On December 26, 2004, a large (magnitude 9.0) earthquake occurred off the western coast of Sumatra in the Indian Ocean. The earthquake was caused by the release of stresses accumulated as the Burma tectonic plate overrides the India tectonic plate. Movement of the seafloor due to the earthquake generated a tsunami, or seismic sea wave, that affected coastal regions around the Indian Ocean. The northwestern Sumatra coastline in particular suffered extensive damage and loss of life. These astronaut photographs illustrate damage along the southwestern coast of Aceh Province in the vicinity of the city of Lho’ Kruet, Indonesia.
Large areas of bare and disturbed soil (brownish gray) that were previously covered with vegetation are visible along the coastline in the near-nadir (top) image. Embayments in the coastline were particularly hard hit, while adjacent headlands were less affected. The oblique (lower) astronaut photograph was acquired 45 seconds after the near-nadir photograph, and captures sunglint illuminating the Indian Ocean and standing water inland (light gray, yellow). Distortion and scale differences in the images are caused by increased obliquity of the view from the International Space Station. Arrows on the photographs indicate several points of comparison between the two images. Standing bodies of seawater may inhibit revegetation of damaged areas and act as sources of salt contamination in soil and groundwater.
Astronaut photographs ISS010-E-13079 (left) and ISS010-E-13088 (right) were acquired January 15, 2005 with a Kodak 760C digital camera using a 400 mm lens, and are provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and the Image Science & Analysis Group, Johnson Space Center. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth.