Extreme Makeover: Climate Change Edition

Space Shots Capture the Effects of Global Warming and Urban Sprawl

In celebration of their tenth anniversary, NASA’s Earth Observatory released a series of satellite images documenting nearly a decade of worldwide climate change. In just ten years, the evidence of environmental and human impact on the world is dramatic. From deforestation to urbanization to evaporation of lakes and seas, places around the world are rapidly changing, which then begs the question: What will become of these places in the future?

The following are a few examples from NASA’s Earth Observatory.


Aral Sea

Located in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in Central Asia, the Aral Sea, a saline lake, once used to be the fourth largest lake in the world; however, from 1970 to 2000, its volume decreased by 75%.Unfortunately, the recent images of the Aral Sea show no signs of improvement, only rapid disappearance. This rapid evaporation of the Aral Sea is the result of environmental, but mainly, human interference.The Soviets purposefully diverted water from the Aral Sea to maintain agriculture for export. To combat this problem, Kazakhstan built a dam separating the lake into northern and southern regions in 2005 which sent the southern region to its demise and the northern region to its recovery as seen in this 2008 picture. (The north is actually the left, south is right in the photos.)

The Aral Sea was a central part of the economy. However, as it dried up, there were devastating consequences. Fisheries collapsed leaving the families who relied on fishing for economic survival devastated. Fertilizers and pesticides from cotton farming and other agriculture seeped into the remaining water, and as that water dried, toxic dust spread to nearby communities. Also, winters became colder and summers became hotter and drier without the presence of a large lake.


Lake Powell

Located in Utah and Arizona, Lake Powell, created by the Glen Canyon Dam in the Colorado River, is the second largest man-made lake in the U.S. However, due to the severe drought prevalent in the Southwest region combined with thelack of water that the Colorado River provides, water levels in Lake Powell have decreased over the past decade. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation, Lake Powell’s water level in 2000 was about 20 million acre-feet. In 2005 (one of the worst years for Lake Powell’s water level), the water level dropped to 8 million acre-feet. The water level rebounded until 2008. Currently, the reservoir’s water level is 16.1 million acre-feet which is 66% capacity.

The Colorado River does not have enough water supplyto fulfill the demands of the future from the needs of people and the protection of the river’s ecosystem. Currently, 30 million people rely on the Colorado River for water, as does 3.7 million acres of farmland in the U.S. and Mexico.

Amazon Rainforest

Located in South America, the Amazon Rainforest is home to over 500 mammal species, thousands of fish species, 300 reptiles species, 30 million insect types, and one third of the world’s birds, not to mention the many other species that have not been discovered yet; however, they face constant danger from the reality of deforestation. Deforestationclears forests for agriculture, cattle pastures, logging, mining, tourism, and other purposes. Unfortunately, deforestation contributes to a decrease in biodiversity as animal habitats are destroyed and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. About 75% of greenhouse gasesemitted from Brazil are a result of deforestation. The images above are of Rondonia, a state in western Brazil heavily damaged by deforestation. Of the state’s 51.4 million acres of forest, about 16.7 million acres were cleared by 2003.

A great majority of tropical forests around the world are disappearing as the demand for human food, such as livestock and agriculture, and logging increases. Unfortunately, our demands are decimating important parts of the Earth, destroying plants and animals, and contributing to climate change.


Arctic Sea Ice

Arctic sea ice grows during the winter, reaching its peak in March, and melts during the summer, reaching its minimum in September. The images show the Arctic sea ice during the month of September in 1999 in comparison with 2008. Over the past decade, the Arctic sea ice has thinned dramatically during summer months. Factorssuch as unusually warm weather and greenhouse gases emitted from human activity have increased the melting of the ice in recent years, particularly in the years between 2004 and 2008.

According to scientists from NASA and the University of Washington-Seattle, thin seasonal ice is replacing older ice. This is unusual given that older ice, which is thicker, is more likely to survive during the summer. Older ice averages a thickness of 9 feet compared to thin seasonal ice which has an average thickness of 6 feet. Scientists found that older ice decreased 42% in the summers, leaving overall Artic sea ice 7 inches thinner a year. Unfortunately, Arctic sea ice is not accumulating fast enough in the winters to compensate for the losses incurred during the summers. As the amount of ice decreases, the amount of water increases raising temperatures in the ocean which ultimately melts ice more quickly.


Dubai, which is part of the United Arab Emirates along the Persian Gulf, is a lavish city focused on tourism, real estate, and finance. To increase appeal as a tourist destination, a series of artificial islands, called Palm Islands, began construction in 2001. Another series of man-made islands named The World began construction in 2003 and finished in 2008. But islands aren’t the only construction projects in Dubai. The city itself has undergone an extreme urban makeover. Beautiful hotels, buildings, houses, and roads now crowd the city along with the millions of tourists who visit each year. This influx of buildings and people has, undoubtedly, increased pollution.

The artificial islands are breathtaking to look at, but they are environmental bullies. Created from dredged sand from the sea floor, these islands have crushed coral reefs which provide food and shelter for a number of marine animals and have altered the environment for worse.


It is clear from these photos that environmental changes across the globe are occurring at a rapid pace. The increase in human population and our reliance on technology in recent years have contributed to climate change, deforestation, and urbanization. Only time will tell what becomes of these places, but we can slow down their changes by implementing Eco-friendly practices into our everyday lives.


Other Information

Articles on how to decrease your ecological footprint

NASA’s Earth Observatory

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