Minimize A swirl of clouds over the Pacific

On 22 May 2013, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Aqua satellite captured this natural-colour image of cloud vortices behind Isla Socorro, a volcanic island in the Pacific Ocean. The island, which is located a few hundred kilometres off the west coast of Mexico and the southern tip of Baja California, is part of the Revillagigedo Archipelago.

Theodore von Kármán, a Hungarian-American physicist, was the first to describe the physical processes that create long chains of spiral eddies like the one shown in this image. Known as von Kármán vortices, the patterns can form nearly anywhere that fluid flow is disturbed by an object. Since the atmosphere behaves like a fluid, the wing of an airplane, a bridge, or even an island can trigger the distinctive phenomenon.

Satellite sensors have spotted von Kármán vortices around the globe, including off of Guadalupe Island, near the coast of Chile, in the Greenland Sea, in the Arctic, and even next to a tropical storm.

View the full resolution image.

Credit: NASA Earth Observatory


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