New Zealand is a country of dramatic landscapes, astounding skies, and not a lot of people to get in the way. Today's stunning timelapse is a four-part series of break-sized awe for the beauty of the natural world, and an excellent excuse to talk about the science behind the breathtaking scenes.

Martin Heck of Timestorm Films filmed these timelapses during a four-month tour around New Zealand. The technical details of his equipment and processing is all listed in the video notes. Each segment is just under five minutes, timed perfectly to be a break in your day to bask in the wonder of our planet. They're also windows into the complex geological history of New Zealand, and an opportunity to look at how science shapes the world around us.


Part 1: Awakening

This segment starts with daytime landscapes around the island, before concluding with beautiful stargazing with a few meteorites and a near-vertical Milky Way.

New Zealand is the remnant of a submerged continent, uplifted by a subducting oceanic plate.The sharp relief of young stratovolcanoes is being weathered by rain, cutting dramatic gorges and transporting new sediment into the valleys.


Of particular note are the lenticular clouds over a mountain range [2:00], a set of steady cloudy saucers tracing out standing waves in the air currents. Moisture in the air condenses into clouds on the downward side of the crest, before evaporating back into vapour as the air reaches the wave trough.

Part 2: Amplitude

This sequence takes a look at smaller, more confined landscapes of valleys, ravines, nooks, and caves.

While the backbone of New Zealand is shaped by volcanoes, it has wide swaths of limestone rock, the fossiliferous remains of stranded sea floor sediments that have been compacted and compressed until they lithified into soft rock. This limestone is easily eroded by water into complex cave systems.


The glowing dots in the cave roof are glowworms [3:09]. The larval stage of the arachnocampa luminosa is a bioluminescent worm that glows to attract other insects into their sticky feeding-lines.


Once their hapless prey is trapped in the lines, they're devoured by the ravenous glowworm. After about nine months, the larva retreats to a cocoon, passes through a 2-week pupa stage, then emerges as a mayfly. The fly has no digestive system, spending its 3-day lifespan mating and laying eggs for the next generation of glowworms. If you want to see them yourself, consider a visit to the Waitomo Caves.

Part 3: Solitude

The third segment is all stargazing, cloud-watching, and sediments.

A rise in altitude as air creeps up a mountain side leads to adiabatic cooling, with water vapour condensing into clouds.


When the cloud is saucer shaped, it's a lenticular cloud, but the orographic fog splitting over a ridge peak [1:53] is a different variant of the same process. While the lenticular clouds in the first video segment were higher altitude tracing the mountain farther above the ground, this segment has a peak-swaddling fluffy hat of a lenticular cloud [3:04]. I especially appreciate sunrise dyeing the cloud pink.

Part 4: Agitation

The final segment is all about dynamic boundaries — clouds, waves, and sunsets.

Beaches at sunset are a glorious mess of waves, from the optics of the red-tinted light to the water itself. Have you noticed that when you stand on a beach, the waves are always coming straight at you? This is due to refraction, the bending of waves as they travel at different speeds.


The velocity of a water wave changes depending on the depth of the water compared to the wavelength of the wave. The categorization is intuitive: deep water waves, intermediate water waves, or shallow water waves. Near the coast, wind waves are shallow water waves, with their velocity proportional to the water depth. Thus, as they move closer to shore, they slow, allowing the faster-moving waves in deeper water to catch up. The end result of this refraction is that the waves bend until they're near-parallel to the shore, no matter how the coast twists and turns.

All images are screenshots from the videos. Tip via Sarah Klain.