On September 6, 2013 the Terra satellite flew over southern Africa, allowing the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard to capture a strikingly clear image of the west coast of Namibia.
Mottled tans, ochre and rust colors the arid land of Namibia. The Namib desert lies along the coastline from north to south, and actually stretches much farther than this views allows. Beginning near the Carunjamba River in Angola, the Namib hugs the coast of Angola, Namibia, and South Africa, and ends at the Olifants River in Western Cape, South Africa.
Part of the desert has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Known as the Namib Sand Sea, this unique site lies wholly within Namibia’s Namib-Naukluft Park and covers an area of 3,077,700 hectares, inside a buffer zone of an additional 899,5000 hectares. It is the only coastal desert in the world that includes extensive dune fields influenced by fog. From space, this Park appears smooth in texture and rusty-tan color and, in this image, it lies just south of the midpoint.
The dunes of the Namib desert are formed from materials transported by wind, river, and ocean current, sometimes from thousands of miles away. Fog is the primary source of water in this part of the Namib, and this creates a very unique environment rich in microhabitats and ecological niches found nowhere else in the world. A broad band of low cloud (fog) can be seen offshore, starting near the Namib-Naukluft Park in the south.
Heading inland, the Namib Desert gives way to the swiftly-rising Great Escarpment, which then gives way to the Central Plateau, the region where most of the people of Namibia live and work. In the northeast section of this image, well inland, is the Etosha Pan, a huge, flat calcrete pan (depression) of about 5,000 km in size. It is a parched, white backdrop to the surrounding area of thorn scrub and semi-arid savannah grasses. The pan itself remains dry most of the year, but when strong rains come, the water caught within the pan quickly becomes filled with a blue-green algae that attracts large flocks of flamingos.