Images from 9,000 meters above the Arctic Ocean

By Mitchell Blatt | Photos

Jun 04

Flying from Beijing to Washington, DC, I had a window seat, and for most of the flight, there were clear views. I always find it interesting to look out at life below. On this flight, I also had a chance to look down at lack of life. The flight took a route over Russia and passed over the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska before passing over Yukon and the Northwestern Territories (seems to be similar to the A218 route). The vastness of the empty space, pure snowfields for miles, is mystical. But so, too, is the view high above cities and farmland, roads extending to the horizon, thoughts of what so many people are doing on the ground 30,000 feet below. It is interesting to look out the window with the flight’s live tracking map on, as you can see just about where you are. Comparing the lay of the land in China and the U.S., you can learn a little about urban planning.

I begin to notice the view as the plane is flying over Heilongjiang, China’s northernmost province. With a population of 38 million, it is one of China’s lesser-populated provinces, and the sixth least populated by density.
A short time later, the plane flies over Harbin, the capital city. By Chinese standards, Harbin is not a huge city, but it is not small. The population of its urban center is about 5 million. I was looking out the right side of the plane, towards the east, so it appears the view is of the eastern suburbs. The downtown area is to the west of Harbin’s administrative area, which would probably be out the other window or under the plane.
The Far Eastern Federal District has a population of 8.3 million, smaller than the population of the entire Harbin administrative district. Its population density of 1.2 people per square kilometer is less than half that of Tibet. Just two cities have populations larger than 500,000.
Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is about 1,000 miles away from here.
The airline’s flight tracker showed we were near Cape Dalhousie, at the northern tip of the Northwest Territories. It may have been some other ice feature in Liverpool Bay. Sir John Franklin explored this area between 1825-1827, helping to map the coast and the Mackenzie River.
I zoomed in for this one. I was admiring the textures on the ground.

The total population of the Northwest Territories is 41,786. That’s a population density of 0.04/sq km. (And that’s only the second smallest in Canada.) Yellowknife, its capital city (located in the southern half of the territory), has a population of 19,569.
My inflight TV console had malfunctioned by this point in the flight, so I’m not sure what town exactly this is. It’s either in Pennsylvania or Maryland. According to the flight route, one possibility is Hagerstown, MD. It looks like much of the Eastern United States. Compare the layout of the roads in this small city to those of Harbin. This American city appears to have more subdivisions, more curved and disconnected roads, than Harbin, which has more of a block-by-block layout.
We descend into the Virginia/DC suburb area. My phone dies after taking this shot.















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About the Author

Mitchell Blatt is a travel writer, editor, and columnist who has lived and worked in China for six years. He is an author of two guidebooks, Panda Guides Hong Kong and Panda Guides China. He has been published in National Interest.org, The Korea Times, The Shanghai Daily, Roads & Kingdoms, Vagabond Journey, City Weekend, Silkwinds and The World of Chinese, among other outlets. See examples of his published articles.