Borders that are Visible on Satellite Imagery

The differing effects of one country’s activities as opposed to its neighbors can be so dramatic that the results are visible from space, especially through the lens of a satellite.  Listed here are international borders that are visible on satellite imagery. Forestation, agricultural practices, electrical usage at night, and water usage can all affect the lay of the land and how the landscape of neighboring countries can differ dramatically when viewed from afar.

Kazakhstan and China

The border between Kazakhstan and China is a sharp contrast.  In the Landsat image below, acquired on Setember 9, 2013, the border between northwestern China around the city of Qoqek and far eastern Kazakhstan near Lake Balqash shows the difference agriculture has on the landscape.  To the right is China, which intensively farms any land that is arable in order to support its 1.3 billion citizens.  With only 11.62 percent of arable land in China, every farmable area is put to use, sustained by the use of irrigation despite the arid environment and 65 percent of China’s fresh water is used to irrigate 629,000 square kilometers (243,000 square miles).  In contrast, the eastern area of Kazakhstan is not an important area for agriculture and only 0.03 percent of Kazakhstan’s land is used for permanent agriculture.  This area relies on rainfall for its primary water source and only 20,660 square kilometers of farmland use irrigation in Kazakhstan.

The border between northwestern China around the city of Qoqek and far eastern Kazakhstan near Lake Balqash.

The border between northwestern China around the city of Qoqek and far eastern Kazakhstan near Lake Balqash.

India and Pakistan

A line of orange hued lights makes the border between northern India and northern Pakistan in the Indo-Gangetic Plain area.  The floodlights were installed by the Indian government along with fencing to discourage smuggling and arms trafficking.  The light emanating from the border is so strong, it can be viewed from the International Space Station where this image was capture in August of 2011.  

Photo of the Indo-Gangetic Plain taken from the International Space Station showing the orange lit border between India and Pakistan. Source: NASA, August 2011.

Photo of the Indo-Gangetic Plain taken from the International Space Station showing the orange lit border between India and Pakistan. Source: NASA, August 2011.

Border of North Korea

The entire country of North Korea is a big black spot on maps showing the night time lights.  This composite satellite image compiled in 1994/1995 by the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Operational Linescan System shows how dark this closed country becomes at night.

North Korea at night in the mid 1990s.

North Korea at night in the mid 1990s.

The early 1990s marked the end of a cheap source of fuel thanks to the collapse of the Soviet Union and now the nation descends into darkness with the sunset with the exception of an island of light where the capitol city of Pyongyang lies. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, North Korea ranks 72nd in the world in terms of electricity production.  An updated satellite image released by NASA was able to show better resolution.  Both images allow for an easy visual of where South Korea ends and North Korea begins.  

An updated higher resolution image (September 24, 2012) captured by the the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite shows in more detail the darkness of North Korea at night. More about the Map of the Earth's Night Light.

An updated higher resolution image (September 24, 2012) captured by the the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite shows in more detail the darkness of North Korea at night. More about the Map of the Earth’s Night Light.

Israel and Egypt

About fifty kilometers along the border between Israel and Egypt is visible on the image below.  The trampling by humans and their livestock on the Egyptian side has disturbed the dark-colored soil crusts, allowing the wind to expose the light colored sand dunes.  

The border between Israel and Egypt shows up as a faint line between the two countries. Sourcee: NASA, November 2011.

The border between Israel and Egypt shows up as a faint line between the two countries. Sourcee: NASA, November 2011.

Contrary to Myth the Great Wall of China Isn’t Visible from Space

The ancient political border that makes up the Great Wall of China was built in sections starting in 7th century BCE with the majority of the existing wall sections spanning from the the Ming Dynasty and were built during the 14th century. As far back as 1754 when the English antiquary William Stukeley stated when writing about the Hadrian Wall, “This mighty wall of four score miles in length is only exceeded by the Chinese Wall, which makes a considerable figure upon the terrestrial globe, and may be discerned at the Moon,” there exists the myth that the Great Wall of China can be viewed by the naked eye from space.  This myth has persisted over the ages but the reality is that the wall is at its widest only 30 feet across and is same color as the surrounding soil, making it blend in with the greater landscape when viewed from afar.  

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