakersfield, you can see the clear treeline near the ridgetop.
12. Photo Essay: Doves
This branching stream is a distributary (a branch of a river that carries water away from the main flow) of the Rufiji River in Tanzania. Distrubutaries are common near deltas, where there is little gradient to guide a river’s path.
13. Photo essay: Doves
Red silt from the Betsiboka River mixes with the blue-green water of the Indian Ocean in Madagascar’s Bombetoka Bay. The red colour of the river is due to iron-rich soil eroded from the central highlands.
14. Photo essay: Doves
The southernmost portion of the San Francisco Bay contains a number of salt ponds and levee trails. Cutting through several nature reserves, the Dumbarton bridge connects East Palo Alto and Fremont. Facebook’s campus can be seen in the lower left.
15. Photo Essay: Doves
The Wagerup Alumina Refinery is one of three Alcoa facilities that processes ore from Western Australia’s nearby Darling Range. The size of the refinery (image right) is dwarfed by the ever-expanding ponds (left) used for bauxite residue disposal.
16. Photo essay: Doves
Plumes of condensed steam rise from these industrial facilities near Hulun Buir, Inner Mongolia. The fields and pastures of the region are transforming rapidly as gasification plants are built to convert local coal reserves into power, natural gas, petrochemicals, and liquid fuels.
17. Photo essay: Doves
Fourty percent of the coal mined in the United States comes from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. The North Antelope Rochelle Mine, pictured here, is both the largest in the basin, and the largest in the United States. Since the mine opened in 1983 it has produced over 1.8 billion tons of coal.
18. Photo Essay: Doves
Sunglint highlights the difference between the rough water of the Indian Ocean and the smooth surface of the Peel-Harvey Estuary in Western Australia. The two water bodies are linked by the Dawesville Channel, an artifical inlet constructed to flush out the polluted estuary. Before the channel was built, nutrients from farm runoff led to frequent (and occasionally toxic) algal blooms.
19. Photo Essay: Doves
Despite a few patches of late-winter snow, winter wheat appears to be growing in these fields near Lubbock, Texas. Winter wheat is planted in the fall and typically sprouts before the first frost. It then lies dormant through winter, and resumes growth in the spring as soils warm. Other fields in the scene lie fallow, or show signs of recent tilling.
20. Photo Essay: Doves
In 2013, the population of Beijing reached 21.15 million, an increase of 455,000 from the year before—roughly the current population of Kansas City, Missouri. To accommodate the influx of new residents, high-rises (accentuated by long shadows in this Planet Labs image) are perpetually under construction.
21. Photo Essay: Doves
The Tibetan city of Lhasa is a study in contrasts. The Potala Palace (top right), built in 1645, overlooks the Kyi River from a hill in the old city center. Across the river, tall apartment blocks cast shadows on the Liuwu New District (top left), a massive redevelopment project that began in the early 2000s.
22. Photo Essay: Doves
Australia is the world’s driest inhabited continent, and ephemeral lakes are common in the vast Outback. This salt lake (near Queensland’s Culgoa Floodplain National Park) was dry on October 23, 2014. Despite the arid conditions, scattered clumps of vegetation endured on the lakebed.
23. Photo Essay: Doves
Dense residential and industrial neighborhoods cluster around the northern end of Ciudad Juárez’s airport. Juárez’s economy is buoyed by cross-border trade and hundreds of maquiladoras, foreign-owned manufacturing plants with special tax privileges.
24. Photo Essay: Doves
Farmers in the Fertile Crescent have relied on irrigation since the dawn of agriculture. Water from reservoirs developed on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in the past 25 years enabled the expansion of cropland in the region, including these circular fields in the Şanlıurfa Province of southeastern Turkey.
25. Photo Essay: Doves
The Represa Três Marias, the result of damming the São Francisco river, is one of the largest reservoirs in Brazil. In 2014, Minas Gerais experienced one of the worst droughts of the last 50 years. The lower water level can be seen by using the compare tool.
The satellites that took these images are called Doves for more than one reason. They weigh a feathery four kilograms, are just 30 cm long and, while many satellites are named after birds of prey, these ones are named to indicate a different purpose: helping life on Earth. The first flock went into orbit in January 2014, when Planet Labs, a San Francisco-based aerospace company, launched 28 Doves from the International Space Station (ISS). Their mission is to scan the entire planet every day, providing information in real time about agriculture, weather and other aspects of the globe. By comparison, typical satellites used for weather imaging are 10 times less accurate, and most Google Maps images are one to three years old. “We’re creating a time machine of sorts,” says Robert Simmon, senior data visualization engineer at Planet Labs. “We’ll be tracking everything at every moment on Earth.”
Related: Read our annotated interview series with Canadian astronauts
The cameras can reveal detail ranging from the amount of chlorophyll in a crop to the speed of construction in a suburb. The images are used by cartographers, prospectors, even fashion designers; you can now buy a dress printed with an aerospace photo of a lake in Kazakhstan. The images reveal climate change in the form of melting glaciers and draining reservoirs. “As much as we’re trying to show off the planet, the images also show the scale of human impact,” says Hammond. The project, which began with three ex-NASA scientists in a garage, now has 125 people. The team celebrates each launch with pancakes at the office, watching as each dove leaves the nest of the ISS.
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