Using Astronaut Photos of River Morphology as an Instructional Tool

Mar 7, 2018 | Citizen Science, Image Detective

This is a guest post from Andrea Meado, Image Data Scientist, and part of our Johnson Space Center (JSC) Image Detective Science Team

Astronaut Photograph ISS030-E-200727, 195mm lens, April 4, 2012. This astronaut photo is of Darling River in New South Wales, Australia. Credit: NASA

Rivers can vary in shape, size, and length depending on factors such as land gradient, velocity of flowing water, sediment source, land erodibility, and environmental conditions. The four main types of rivers are straight, meandering, braided, and anastomosing. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) can locate major rivers and capture fluvial (river) system changes to the land through photography. Educators can challenge students to search through uncatalogued astronaut photos of rivers using CosmoQuest’s Image Detective 2.0 tool and identify the exact location of a river. Once students have this new-found location data, they can determine the name of the river and what type of river it is. If there are multiple images of the river over time, they can also think about how the river channel and floodplain changes as a dynamic system.

The photo above of the Darling River in Australia is a meandering river as evident from a single sinuous channel. The photo below is of the Ganges River Delta in Bangladesh where the complex river system meets the Bay of Bengal. Both of the rivers have distinct river morphology that help students visual how different types of rivers interact with the land. Once students determine the type of river in the photo, they can make predictions about the river’s surrounding topography and why the river has changed shape over time. Additional activities for students can include identifying geomorphic features specific to certain river types such as oxbow lakes or meander scars around meandering rivers and sediment bars within braided rivers.

Astronaut Photograph ISS005-E-16572, 86mm lens, October 10, 2002. This astronaut photo is of the Ganges River Delta in Bangladesh. Credit: NASA

NASA’s publicly accessible Astronaut Photography of Earth database is made available through the Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth website curated by the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit at the Johnson Space Center and houses over 2 million images taken by astronauts from space.

With CosmoQuest’s Image Detective 2.0 tool, Citizen Scientists around the world have the opportunity to enhance NASA’s Astronaut Photography of Earth database by identifying the center point location of astronaut photos. With center point locations, educators can quickly search and download the scientific data they need!

Go to CosmoQuest’s Image Detective 2.0 to identify the center point of astronaut photographs such as the images above, and advance scientific research by enhancing NASA’s Astronaut Photography of Earth database!



  1. Carnival of Space 552: Best Space Stories of the Week | BrownSpaceman - […] Using Astronaut Photos of River Morphology as an Instructional Tool – CosmoQuest […]

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