Kaliningrad, Baltic Sea, Russia

Note: This caption refers to the image versions labeled "NASA's Earth Observatory web site".

This striking astronaut photograph from the International Space Station reveals detail of the two great lagoons to the north and south of Kaliningrad, each protected from the open waters of the Baltic Sea by the thin perfect curves of current-generated sand spits. A broad arm of agricultural country separates the freshwater lagoons--known as Kurshsky Bay (or the Curonian Lagoon further north in Lithuania, just outside the top of the image) and the Vistula Lagoon. From the astronaut perspective in low Earth orbit, land surfaces usually appear brighter than water, which normally appears darker and often black. Reflected sunlight, or sunglint, inverts this pattern. The reflected light in this image is a pink or coppery hue, indicating the likely existence of smog in the air since smog particles enhance the red part of the light spectrum.

Camera settings used to acquire sunglint images result in high contrast that reveals excellent detail of coastlines and surface features of waterbodies, but masks land surface detail. The thin, 50 km-long barge canal leading from the Baltic Sea to Kaliningrad is visible but the great port of Kaliningrad itself is not. Other human patterns on this intensively developed landscape such as towns, highways and farm boundaries are likewise masked in the image.

The area has a long human history. The growth of the Vistula spit finally cut off the north Polish city of Elblag (just outside the bottom of the image) from the Baltic Sea in the 13th century. To reconnect Elblag directly with the Baltic Sea, the EU is considering funding the digging of another canal through the spit at image lower right, despite ecological concerns. Kaliningrad was heavily damaged during WWII and then annexed by Russia and cleared of its German population. As the only Russian port on the Baltic Sea to be ice-free year-round, Kaliningrad then gained importance strategically as home of the Baltic Fleet. The city's 750th anniversary was celebrated in 2005, with increasing use of its original name Koenigsberg--reflecting the return of older usages for other Russian cities such as St Petersburg (Leningrad).

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