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Eyes of a satellite: Iceland’s volcanic activity

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About the map

A hundred years ago, studying the earth’s surface involved actually being in that area of interest and conducting land surveys. In the last fifty years we’ve rocketed forward. Today, satellites not only capture what the world looks like in natural colour (how our eyes perceive light), but also allow us to visualise Earth in ways that would otherwise go undetected by our, comparatively simple photoreceptors.

This ArcGIS StoryMap shows the 2024 eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula, near Grindavík, Iceland from a satellite’s perspective. You can flip through the layers, each showing the imagery differently based on its combination of light waves. These combinations highlight specific features on earth’s surface, like heat or vegetation.

Why it works

The app has three layers for three different views that the Landsat satellite uses.

1) Natural colour – shows how our eyes perceive the world.

2) Colour infrared – while typically used for monitoring vegetation health, you can also use it to see the lava flow escaping the volcano. Both the lava, and the lush vegetation along the Icelandic coast, are a deep crimson.

3) Shortwave infrared – helpful for identifying fires and hotspots, even through clouds or smoke. The eruption is a burst of orange, with the surrounding vegetation in green and more reflective surfaces (like snow) in purple.

With its simple layout, we chose the Basic Instant App to bring the imagery to the foreground.

Important Steps




Tips and tricks

Eve Selbie

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