Driven by southwesterly winter winds, dust from the White Sands dune field in New Mexico rises thousands of feet from the valley floor and drifts over the snowy peaks of the Sacramento Mountains creating the spectacular imagery captured for us by a member of the International Space Station.
White Sands National Monument lies in the 50 kilometer (31 mile) wide Tularosa valley, between the dark rocks and forested slopes of the Sacramento Mountains and the San Andres Mountains. The lower and warmer ridge line of the San Andres was without snow on the day this photograph was taken. The striking black lava flows of the Carrizozo lava field also occupy the valley floor (image top). The darker tones of agriculture in the Rio Grande floodplain can be seen along the left margin of the image.
The dust plumes in this astronaut photograph stretch more than 120 kilometers (74 miles). The vigor of the winds also can be judged from the fact that they are lifting dust particles from the valley floor to more than 1200 meters over the mountains. The winds channel the dust through a low point in the mountains, about 800 meters lower than the ridge crests to north and south (image right). The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite also captured a wider, regional view of the plumes on the same day.
Source: NASA Earth Observatory