Airbus Defence and Space

Earth's Volcanoes seen from Space

Radar works regardless of weather conditions, cloud cover or absence of daylight. It was radar technology that delivered the images of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull - despite ash clouds covering half of Europe.

Envisat - an Earth Observation satellite Airbus Defence and Space was prime contrator for - takes up to three images from one and the same area to give an idea of the Earth’s landscape. The Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar captured data are merged to one image. The colours result from changes in the surface between acquisitions.

Iceland. Besides the famous Eyjafjallajökull volcano, Iceland has more than 30 active volcanoes. Moreover the island "grows" each year due to the so called "sea-floor spreading": permanently upwelling magma from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge pushes aside the previously cooled off magma. New land mass is born.

Copyright: ESA



A fracture in the East African continent is the reason for a series of volcanoes in this area. Kilimanjaro is the most famous example of the Great Rift Valley. Ol Doinyo Lengai (lower left), the Gelai Volcano (2942 m) at the top and the Kitumbeine Volcano (1770 m) are less well known but exist due to this geological pecularity.

Copyright: ESA


Galapagos is an archipelago consisting of volcanoes which are the result of a so called hot spot which "pierces" the Earth's crust and builds up fiery mountains.

Copyright: ESA


Hawaii also originates from a local hot spot. You will find the World's highest mountain in Hawaii - measured from the sea-floor. From right to left you can see: Big Island, Kahoolawe, Maui, Lanai, Molokai, Oahu, Kauai and Niihau.

Copyright: ESA



Etna is Europe’s largest active volcano. The eruptions regularly destroy infrastructure such as ski resorts, but it also produces highly fertile soil which results in excellent fruit and vegetables.

Copyright: ESA

Vesuvius: the intensely populated area around Naples hosts various signs of volcanism. The volcano had its most desastrous eruption ( noted so far) in 79 AD when the pyroclastic flows buried the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Visible volcanism is taking place west along the Phlegraean Fields: various injections of magma in a shallow located magma chamber result in lift-up and subsidence of the coast. Continuous de-gassing accompanies this activity.

Copyright: ESA

Piton de la Fournaise on the isle of La Réunion. The shield volcano situated in the western Indian Ocean is one of the world's most active volcanoes. It is a typical example of a hot-spot volcano. Together with its older neighbour Piton des Neiges they formed and still form this fertile tropical island.

Copyright: ESA

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