In the style of Van Gogh's painting Starry Night, massive congregations of greenish phytoplankton swirl in the dark water around Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea. Phytoplankton are microscopic marine plants that form the first link in nearly all ocean food chains. Population explosions, or blooms, of phytoplankton, like the one shown here, occur when deep currents bring nutrients up to sunlit surface waters, fueling the growth and reproduction of these tiny plants.
After beginning in northern British Columbia and flowing through Yukon in Canada, the Yukon River crosses Alaska, USA, before emptying into the Bering Sea. Countless lakes, sloughs, and ponds are scattered throughout this scene of the Yukon Delta. The river's sinuous, radiating waterways seem like blood vessels branching out to enclose an organ. It is one of the largest river deltas in the world, and currently (2010) protected as part of the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge.
Small, blocky shapes of towns, fields, and pastures surround the graceful swirls and whorls of the Mississippi River. Countless oxbow lakes and cutoffs accompany the meandering river south of Memphis, Tennessee, on the border between Arkansas and Mississippi, USA. The "mighty Mississippi" is the largest river system in North America. This photo took home the third place prize.
What look like pale yellow paint streaks slashing through a mosaic of mottled colors are ridges of wind-blown sand that make up Erg Iguidi, an area of ever-shifting sand dunes extending from Algeria into Mauritania in northwestern Africa. Erg Iguidi is one of several Saharan ergs, or sand seas, where individual dunes often surpass 500 meters (nearly a third of a mile) in both width and height. This photo won fourth place.
Do you see a scary face looking back at you? The hollow-appearing eyes, narrow nose, and slash of a mouth of this fifth place photograph are actually inundated patches of shallow Lake Eyre (pronounced "air"). Deep in the desert country of northern South Australia, Lake Eyre is an ephemeral feature of this flat, parched landscape. When seasonal rains are abundant, water fills the lakebed to some degree. During the last 150 years, Lake Eyre has filled completely only three times. When brimming, it is Australia's largest lake.
This stretch of Iceland's northern coast resembles a tiger's head complete with stripes of orange, black, and white. The tiger's mouth is the great Eyjafjorour, a deep fjord that juts into the mainland between steep mountains. The name means "island fjord," derived from the tiny, tear-shaped Hrisey Island near its mouth. The ice-free port city of Akureyri lies near the fjord's narrow tip, and is Iceland's second largest population center after the capital, Reykjavik.
Like sweeping brushstrokes of pink and green, the Belcher Islands meander across the deep blue of Canada's Hudson Bay. The islands' only inhabitants live in the small town of Sanikiluaq, near the upper end of the middle island. Despite the green hues in this image, these rocky islands are too cold to sustain more than a smattering of low-growing vegetation.
Nicknamed "Dragon Lake," this body of water is formed by the Bratskove Reservoir, built along the Angara River in southern Siberia, near the city of Bratsk. This image was acquired in winter, when the lake is frozen.
The West Fjords are a series of peninsulas in northwestern Iceland. They represent less than one-eighth the country's land area, but their jagged perimeter accounts for more than half of Iceland's total coastline.
Ethereal swirls of grease ice appear turquoise against the midnight blue of the northern Baltic Sea near the Aland Islands (red) between Finland and Sweden. An early stage of sea ice formation, grease ice consists of a viscous mix of tiny ice crystals and resembles an oil slick on the ocean's surface. Wind and currents constantly shape and reshape grease ice into surreal, ghostly patterns.
Andrew Freeman is a California native with a degree in history from UCLA. He’s covered a wide range of topics for TakePart, but is particularly interested in politics and policy. Email Andrew |@natureofdabeast | TakePart.com