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Europe, the Mediterranean, and North Africa have been the cultural center of Western Civilization since the eras of the Sumerians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Although Iceland is considered to be within the sphere of Europe, for most traveling from the U.S. this center of our Western roots and culture begins in Ireland and ends to the east at Moscow. The majority of the continent is moderately vegetated - much land has been cultivated now but forests remain.


Europe I

(Note 1: This page is image intensive [slow downloading], so it has been split into two pages.)

(Note 2: Some of the images below were provided by ESA's Eduspace. Additional images can be found at their Eduspace links site.


It may come as a surprise to learn that many geographers consider Iceland to be a part of an extended Europe. It was settled by Europeans centuries ago and still has Danish roots. But, geolgoically, Iceland lies at the plate boundary of the Eurasian tectonic plate. It sits atop one of the few places where the Atlantic Ridge, a divergent spreading zone of volcanic origin, extends above the surface. Take a look at this MODIS image of the island which, in midwinter, has a greater snow cover that in the summer months (but some of the white is a permanent icecap, shown again on page 17-5).

Iceland in winter, as imaged by MODIS.

In a sense, this next image also belongs to Europe. The Canary Islands are a part of Spain but lie in the Atlantic off the coast of Morocco. The island of Tenerife is built as a volcano (called Teide) rising as an offshoot of the Atlantic Ridge. It is seen here as a SIR-C image:

SIR-C image of Tenerife, in the Atlantic Ocean.

Most of us are familiar with the shape of Europe and its surrounding regions from our geography lessons since our grade school days. Now here is what that continent (continuous with, but arbitrarily separated from, Asia) as seen from space:

Europe, from Ireland to the Balkans and western Russia, as depicted using meteorological satellite data.

As we cross the Atlantic Ocean, the first land we might see if enroute to, say, London is the British Isles. Here is a satellite view of these great islands (Britain-Scotland-Wales and Ireland), with the continental coastline from about Normandy to southern Norway:

A satellite view, looking southeast, of the British Isles and the western European coastline.

Ireland, the "Emerald Isle" so dear to every Irishman, has been colored green in this next scene by projecting the TM Band 4 image through a green filter. The upper eastern part of the island is Northern Ireland, at the end of the Belfast Lough (actually, a marine bay). The large inland lake to the west is Lough Neagh. In this June image, late spring, the Irish countryside is truly a rich green almost everywhere. The Republic of Ireland occupies the larger part of the land. The northern section of its capital, Dublin, is here covered with clouds, on the coast just below center right. The large island in the Irish Sea is the Isle of Man. The jutting land peninsula in center top is the tip of the Scottish mainland, at the Mull of Galloway.

The Emerald Isle - Ireland- in a natural color TM rendition.

The above image is much like one produced from SRTM radar data used to determine elevation. Low areas (central valleys) appear in green; higher, more hilly to mountainous terrain are in shades of brown to yellow:

The topography of Ireland as determined by SRTM radar data.

A bit of the charm of Ireland appears in this photo (taken by the writer) of Clifden, a resort town on the west coast in County Galway:

Clifden, on Ireland's west coast.

Dublin on the Irish east coast is quite familiar to American Irish who journey back to the land of their forekin. The writer's (NMS) fondest memory of this town is the Guinness Brewery whose tour ends in a tasting session. Here is Dublin as seen by SIR-C radar (Section 8):

SIR-C radar color composite of the Greater Dublin area of eastern Ireland.

And here it is "up close and personal", looking down O'Connell Street, the city's main thoroughfare:

Dublin, Ireland.
Courtesy: Carolina Map Distributors

Ireland has always been a favorite destination for Americans, many of Irish ancestry and others who seek its enchantment as tourists. The writer (not Irish), his wife (all Irish), and son (obviously half-Irish) went around the island in September of 2000. A must-see is the rugged west coast of the Republic of Ireland. A favorite of most visitors is the Ring of Kerry, which follows the coastline around the Iveragh Peninsula. in County Kerry. We accessed the Ring through the charming town of Killarney. This SIR-C radar image shows the entire Peninsula, with a hint of the hilly terrain that marks its interior:

The Iveragh Penisula in County Kerry, Ireland.

One of the great cities of the world is London, shown here in this scene that covers part of southeast England. The Thames Estuary is conspicuous. The countryside, in this March 1973 image, has just begun to "green up" as field crops and grasslands resume growth. Besides greater London (near center; blue fringed with black), other well known smaller cities, among them Oxford and Reading, are discernible. The dark, vegetation-poor area in the upper right is East Anglia, whose rocky soils inhibit extensive farming. Through London itself passes the Prime Meridian (0°) for the global latitude-longitude coordinate system.

London in the springtime; a cropped Landsat MSS scene.

This ASTER image zeroes in on Greater London and surrounding countryside. The Parliament area shown two images down is near the center. The green areas to the west are St. James Park and Hyde Park.

ASTER image of London, October 12, 2001.

This annotated astronaut photo taken from the International Space Station shows many of the famed landmarks within the central city.

Astronaut photo of central London taken in April 2005 from the ISS

Americans feel a special kinship with England amplified by our revolt against them as our "Mothrland" and the monarchy system. But England's kings and Queens remain through today. Here is the London home of royalty, Buckingham Palace, as seen by an OrbImage satellite:

OrbImage satellite view of Buckingham Palace.

London's fame and its tie to Americans' heritage will prompt us to spend a bit more time in looking at some of its landmarks. Greater London's area is among the largest in Europe. The image most of us conjure up when asked to visualize London will include the Parliament Building and Big Ben.

Ground photo of the Parliament buildings on the River Thames.

The Quickbird satellite has taken high resolution images of the Parliament buildings, the nearby bridge across the Thames, and the Jubilee Park rededicated in 2000 (Millenium Park) with its huge Ferris Wheel (400 ft high) known as the London Eye.

Part of London including the Parliament building.

An enlargement, taken at another time, shows both the Parliament buildings and the great Wheel in a different orientation than above.

Parliament and the London Eye Millenium Ferris Wheel.

Much of the same area seen in these two space images is identified in this map:

Map of the Parliament and government buildings areas in London along the Thames.

See if you can find the following in the images: Parliament buildings and Westminster Abbey; St. James Park; Waterloo Station; Charing Cross Station; Her Majesty's Treasury; St. Thomas Hospital. We show below a photo of perhaps the visual symbol of London, Big Ben and the Parliament buildings:

The north side of the Thames that includes the areas shown in the space imagery takes on a somewhat different perspective when seen as color aerial oblique photos as shown here:

Aerial photo looking to the northwest from Westminster Bridge Aerial photo looking northeast from the Hungersford Bridge towards the Charing Cross Station district.

But, beyond the Thames and the government buildings, present day London is acquiring a modern look, with tall buildings (but few skyscrapers), thus:

View covering much of the central part of London, England.

The biggest city in Scotland, the upper half of the British Isles, is Edinburgh (pronounced "Ed-in-buro"). This is an ERS-SAR view, somewhat enlarged. Note the blackish oval feature in from the right center. That is the famed "Arthur's Seat", which was a key aid to the Scot James Hutton who is credited as the one who laid the foundation of modern Geology. That hill, with its volcanic rocks, was just outside the writer's door in the Edinburgh University's guest villa as he attended a meeting of geomorphologists.

Edinburgh, Scotland as seen 0000000000000000000000000by the ERS SAR radar.

Across the North Sea from England and Scotland lies the northwestern part of the Netherlands, or Holland. The scene below reveals one of the great engineering feats by any nation. Much of the land was once under water or has been created by backfill. The great inland bodies of water were known as the Zuider Zee after they enlarged following breaches in the 13th century of the line of present day barrier islands known as the West Frisian Islands. In 1932 a 25 km (16 mile) barrier dam was completed to divide this water into the Wadden Zee (north) and Ijssell Meer (south). The change in flow facilitated drainage that resulted allowed landmasses such as Flevoland, known as polders; these show up a bluish-gray areas. Some of the many Dutch canals are visible. Amsterdam, Holland’s largest city (in black tones), lies along a major canal to the sea at the bottom of the silty Meer.

The lowlands and polders of Holland

Here is a closer look at Amsterdam, as seen by the ERS SAR radar.

ERS SAR image of Amsterdam.

The island of Zealand (Sjaelland) in Denmark dominates the next image. Copenhagen, that country’s capital, is the dark blackish area at it upper right (east) end. A narrow strait, the Ore Sund, separates this part of Denmark from southern Sweden; Malmo, one of that country’s larger cities, appears as another black spot. Farming dominates the land use in these sections of both nations, principal crops being wheat, potatoes, and animal fodder. In Sweden, the reddish area is a forested region known as the Smaland Plateau.

 The island of Zealand, with Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen; the southern tip of Sweden.

Up close and personal, the Copenhagen looks like this:

While we are presently in Scandinavia, lets look at two more capital cities. First is Oslo, Norway, seen here as a small blue patch at the end of a Baltic Sea inlet in this Landsat-2 subscene:

Oslo, Norway and surrounding low mountains

This is Oslo, as approached from the Baltic Sea; the city has a distinct atmosphere of being a large, friendly "town".

Oslo, Norway

Courtesy: Carolina Map Distributors.

This ESA's ERS-SAR close-up of Oslo gives a better sense of the low hilly topography around the city (white):

Radar image of Oslo.

Oslo is a relatively small city (population about 750000) nestled in low mountains (the high mountains of Norway, with their fjords, are to the west). This view of the town was taken looking west from the Eckeberg Restaurant where I had lunch in 1960 with the most famed Russian geologist V.V. Beluossov.

Looking at Oslo from a hillside to the east.

Next, a look at the inner city harbor of Stockholm, Sweden as seen by IKONOS, and then the equivalent area from an aerial oblique photo.

5 m resolution image of Stockholm, Sweden which includes the island-like area in the photo below.

Part of the Old City of Stockholm.

The industrial heartland of Germany dominates this next image. The famed Rhine River runs through the State of North Rhine-Westphalia. Numerous blotches of dark bluish-black mark the locations of many large cities (use an Atlas to pin these down). Along the Rhine are Bonn, Cologne, and Dusseldorf. The smaller Ruhr River, coming from the East, makes up the Ruhr Valley, with such cities as Duisburg, Essen, Bochum, and Dortmund whose steel and industrial works were the targets of many bombing raids by the Allies during World War 2. Much of the countryside is part of the North German Plains, where farming is the principal activity. The forested Central Uplands to the east blends into the Rothaar Gebirge. Small parts of Belgium and Holland lie along the left edge of the image.

The Rhine River and Ruhr Valley of western Germany.

We would like to add Berlin to our display of European capitals. An Envisat image does include this famous city, as a pink patch in the lower right, in a wide field image that covers much of northern Germany, eastern Denmark, and southern Sweden.

MERIS image from Envisat showing parts of northern Europe including Berlin (pink patch in lower right).

An ERS SAR image affords a closer look:

ERS SAR image of Berlin's environs.

This IKONOS image shows the heart of Berlin:

Central Berlin seen from space.

Having looked at western and northern Europe, we now make a big leap to the southwestern part of the continent, specifically for a tour of the Ibernian Peninsula, shown here first in an ERS-1 image and a corresponding map of Spain.

ERS-1 image of Spain and Portugal in the Iberian Peninsula.

Map showing the key cities of Spain.

The space image indicates that parts of the peninsula are semi-arid (light buff) whereas other parts are covered with more green vegetation, particularly those regions with higher elevations. Much of northern Spain is dry with rainfall commonly less than 30 cm (12 inches). In this image, the wide Ebro Basin, drained by the Ebro River forms arid lowlands in which most of the agriculture (cereals; sugar beets) is concentrated along that river, tributaries, and irrigation ditches. Away from these farms, sheep grazing is conducted where grasses grow. The city of Zaragosa is evidenced by a blue patch in from the right center edge. Low blocks of hills and mountains run northwest through the picture. The southern edge of the Sierra de Guara, which rises to more than 2000 m (6000 ft), is at the top.

Northern Spain, with the Ebro Valley and the city of Zaragosa.

Vegetation increases somewhat as one moves into central Spain in the region known as the Meseta (a plateau). This C-Band SRTM radar images shows Madrid and its surroundings:

SRTM image processed to show relief; Madrid, Spain is the light yellow area surrounded by green.

This March 7, 1973 Landsat-1 image of central Spain shows the capital, Madrid (dark blue-black) to the west of the Tagus River. To its west is the Sierra de Guadarrama, wooded and high enough to have snow in the part that reaches 2400 m (8000 ft).

Central Spain, including Madrid, as seen by Landsat-1

The Madrid area appears in this colorful rendition using SWIR bands on Landsat-4. The city itself is hard to pick out in terms of a sharp boundary, but the mountains in the SRTM image are in the upper left of this image:

Landsat-4 subscene of Madrid, Spain.

Madrid itself is shown in more detail in this Landsat-7 subscene.

Madrid, as seen by Landsat-7

The Palacio Real, the national palace now occupied by King Juan Carlos, is shown first in an IKONOS 2 m black and white image, and then in an aerial oblique view.

IKONOS image that includes the Palacio Real.

Aerial oblique view of the Palacio Real.

On the western side of the Iberian Peninsula is Portugal, whose capital is Lisbon. It lies on the northwest side of a bay created by the Rio de Tejo (Tagus River). This area is shown first as a Landsat-4 subscene and then as an ERS SAR scene.

Landsat-4 view of the Lisbon, Portugal area.

ERS SAR image of Lisbon.

The tip of Europe at the western end of the Mediterranean Sea is the English Colony at Gibraltar, next to Spain. Across the Straits of Gibraltar lies Tangiers in Morocco. This European Space Agency image looks eastward.

Europe and Africa divided by the western Mediterranean.

Rome, the capital of modern Italy and of the Great Roman Empire of the late pre- and early-Christian eras, is visible as a large bluish-black blotch in from the center left of this Landsat-1 image, lying about 30 km (20 miles) from the Tyrrhenian Sea at the port of Ostia. Rome is astride lowlands that, to the east, are up against the spine of Italy, the Apennine Mountains, which here are partly snow-covered in February. The view extends entirely across the peninsula, as just a tiny part of the Adriatic Sea occupies the upper right corner. The Eternal City lies midway between two ancient volcanoes, the Sabatini caldera, water-filled with Lago di Bracciano to the northwest, and the Latian volcano to the southeast with its small lake along which Castel Gondolfo, the summer home of the Popes, is located.

The west coast of central Italy; Rome and the Apennines; Landsat MSS image.

A closer look at Latium, the province of Rome when it was a Republic, and Rome itself, extending to the sea at Ostia, is given in this Landsat-7 ETM+ image.

Landsat-7 image showing Rome and its environs on August 3, 2001.

Because of the great historical significance of Rome - although Athens may be considered the Cradle of Western Civilization, Rome is where not only hellenistic culture, but laws, great engineering feats, and the eventual center of pre-Byzantine Christianity all extended great influence on modern life - we will show several additional space and ground/aerial images to give you a better insight into this famed city. The first was taken by ESA's PROBA satellite.

View of much of Rome as seen by the PROBA satellite.

First, let's look into ancient (plus modern) Rome itself. This next image was taken by the IKONOS 4 meter resolution camera, and shows central Rome. Near the image center is the Rome of the Empire, with its cluster of famous buildings on the Seven Hills (including several forums, baths, the Pantheon, the Circus Maximus). The large buildings are on the Palantine Hill. Most conspicuous in the image is the great Coliseum (oval building)

4-meter IKONOS image of central Rome, with the Tiber River on the left and most of the buildings and monuments of ancient Rome in the central half of the image.

This general map of central Rome should help you to search for several of the famed landmarks of this great city:

Map that includes and extends beyond the image area in the IKONOS view of central Rome.

Now look at this model of ancient central Rome and try to locate some of the features shown in the above map:

Model of Rome around the First Century A.D.

The scene below zeros in on this colossal Roman Coliseum (well known to those who saw the movie "Gladiator"). In this IKONOS (Space Imaging Corp.) black and white image, autos in the modern world can be picked out but the sensor lacks the time device that could picture ancient lions on the floor of the Coliseum.

A 1 m panchromatic image made by IKONOS-2, showing the Coliseum in the center of Rome, Italy.

Much of this building survives today, as evident in this ground photo:

The ruins of the Coliseum in Rome.

A must-see part of Rome actually isn't a legal segment of the city. The Vatican is a small (109 acres) enclave west of central Rome that is the smallest independent state in the world, i.e., techically is not part of Italy even though embedded in Rome. Here is a view of St. Peter, the world's largest church, with its two curved arms that embrace the huge square before it.

Aerial view of the Vatican.

This is how the Vatican, with its great plaza that can hold hundreds of thousands of faithful when the Pope speaks from the balcony, looked to IKONOS in May of 2002:

The Vatican as seen by IKONOS.

With that as a landmark, try in this next aerial shot to locate the church, and the part of Rome that lies to its northeast. The large wooded area is a park known as the Villa Borghese. Try to find the circular Castel Sant' Angelo just off the Tiber River, where Tosca took her final leap in Puccini's opera of the same name.

Aerial view that includes the Vatican and part of Rome; locate the Tiber River to help tie this photo to the IKONOS 4-meter image.

(Europe continues on the next page.)

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Primary Author: Nicholas M. Short, Sr. email: nmshort@ptd.net