Orbital View: Vegetation Never Looked So Meaty

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

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The effects of land management are clearly visible in this image taken by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 satellite on February 7th. The image uses near-infrared radiation, normally not visible to the human eye, shown here in red to highlight vegetation. The image spans roughly 34 km (21 mi) with South Africa to the west and Lesotho to the east. The dramatic national boundary is marked by an abrupt transition in landscape. Lesotho is a landlocked and mountainous nation; it is completely surrounded by South Africa on which it is economically dependent. The Lesotho lowlands, once essential for sustenance agriculture, have been farmed and grazed intensively over the last century. This has resulted in a degraded landscape characterized by “dongas”, dry erosion gullies, and severe soil erosion.

(See all Orbital Views here)