Saint Helena Island, located in the South Atlantic Ocean
approximately 1,860 kilometers (1,156 miles) west of Africa, was one of
the many isolated islands that naturalist Charles Darwin visited during
his scientific voyages in the nineteenth century. He visited the island
in 1836 aboard the HMS Beagle, recording
observations of the plants, animals, and geology that would shape his
theory of evolution. This image was acquired by astronauts onboard the
International Space Station as part of an ongoing effort (the HMS Beagle Project to document current biodiversity in areas visited by Charles Darwin.
This astronaut photograph shows the island’s sharp peaks and deep
ravines; the rugged topography results from erosion of the volcanic
rocks that make up the island. The change in elevation from the coast
to the interior creates a climate gradient. The higher, wetter center
is covered with green vegetation, whereas the lower coastal areas are
drier and hotter, with little vegetation cover. Human presence on the
island has also caused dramatic changes to the original plants and
animals of the island. Only about 10 percent of the forest cover
observed by the first explorers now remains in a semi-natural state,
concentrated in the interior highlands.
Saint Helena Island is perhaps best known as the final resting place
of Napoleon Bonaparte I of France. Bonaparte was exiled to the island
following his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815; he died on the
island six years later in 1821. Today, the island is a British Overseas
Territory, with access provided thirty times a year by a single ship,
the Royal Mail Ship St. Helena.
Astronaut photograph ISS019-E-14918
was acquired on May 7, 2009, with a Nikon 2DXs digital camera fitted
with a 400 mm lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations
experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space
Center. The image was taken by the Expedition 19 crew. The image in this article has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast. Lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program
supports the laboratory to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that
will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make
those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken
by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by William L. Stefanov, NASA-JSC.