A stunning image of plate tectonics in Xinjiang, China, is NASA’s Tournament Earth 2015 photo contest winner. The colorful jagged lines are the result of continent collisions and cracks in the Earth’s crust.
The tournament pits thirty-two of the best Earth Observatory images against each other, with the victor voted for by the people. This year’s entries included a radar image of ice from the South Pole, a satellite image of the border between Kazakhstan and China, and a flash of lightening photographed by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station.
Below is the winning entry in full view:
Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory by Robert Simmon and Jesse Allen, using Landsat data from the USGS Earth Explorer.
The formation in the photo is the Keping Shan thrust belt in China's northwestern Xinjiang province, and the image was taken via the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on NASA’s Landsat 8 satellite on July 30, 2013.
The multicolored rocks and ridges are more than 350 millions years old, which over time have been squeezed into wavy-patterned folds and pushed up into thrust faults. The highest hills jut 1,200 meters (3,900 feet) above the nearby basins.
According to NASA’s Earth Observatory: “The red layers near the top of the sequence are Devonian sandstones formed by ancient rivers. The green layers are Silurian sandstones formed in a moderately-deep ocean. The cream-colored layers are Cambrian-Ordovician limestone formed in a shallow ocean.” The even lighter-colored regions are the remnants of dried-up lakes.
Though beautiful from above, the faults are hard to see from ground level unless you take a four-hour hike along remote trails. “There’s a great point at the top of the pass into the next valley [near the ‘Piqiang Fault’ label] where you can stand on the fault itself,” said geologist Sebastian Turner to NASA. “To one side, you can see Cambrian-aged rocks, while you can see Devonian-aged rocks to the other. It gives you a real sense of just how much movement the fault accommodates.”