Wednesday, January 01, 2020

A Decade of Global Warming

The devastating bushfires that are currently raging in Australia are a dramatic portent of the environmental disasters which we can expect in the next decade. Over the next ten years the frequency and scale of climate change related disasters is likely to dramatically increase. Unfortunately, if the last decade is any guide to our future behavior, there appears to be little evidence that the world is prepared to take the drastic steps necessary to halt, or even slow, climate change.

The following satellite images use Google Earth Engine to explore the impact of humans on the environment and the affect of global warming around the world in the last decade. At the moment Earth Engine only has satellite imagery up to 2018. This makes the following images even more alarming, as they show the pace of environmental change which has occurred around the world in a time-scale as small as eight years.

Borneo Rainforests

Since the 1960's deforestation in Borneo has taken place on an industrial scale. In the last decade fires have been extensively used to clear Borneo rainforests for palm oil plantations. About half of all palm oil plantations in the world have been built in forest and bush areas in Malaysia and Indonesia. The destruction of the rainforests in Malaysia and Indonesia has been disastrous for many animal species, particularly the orangutan which is now on the critical endangered list.

Rainforests are not only being lost in South-East Asia. Brazil still has the largest area of forest removed annually. Under the present government the pace of deforestation has increased once again. Evidence of this was seen in the increased number of wildfires in the Amazon in 2019. Since 1970 around one fifth of the Amazon rainforest has been lost.

The Colombia Glacier

The Colombia Glacier in the Chugach Mountains, Alaska has shrunk by over 20 kilometers (12 miles) since the 1980s. In that time the glacier has also lost more than half of its total thickness and volume. The retreat of glaciers like Colombia contributes to global sea-level rise, mostly through iceberg calving.

The Aral Sea

The Aral Sea, on the border of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, has now almost completely disappeared. In the 1960's the Aral Sea was the fourth largest lake in the world. The eastern basin of the lake is now completely dry and is now known as the Aralkum Desert.

The Rhône Glacier

Since 1850 the Rhône Glacier in Switzerland has shrunk by around 4.7 km². It isn't the only glacier to have shrunk in Switzerland. Since 1850 Switzerland's glaciers have shrunk by around 50%. The World Glacier Monitoring Service say that this process is likely to continue and that 80 to 90 percent of glacier ice mass will be lost by 2100.

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