Odd stripes spotted by NASA satellite in Russia baffle scientist

A NASA satellite orbiting the earth taking pictures has spotted something that has scientists stumped in Siberia's cold Arctic reaches in Russia. Near the Markha River in Siberia, the earth has ripples that scientists don't completely understand. NASA recently posted new images of the odd landscape to its Earth Observatory website, taken with the Landsat 8 satellite over several years.

The images show land on both sides of the river rippled with alternating dark and light stripes. The odd effect is visible in all four seasons but is more pronounced during the winter when white snow gives even more contrast to the pattern. NASA isn't entirely sure what causes the pattern on the Siberian ground.

One potential explanation has to do with the frigid temperatures in the region spend 90 percent of the year covered in permafrost that occasionally thaws for brief intervals. NASA says land that continuously freezes, thaws, and freezes again can take on strange circular or striped designs called patterned ground. The effect results from the natural tendency of stones to sort themselves out over a freeze-thaw cycle.

NASA does admit that other examples of patterned ground tend to be much smaller in scale than what is seen in Siberia. Another potential explanation for the strange patterns is surface erosion. Geologist Thomas Crafford, with the US geological survey, told NASA that the stripes resemble a pattern in sedimentary rock known as layer cake geology.

Those patterns happen when melting snow or rain runs downhill, chipping away and flushing pieces of sedimentary rock into piles. This process can build slabs of sediment that look like slices of a layer cake. Crafford says that the darker stripes represent deeper areas, with the lighter stripes representing flatter areas. Exactly what causes the strange stripes will remain a mystery until the site can be studied up close.