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As the year draws to a close, It’s a time to look back on things that happened over the past twelve months. Over the next few days, we’ll be revisiting some of our favorite stories from throughout the year, and seeing again what they mean for 2015 in review.
This story was originally published on April 22, 2015.
Just this February, a man named Jim Inhofe tried to disprove the concept of global warming by bringing a snowball into the United States Senate. (Because, the fact that there still is winter means the climate isn't changing?)
Two things are worth pointing out: That man, Mr. Inhofe, happens to be a powerful U.S. Senator, and the Chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. And, he's wrong: The climate is changing and human activity is to blame, at least according to 97% of all working climate scientists, the United Nations, the President of the United States and NASA...just to name a few.
This week, a group of insurance companies (including big guys like Allianz and Liberty Mutual) released a report calling on the government to better prepare for global-warming-related disasters. (Note: These are not hippie college students; they're insurance companies.)
But, despite the overwhelming evidence, there are still some people who need convincing (many of whom are in Congress). To help, and because it's Earth Day, we put together this slideshow as a reminder that climate change is real and needs to be taken seriously — by all of us.
The Missing Sea
Left: 2000, Right: 2014
The Aral Sea in Kazakhstan/Uzbekistan was once the fourth-largest lake in the world. In the 2000 image, it’s already lost a lot of water because of damming projects, and has split into eastern and western lobes. In 2014, dry conditions caused the entire eastern lobe to disappear.
Coral "bleaching" — losing all of the symbiotic algae that helps sustain coral and gives it its color — is a response to unusually warm water. The Florida Keys have experienced water temperatures higher than 85ºF far more consistently than they did a century ago, which puts the coral at risk of stress or even death.
The Biggest Iceberg
Left: October 2013, Right: November 2013
A 22-by-12-mile-wide iceberg splits off from the glacier, situated in Antarctica’s Western Ice Sheet. Icebergs like this are a regular event, but the one shown here is a solid 50% larger than previous ‘bergs.
Left: 1994, Right: 2013
In 2013, the Elephant Butte Reservoir (which provides water for almost half the city of El Paso) hit its lowest levels in 41 years. Both lack of mountain-spring runoff and severe drought in the area contributed to the reservoir’s deplenishing, shown on the right at only 3% full.
The Super Typhoon
Super Typhoon Haiyan, also known as Typhoon Yolanda, is one of the most destructive typhoons in recorded history. Climate scientists say that the frequency of devastating storms like Haiyan is likely to increase as the planet’s global temperature rises.
The Arctic Basin, despite its location, still experiences seasonal fluctuation and melting ice in summertime. The average ice coverage in July is 3.9 million square miles. In this 2005 photo, melting ice had reduced coverage to only 3.06 million, almost a million square miles less than the average.
In 1950, this Alaskan glacier was hundreds of feet thick. In this 2010 photo, you can see the bedrock emerging through the ice.
The Disappearing Lake
Left: 1995, Center: 2003, Right: 2013
While water levels vary with the season in the shallow Bahr-al-Milh Lake in Iraq, the last decade has seen drastic, year-round lows.
A New Landscape
Top: 1906, Bottom: 2003
In the top image, Carroll Glacier in Alaska dominates the landscape as the center of the photo. In the bottom image, it's been reduced to a barely-discernable sliver of ice behind an outcropping.
Polar bears are one of many species whose habitats and existence are threatened by climate change. The World Wildlife Foundation predicts that by 2040, only a small fringe of ice (the Last Ice Area) will exist to support polar bears.
Left: 1980, Center: 1989, Right: 2011
In 20 years, warming temperatures have contributed to the glacier’s reduction. In the last image, the white specks are icebergs, which have broken off the end of the glacier into the open water.
The Hottest Summer
The 2012-2013 bushfire season in Australia and Tasmania was more destructive than normal, due to overabundant grass growth and a record heat wave. The 2012-2013 season was Australia’s hottest summer on record.
Left: June 2012, Right: July 2012
Montana's Ash Creek Fire was big enough to be seen from space in this satellite image from 2012. The fire, which was exacerbated by dry conditions and unusually warm weather, destroyed a quarter of a million acres of land and took over two weeks to extinguish.
Left: 1940, Right: 2005
A snow-covered landscape in Alaska has transformed into a deep lake, with no ice remaining in sight.
The Size of the Storm
This satellite image of Hurricane Sandy, taken the day the storm made landfall just outside of New York City, shows the immensity of the hurricane, which covered the entire northeastern seaboard. The already intense storm may have been further worsened by rising sea temperatures caused by climate change.
Left: 1999, Right: 2014
Lake Powell in Arizona and Utah, actually a long and narrow reservoir, has lost over half its water to long-term drought and water withdrawal. By the 2014 image, it had dropped to 42% of its capacity.
Top: 1909, Bottom: 2003
In the top image of Holgate Glacier in Alaska, taken in 1906, the glacier is a clear, thick ring around the central rock outcropping. In the bottom image from 2003, only a few patches of ice remain.
A Human Cost
Tacloban, a city on Leyte Island in the Philippines, was hit hard by Super Typhoon Haiyan, resulting in enormous damage and loss of life. Devastating storms like Haiyan may increase as the planet’s global temperature rises.
Top: 1941, Bottom: 2004
In these two images of Muir Glacier, Alaska, what was once a solid sheet of ice that filled an entire valley is now a lake. The rate of temperature increase in Alaska is twice the national rate of increase.
As the planet heats, drier conditions and increased frequency of lightning are expected to make wildfires, like this one seen in Montana, more common and more furious. While the occasional wildfire is a natural part of an ecosystem, some projections warn that the amount of land destroyed by wildfire could double by the end of the century, with certain western states hit particularly hard.
A previous version of this article incorrectly listed this photo as being taken in California.
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