Southern Sierra Nevada

April 07, 2003


Provided by: Earth Observatory, NASA GSFC
Summary authors & editors: Earth Observatory; Jim Foster

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station took this oblique photo of the east flank of the Sierra Nevadas on February 6, 2003. Due to the large changes in elevation, even from space the topography is impressive. From Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the lower 48 states (14,494 ft or about 4,460 m), to the floor of Owens Valley (3,760 ft or about 1,157 m), there's an elevation change of nearly 11,000 feet (3,385 m). The Sierra Nevada Range has a number of deep, glacially scoured valleys, such as Kern Canyon, west of Mt. Whitney. On this photo, north is toward the upper right.

Owens Lake was a salty inland water body until 1913, when the Owens River was diverted into the Los Angeles Aqueduct, quickly draining the lake. Today, a large portion of Owens Lake is a dried, salt flat that holds pools of water only after heavy rains. The rusty color of a portion of the lake bed results from a salt-loving bacteria known as halobacteria.

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