Image: Athabasca oil sands from orbit

October 3, 2014 , European Space Agency
Credit: USGS/ESA

This Landsat-8 image covers a distance of over 350 km from top to bottom, all within Canada's Alberta province.

To the north, blue lake waters are visible, interspersed with rivers and creeks. This area makes up the world's largest freshwater inland river delta, where the Peace and Athabasca rivers converge on the Slave River and Lake Athabasca (the water body in the upper right).

Lake Claire to the left is also part of this delta system, and lies within the Wood Buffalo National Park – Canada's largest.

The lower half of the image is part of a wider area known as the Athabasca oil sands, which has the world's largest known reservoir of crude bitumen, which can be upgraded to crude oil using technology that extracts the oil from the soil using chemicals.

Boreal forests and in this area are being destroyed by open-pit mining and hydraulic fracturing – 'fracking' – for heavy crude oil.

Boreal forests cover nearly half of the province, but about 20% has been disturbed by open-pit mining, some of which are visible in the lower-right. In addition to deforestation, these activities cause pollution and push wildlife from their preferred habitats.

This image, also featured on the Earth from Space video programme, is just one of more than 130 satellite images on display at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome, Italy, until 2 November.

As part of the 'My Planet from Space: Fragility and Beauty' exhibition, the collection takes you on a journey to some of the most beautiful and remote places on Earth, demonstrating the fragility of our planet and the challenges posed by human activities and climate change.

Provided by European Space Agency