Earth’s landscapes are not the same as they were centuries ago. While the earth is constantly morphing, glaciers are melting, forests are shrinking, trees are flowering earlier, and lakes are slowly disappearing. So, what is attributing to these drastic changes? Some of the effects are due to decades of climate change and some are a result of urbanization. According to NASA, scientists have confirmed that global temperatures will steadily rise in the upcoming years, which is primarily a result of greenhouse gasses produced by human activities.
Greenhouse gasses derive from burning fossil fuels for sources of transportation, heating our homes, and electricity. That's right, we are contributing to the evolution of earth’s landscapes. You can grasp a general idea of the effect of climate changes and rapid urbanization on NASA’s website, where they have provided detailed images of before and after photos of our ever-changing planet.
The time differences in the contrasting photos range from ten to a hundred years in the following photos and the contrast between the photos will grant you insight into the extent of these changes.
Let's take a closer look at what changes are occurring across the globe, and whether they may be attributed to human expansion or climate changes over the years.
15 Muir Glacier, Alaska (August 1941/August 2004)
While comparing the two photos of the Muir Glacier in Alaska, there has been an appalling transformation of the landscape within the past nineteen years. Muir Glacier, in 1941, was drowning in heaps of white snow.
The freezing conditions did not accommodate plant growth. Two decades later, while referring to the current photo on the right, you can see that there are new forms of life; green shrubbery has been growing alongside the body of water on places they could now thrive in before. Apparently, climate change has played a substantial role in converting the landscape from an icy white solid terrain to a large body of water.
The more recent photo is extremely distinguishable from the old image. You may find it hard to believe that Muir Glacier used to be completely covered in snow. Increasing temperatures over the past two decades have completely transformed Alaska’s landscapes.
14 Powell Lake, Arizona and Utah (March 1999/May 2014)
Lake Powell was formerly the second largest reservoir in America and is part of the Colorado River; located on the border between Utah and Arizona. In 1999, Lake Powell had relatively high water levels, which is captured in the before photo.
The before photo contained dark blue outlines, which exemplify the abundant water supply prior to the prolonged drought. Fifteen years later, you can see that the more current photo shows that the dark blue outlines have disappeared, indicating that water levels have severely dropped; uncovering pale outlines of sediment.
Climate change has contributed to the decreasing water levels and the shrinking reservoir. Considering that Lake Powell resides in a desert, the increasing temperatures and limited precipitation are cultivating even drier conditions. Just in case it isn't already clear, high temperatures and little rainfall are a deadly combination not to be reckoned with.
13 Uruguay Forests (March 1975/February 2009)
We have contributed to the rapid decline of forests in our attempts to urbanize new uncharted lands. Uruguay previously deforested their rich green forests, thus eliminating all the life forms that inhabited them. When the forests are destroyed, so are the animals and plants that occupy it.
The initial photo on the left was taken in 1975, which shows that there were very little forms of vegetation due to human activities. Forests, if left untouched, are rich in animal and plant diversity. In order to compensate for the loss of their forests, thirty-four years later, Uruguay grew a new forested area from 45,000 hectares to 900,000 hectares.
Although Uruguay has managed to accomplish this, the animals and plants that use to originally resided in the previous forests cannot be restored, therefore there has been a loss of biodiversity.
12 Aral Sea, Central Asia (August 2000/August 2014)
Behold, the shrinking Aral Sea in central Asia. The Aral Sea was formerly the world’s fourth largest lake in the world and now it looks like its fame is slowly coming to a demise. Over the past 14 years, the lake has increasingly shrivelled in size and now is at its all time low due to decades of water diversions to irrigate surrounding desert regions.
These man-made canals in combination with the recent droughts are not aiding the lake’s cause nor the human cause. The shrinkage has led to high levels of salinity and dry conditions, which fosters toxic chemicals from nearby weapons testing, pesticides, and fertilizer has negatively affected individuals in nearby regions.
These individuals are suffering from the lack of fresh water and health issues, including high rates of respiratory illnesses and specific forms of cancer. While the lake continues to shrink, health problems in neighboring regions arise. It is considered as the “one of the planet’s worst environmental disasters.”
11 Toboggan Glacier, Alaska (June 1909/September 2000)
The image on the left distinctly exhibits a large white ice mass that covers a majority of its surface. Observe that there is an absence of vegetation in the left photo, which was taken in 1909. The icy conditions will not permit the growth of any plants.
Nine decades later, the icy white mass has decreased in size and no longer extends towards the front of the mountains. The glacier that previously lay in the space between the two slopes on the right and the left has disappeared. This is due to climate change, rising temperatures reduced its size, and transformed the glacier into a lake.
The less frigid conditions have enabled the growth of plants in the most recent photo. The surfaces of the two front mountains are covered with green shrubbery, while the mountains in the back are still covered with the remnants of the icy snow.
10 Pedersen Glacier, Alaska (Summer 1917/Summer 2005)
In the summer of 1917, practically every single part of Pedersen Glacier was completely covered in ice and snow.
Eighty-three years later, there are very little traces of snow and ice to date. So, what could have contributed to this change? Ah, yes, climate change. While the name “Pedersen Glacier” does not seem fitting for location currently, it has enabled the growth of plant life.
It is bizarre how the climate changes have completely transformed the landscape over the past century. The scenery previously radiated white and now is covered in green. As temperatures continue to rise in the upcoming decades, glaciers are continually affected by the rising temperatures.
9 Bear Glacier, Alaska (July 1909/August 2005)
Welcome to Bear Glacier, Alaska! The first photo was taken in 1909 and the second photo was taken in 2005, 81 years later. Evidently, you can see that glaciers are sensitive to climate change. The before photo shows solid glaciers lining most of the landscape and no signs of vegetation.
Obviously, the cold barren conditions were not suitable for vegetation. In contrast, there are no glaciers to be found in the second photo. It seems that the glaciers have completely melted away in the past decade. While the glaciers cease to exist in Bear Glacier, the current conditions now house plant life.
Although the name “Bear Glacier” seems to no longer suit the landscape considering that there are no any glaciers in plain sight, it still has a breathtaking view!
8 Mar Chiquita Lake, Argentina (July 1998/September 2011)
Mar Chiquita Lake, Argentina’s largest lake, used to house a large supply of water, as indicated by the large blue mass in the photo to the left photo. In the second image, which was photographed thirteen years later, shows that the lake has significantly reduced in size.
It has shrivelled up to half of its original size within a decade, considering that the edges of the blue mass in the right photo are receding, revealing tan surfaces of the soil that the lake use to cover. In the before photo, the blue mass adequately supplied water to the surrounding agriculture, which helped them retain their light-green color.
As the mass begins to dissipate in the latter photo, the surrounding agriculture has turned into a dark green color. These variations have resulted from climate changes such as rising temperatures and little rainfall.
7 Carroll Glacier, Alaska (August 1906/September 2003)
Carroll Glacier is another one of Alaska’s beloved landscapes that are experiencing the detrimental effects of climate change. The first photo on the left was taken in 1906 when the glacier was still a solid frigid structure.
You can see that the tips of the mountains are covered in snow and the cold conditions were not suitable for vegetative or agricultural growth. About nine decades later, the glacier has completely melted and has vanished completely from the landscape. The icy tips of the mountains have also melted, revealing the naked surface of the mountains.
This is due to climate changes over time; rising temperatures have melted the glacier. Although the glaciers are nowhere in sight, red and green life forms have appeared on the once barren rocks. The glacier no longer a solid structure, but is now appears in liquid form as a lake.
6 Lake Oroville, California (July 2010/August 2016)
In 2010, Lake Oroville reflected shimmering with hues of blue and the surrounding vegetation flourished. In a span of six years, the California drought managed to dry up the lake, exposing barren brown dirt and shriveling shrubbery. So, what exactly happened in the past six years?
California was experiencing human-induced climate changes, which included limited rainfall and rising temperatures. While there is little precipitation, the rise temperatures, in turn, can evaporate the moisture from the soil, therefore creating dry conditions. This time period was considered the driest in California history, which affected the agricultural industry and also called demands for restrictions on water use.
We can clearly see how our actions induce climate changes that result in huge effects. Relatively, rising temperatures in combination with limited precipitation accommodate droughts.
5 Qori Kalis Glacier, Peru (July 1978/July 2011)
In July of 1978, the Qori Kalis Glacier of Peru was a solid and rigid white structure that lied between the opposite ridges of the mountain. Notice, that in the second comparison photo, the rigid structure that stood between the two rocky structures is no longer present.
The glacier has almost completely melted in a span of thirty-three years. The product of the shrivelling glacier is a glacial lake, which has replaced the solid white glacier that use to inhabit that space before. So, how did this happen? The recent climate changes, specifically rising temperatures have contributed to this change.
The glacier is now melting at a rate faster than ever before. Scientists are carefully monitoring its rate because the melting glacier could potentially produce large chunks of ice or water that can overfill the glacial lake below, thus flooding the neighboring cities or towns below.
4 Forests in Rondonia, Brazil (June 1975/August 2009)
As shown in the first image, the Amazon rainforests previously were bountiful in vegetation, oozing different shades of green. There’s no denying the forests in Rondonia, Brazil house the best environments for plants to thrive in considering that these regions receive lots of rainfall and have access to lots of sunlight.
In turn, this contributes to the rich diversity of the plants that reside there. A couple of decades later, as shown in the second photo, there's a pale patch scattered across the plane that use to be entirely green.
The blotches of green are the intact shrubbery that remains, while the tan areas are cleared areas, showing that signs of rapid deforestation by humans activities are apparent. Clearly, these contrasting photos portray how human expansion has affected the diverse plant life that previously resided in the forests of Brazil.
3 Matterhorn Mountain (August 1960/August 2005)
The Matterhorn Mountain in the Alps lies on the border between Switzerland and Italy and is renown as one of the most dangerous mountains to climb in the world. The first photo on the left, which was taken in 1960, displays the icy grandeur of the mountain, which is covered in heaps of snow.
The right image displays a photo was taken forty-five years after, which shows that there is a lack of snow covering the mountain currently. It appears that the snow has melted because of the rising temperatures over the past decades.
In the first photo, the mountain's surface is barely exposed and are covered in dense white snow, however, the latter photo reveals the mountain’s black and rigid exterior. Rising temperatures have reduced the amount of snow that previously covered the Matterhorn Mountain.
2 Mabira Forest, Uganda (November 2001/January 2006)
Conservationists have made great efforts to preserve the rainforests of Uganda. Since the forest is protected by the Mabira Forest reserve, it has promoted biodiversity of animals and plants within the forest. These contrasting images show the growth of their rainforests within the past five years due to conservation efforts.
The initial photo, taken in 2001 shows a dark green mass of vegetation. The second photo was taken five years after, showing that the green mass of vegetation has significantly increased its surface area, extending to other regions of the continent. The light green areas the right portion of the earlier photo is now a dark green color in the current photo.
Conservation attempts, as opposed to urbanization, have stimulated the forest growth. Clearly, the animals and plants that inhabit the forest are thriving in the untouched conditions.
1 McCarty Glacier, Alaska (July 1909/August 2004)
Decades ago, notice that McCarty Glacier was covered completely in white dense snow and ice. There were no signs of vegetation whatsoever, considering that the conditions did not permit the growth of plants.
If you refer to the photo on the right, which was taken in 2004, you can see that the glaciers no longer exist, and it’s safe to assume that all the ice has melted away due to increasing temperatures over the years. While there is a little trace of white snow on one of the mountains in the distance, the apparent environmental change in McCarty Glacier has enhanced viable living conditions for plants along the facets of the mountains.
The mountains that were once drowning in snow are now covered in green sheets of plants. The major differences between the contrasting photos portray how melted glaciers are affected by the recent climate changes.