Click to launch the gallery.

These images were taken by the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership, a satellite run jointly, as the name suggests, by NASA and the NOAA. In these shots, the satellite is using a Visible-Infrared Imager/Radiometer Suite, or VIIRS, to see the difference between vegetation-rich and arid land. It bounces beams off Earth and detects changes in its reflection, allowing it to see vegetation, since vegetation reflects infrared and near-infrared light in a different way than other materials. But it’s even more useful than that; VIIRS is used to monitor not just the existence of vegetation, but how it changes and expands and contracts over time.

Check out the gallery above to see just how green various parts of the globe are.


The Whole Earth

The entire planet, with green (obviously) representing plant growth and vegetative matter.

The Everglades

Here are the Everglades and the rest of South Florida, which includes a substantial tropical wetland often known as the “River of Grass.” (So, lots of vegetation.)


The blank space here is the Caspian Sea, which lends humidity to the region directly to its south, in Iran. Hence the green.

The Tigris and Euphrates

The area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, in Iraq, is an enormously important historical region often known as the Fertile Crescent–though it doesn’t look that fertile to us.

The Mississippi Delta

Another subtropical microclimate, this is where the mighty Mississippi meets the Gulf of Mexico, in Louisiana.

The Nile Delta

Another, vastly different delta: this one’s where the Nile empties into the Mediterranean. It’s also a valuable agricultural and cultural region, partly because it’s surrounded by so little vegetation.

The Pacific Northwest

The Pacific Northwest is a confluence of extremes: it’s a rainforest surrounded by either the ocean or several forbidding mountain ranges.