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Environment

Turning of the Seasons Along the New River, West Virginia

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Image of the Day:

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An animation of satellite images centered on the New River of West Virginia shows the transition of the seasons. Forests green up in May, the leaves turn color in October, and in late November, a massive Thanksgiving-week storm leaves behind a blanket of snow that causes the rugged terrain to stand out in stark relief. The animation lingers longer on the snowy image, captured by NASA's Terra satellite on Nov. 29. (Images: NASA. Animation: Tom Yulsman) The massive winter storm that swept across much of the United States right before Thanksgiving left behind quite a lot of snow in places. From space, the blanketing of snow brings out aspects of the landscape that otherwise are difficult to discern, including the spectacular New River in West Virginia, visible in the animation above. The series of three images charts the turning of the seasons in this part of the country, from the leafing out of forests in May, to the rusty colors of fall foliage, and lastly the arrival of snow last week. The New River is most clearly evident in the snowy scene. Look for the deeply incised river valley running north in the middle of the scene from the folded ridges of the Appalachian Mountains at the bottom of the image, and turning northwestward in the upper left quadrant. Not long after that turn is the confluence of the New and Gauley Rivers, and downstream from there the waterway is named the Kanawha River, which flows through Charleston on its way to the Ohio River. Geologically at least, the New River is actually not so new. In fact, it may be one of the oldest river systems in the world. But geologists have not been able to pin a definitive age on it, with estimates ranging from 3 million years old to as much as 320 years old. If the latter is right, it would be the second oldest on Earth, according to the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey. At the center of the three images in the animation is the New River Gorge, where the river's waters have carved down a thousand feet and more through rock layers that are 300 million years old.

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