Iceland lava flow in winter


Since August last year there has been a major volcanic eruption on Iceland resulting in a large lava field that is still growing. Here is a Landsat image from this area from January 3:

An image made from the same Landsat scene has been features by NASA EO as Image of the day and consequently has been widely shown on news sites. This image is however a false color illustration based on the infrared channel data. This is a very popular way to show areas with volcanic activity since hot lava emits much stronger in the infrared and therefore volcanic activity shows up much more prominently. But it is also misleading since the impression is very different from the real visual appearance on the ground.

The above image – although it shows much less red glowing lava – gives a much better idea of the whole setting at this time of the year. The place is very close to the Arctic circle so in early January the sun raises just a few degrees above the horizon at noon and is less than 1.5 degrees high here when the satellite takes its picture resulting in a twilight illummination – a fact that is for example not really conveyed by the infrared image.

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