On June 1, 2015 the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this true-color image as it passed over the Kuril Islands. The cloud bank has been disturbed by the passage of a ship.

The Kuril Islands are a string of volcanically-formed islands that stretch between Russia and Japan, separating the North Pacific Ocean from the Sea of Okhotsk. Subject to the cold, moist breezes from the North Atlantic, and the frigid air from Siberia, the climate is severe, with frequent storms, and ever-present winds, which often reach hurricane strength. Cloudy, windy conditions are common.

Clouds curl into the center of a storm system, bringing strong winds to the region. As the winds scrape over the tall volcanic peaks of the Kuril Islands, they become turbulent air behind the islands. The turbulence disturbs the cloudbank, etching its passage into a striking pattern that can be seen from space.

This particular pattern is called “ship-waved-shaped wave clouds”, because the pattern can be likened to that formed behind a ship cutting through a smooth ocean. On the windward side of the Kuril Islands, the cloud bank is generally smooth, with streaks that are lined up parallel to the movement of the wind, blowing from the west and towards the east. Behind the tall volcanic peaks of the islands, V’s fan out on the leeward side, illustrating the flow of the turbulent air.

Image Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC Larger image