Faux 3D effect animation made from MODIS data
In this animated GIF you can see Hurricane Maria in a faux 3D view created from a single image. The animation is based on an Aqua MODIS image taken September 19th, 2017. By using the brightness as indicator for the third dimension, a displacement map was created to render an animation and this 3D view is the result.
Of course the depth information is not scientifically accurate, still the effect makes for a nice visual, however, when used in science communication it should be made very clear, that this is not an actual representation. I would generally say to not add information to any satellite images which is not actually supported by the image data as it might lead to confusion for the reader.
More information on the 3D process
Basically what we are doing is creating a displacement map using the brightness information, then enhancing the contrast to get some more distinction, and finally using the displacement map to create the faux 3D effect by repeatedly displacing the image in small amounts using the map.
Depending on the image, the result can look quite convincing. It is also possible to move in any direction and not just making this small lateral wiggle, but in my opinion it works best this way.
If you are interested in finding out more about the process, you should read this Google+ post by Dylan O’Donnell, especially its comments (while you are at it, take a look at his website for some spectacular astrophotography). In those you’ll find some more explanations about the process and how it is done. There are also some more examples using this effect.
And while it was first used with astronomical images as the one you can see here, I thought it could also work with images of Hurricanes and gave it a try. The resulting animation of Hurricane Maria might just be a gimmick, but it surely looks mesmerizing.
You can download these GIFs by simply right-clicking them and saving them to your computer.