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Agriculture is one of the oldest and most pervasive human impacts on the planet. Estimates of the land surface affected worldwide range up to 50 percent. But while driving through the seemingly endless monotony of wheat fields in Kansas may give you some insight into the magnitude of the change to the landscape, it doesn’t compare to the view from above.

When seen from space, those same boring wheat fields are transformed into a strange and even beautiful pattern. Some of the most arresting agricultural landscapes occur in the Midwestern United States in areas that rely on center-pivot irrigation (shown at right). The area pictured above near Garden City, Kansas, is being farmed to the point of resembling abstract art or a Magic Eye illusion. Groundwater from the Ogallala Aquifer is used to grow corn, wheat and sorghum in the region.

The image above, taken by the USGS’ Landsat 7 satellite on Sept. 25, 2000, is a false-color composite made using data from near infrared, red and green wavelengths and sharpened with a panchromatic sensor. The red areas actually represent the greenest vegetation. Bare soil or dead vegetation ranges from white to green or brown.

The image below is a simulated true-color shot from the same county in Kansas taken June 24, 2001 by NASA’s Terra satellite. Bright greens are healthy, leafy crops such as corn; sorghum would be less mature at this time of year and probably a bit paler; wheat is ready for harvest and appears a bright gold; brown fields have been recently harvested. The circles are perfectly round and measure a mile or a half mile in diameter.

In this gallery, we’ve collected some of the most interesting views of crops from space, including rice paddies in Thailand, cotton fields in Kazakhstan and alfalfa growing in the middle of the Libyan desert.

Images: 1) USGS/NASA. 2) USGS. 3) NASA.

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