The objective of this paper is to describe three current trends in the development of image processing technology as it is applied to problems in the earth sciences. During the 1990's there will be significant growth in both research and applications of the earth sciences, caused by concerns about the global environment, resources, and natural hazards. Motivated by these issues and stimulated by new developments in information technology, many significant developments in image processing will be created. Three trends are identified here as being particularly important: integration of image processing into 'visual computing', development of volume imaging technology and applications, and creation of highly functional visual information processing systems. These trends are illustrated by numerous applications in atmospheric, oceanographic, land, and solid earth geophysics.