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'Tournament: Earth' showcases thought-provoking shots from space

Whether it's a massive wind farm dotting an otherwise empty ocean or fresh lava doing battle with a huge ice cap, NASA's Earth Observatory has captured some remarkable views of our planet.

Iceland's huge lava eruption isn't far from Europe's largest ice cap, as seen from space. NASA

When humans first started to take trips beyond Earth's atmosphere we expected to make amazing new discoveries about the moon, Mars and beyond. But it was the view of our home planet from space that has really yielded the most new insights, from that first photo of Earth seen as a brilliant blue marble in the black void of space to the latest batch of shots from new, state-of-the-art satellites.

Each spring for the past few years NASA's Earth Observatory, the office that organizes and shares all the agency's data on our own planet, has used the annual college basketball tournament season as a reason to celebrate some of the best and most enlightening images of planet Earth through something it calls "Tournament: Earth." The idea is to pick your own "bracket" of Earth images and then...well, I don't really know, those bracket things always just seemed like a big time-suck to me.

But the point is that the Earth Observatory has put out some of its best images of our planet from recent years, and we've sorted through them to pick out our own "sweet sixteen" images that provide a compelling picture of a world in flux, both because of humans and with remarkable indifference to our species in other cases. Check them all out in the gallery below, and there's also still time to vote for your favorites at the EO website.