The “Big Island” of Hawaii sports lush rain forests, black sand beaches and vast lava beds from one of the world’s most active volcanoes.
And the way trade winds blow against the island’s rugged mountainous landscape creates microclimates that range from cloud forests along the northeastern coast to desert around Kona, on the western shore.
Rainfall varies from about 400 inches annually along the dampest northeastern coast to 8 inches in the driest spots downwind of the mountains.
Prehistoric eruptions of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea created the towering mountains that split the island in half and create its varied climate.
The image to the right of this natural wonder was captured on January 26, 2014, by NASA’s Terra satellite.
The remarkable cloud-free image shows the range of ecological diversity the island supports.
The Big Island covers more than 4,000 square miles, making it nearly twice as large as all of the state’s other islands combined.
The small white dot just to the right of the “Kilauea” label is a plume of vapor rising above a volcanic vent responsible for the island growing southward into the Pacific.
Since the volcano’s current eruption began in 1983, it has become one of the longest-lived eruptions in the world.
The lighter shade of blue in the Pacific in lower portions of the image, and haze visible to the south of Kilauea, is vog, or volcanic smog from the slow-motion eruption.
Shifting winds sometimes blow the caustic, natural pollution into populated areas, causing various health problems as far away as Honolulu.
Full story and image: NASA