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Far East Swirls: Earth Image of the Week April 13, 2012
Arctic ice graphic
The smallest chunks of ice seen swirling off Kamchatka are several yards across in size.
Eddies created by the irregular coast of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula generate swirls of intricate patterns at this time of year.

But their scope can only be appreciated through images from space satellites or by astronauts orbiting aboard the International Space Station.

The image to the right, showing the peninsula’s rugged eastern coast, was captured by one of those astronauts' digital cameras on March 15, 2012.

While winter’s grip was clearly evident on land, the early spring breakup of the sea ice offshore had allowed ice floes to form into wispy swirls and filaments.

And while they look delicate and harmless from 245 miles aloft, the ice floes are potentially dangerous and difficult for ocean vessels to navigate.

As they grind against each other, they break off into smaller floes that can be churned by wind and ocean currents.

One such compact vortex of floating ice can be seen just to the upper right of the photo’s center. A much broader circulation pattern is clearly visible below that, as well as in the lower left of the image.

Also visible are a string of volcanoes that dot Kamchatka’s eastern coast.

The highest and currently one of the most active is Kliuchevskoi, which last erupted in June 2011. Karymsky, located just out of frame to the left, is believed to have produced ash plumes just days before this photo was taken.

Full story and image: NASA