Above the World – Stunning Satellite Images from Above the Earth
Published by Cassell Illustrated, price £16.99, hardback 287pp
This coffee-table book is aimed at a general readership rather than the outdoor enthusiast.
Nevertheless, there are some fascinating images to pore over for anyone familiar with the remote areas of our planet.
Mountains naturally draw the eye. Northern Europe, apart from Scandinavia, is largely free of upland features, but a broad band of peaks stretches all the way from the eastern Himalaya right through to the western Alps, and the photography enables the reader to make sense of some of the earth’s bigger features.
Satellite imagery enlivens the familiar shapes from our world atlas, putting detail which bland cartography misses. It’s amazing to see just how mountainous countries such as Iran or even Italy are. Closer to home, it’s great fun putting names to the fells and valleys of the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District.
Many of the pictures use false-colour photography, capturing non-visible wavelengths, to depict vegetation and geology and in doing so create almost abstract art which could easily grace a modern gallery.
Mankind’s attempts at art on a grand scale are impressive: the massive civil engineering of Dubai’s Palm Island probably makes more sense from the air than at ground level. Paris and Beijing’s engineered formality is interesting but nature creates the finest images, with striking beauty in the mountains of the Hindu Kush looking like frost on a winter’s window pain. The delicate pattern of sand dunes in Mauritania would be beyond the brush skill of all but the best painters.
Yet Mother Earth can also imitate artifice. Iran’s western Zagros mountain range has a distinctly manufactured look, like patterning on some piece of antique furniture or a stucco room decoration.
The night-time shots are of interest, with Europe’s capital cities and major conurbations blazing brightly in a constellation of familiarity. The Australian bush, in contrast is a dark void.
But time after time, it’s the planet’s majestic mountains that draw grough’s eye. Everest stands king in its domain, its three main ridges picked out in the bright, southern sun, its massive glaciers fanning out from the pyramid of its massif.
Climbers will spend time examining in detail the massive granite face of El Capitan in the Yosemite National Park, all 1,100 m of height picked out from the surrounding vegetation.
There’s also evidence of human intervention in deforestation and irrigation schemes and satellite imaging is already being used to chart the retreat of glaciers as climate change hits our high wildernesses.
Probably the most surprising image is one which looks like a complete invention, one that can’t possibly be our earth. A near-uniform pattern of red and white circles and green squares in Garden City, Kansas is the result of innovative centre-pivoted irrigation systems resulting in the most unnatural of growth.
There’s some bad science in the introduction which spoils the understanding of the images and many of the captions are repetitive and not particularly enlightening. But the images are the attraction and anyone who, like grough, can spend as many hours reading a map as devouring a novel will find plenty to hold their attention.