Record-breaking hurricanes have affected millions of people across North and Central America, devastating floods have taken away millions of homes, and wildfires on the west coast have wreaked havoc on the lives of millions more. The natural disasters of 2017 have raised a lot of questions about human involvement and the dire consequences of climate change caused by human activity on our planet. Even though its effects have made themselves apparent, there are many who don’t believe climate change is real, or at least that humans have nothing to do with it.
Earlier this year, NASA released a series of images titled Images of Change to show just how drastic an effect human activity has had on Earth in the last fifty or so years. They tell a story of melting glaciers, receding ice shelves, floods, and other natural disasters. They all provide evidence that climate change is very real and happening right now. It is time to take the hard, photographic evidence seriously. and learn from our past mistakes.
Tuvalu and the Rising Sea Levels
This image was taken in 2007, showing a town submerged in water on the Funafuti Atoll. Its population of more than 6,000 people has been battling with the direct consequences of rising sea levels. Residents of the capital Tuvalu have seen very frequent flooding in populated areas due to the fact that it is at most 4.57 meters (15 feet) above sea level. Dubbed one of “the most vulnerable Pacific Ocean islands,” its residents have to make the ultimate choice: leave the islands or deal with the consequences.
The Larsen C Ice Shelf
This 112.65km (70 mile) long, 91.44 meter (300 feet) wide crack in the Antarctic Peninsula’s Larsen C ice shelf was photographed in November 2016. As a direct result of the split, a piece of an ice shelf the size of Delaware collapsed. The more than 1 trillion ton ice slab broke away from the Larsen C shelf around the 10th of July, 2017, decreasing it by more than 12%.
Rising Bedrock in Greenland
Environmental scientists have concluded in recent studies that the Greenland Ice Sheet is rising as ice melts; as the ice that sits on top of the outer crust of the Earth melts, the crust underneath rises up. Measuring this change is giving scientists valuable insight into the changing sizes of ice sheets and how this eventually leads to rising sea levels.
This image was taken from the International Space Station on August 25, 2017. The disastrous consequences of Hurricane Harvey wreaking havoc on central Texas saw a huge amount of media coverage. However, when it came to drawing links between the storm and climate change, the reporting was far more subdued. Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist from the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, said in an interview with The Atlantic: “the human contribution can be up to 30 percent or so of the total rainfall coming out of the storm.” But the trend of tying storms of this scale to human activity is still emerging.
Flooding of the Ganges River
These satellite images are part of an ongoing series of images called Images of Change released by NASA in 2017. In addition to images related to climate change, the series also looks at how urbanization and natural hazards are changing our planet. The two images above show the drastic effect the 2015 flood had on the Ganges River in eastern and central India. Over six million people were affected by it, and at least 300 people lost their lives.
Arctic Sea Ice Decline
The last three decades have not been kind to the thick, older layers of sea ice in the Arctic. A study published by the American Geophysical Union in 2007 already noted a sharp decline of the Arctic Sea ice between 1953 and 2006. The last couple of winters have shown record lows in the amount of wintertime Arctic Sea ice.
“This older, thicker ice is like the bulwark of sea ice: a warm summer will melt all the young, thin ice away but it can’t completely get rid of the older ice. But this older ice is becoming weaker because there’s less of it and the remaining old ice is more broken up and thinner, so that bulwark is not as good as it used to be,” says Walt Meiter, a sea researcher from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
Increase of Sun’s Energy Absorbed in the Arctic
Since 2000, NASA has been using its satellites to measure the solar radiation absorbed in the Arctic. Since records began in 2000, the rate has increased by 5% — notably, the only region on our planet to see a change. Due to this increase, the ice melts sooner in the spring, and more older, thicker sea ice is lost permanently.
Glacier Melt in Alaska
The Northwestern Glacier in Alaska retreated an estimated 10 kilometers (6 miles) out of view. The small icebergs that can be seen in the foreground have retreated almost entirely throughout the decades.
Air Pollution in London
Commuters can be seen crossing the London Bridge on March 15, 2012 — a day with record-breaking levels of air pollution due to dirty air from the north, traffic fumes, and a lack of moving air. According to the World Health Organization, “92% of the world population was living in places where the WHO air quality guidelines levels were not met,” and three million premature deaths were caused by ambient air pollution worldwide in 2012.