12 profound images from NASA that show how the world is changing

A lava eruption in Vatnajökull, Iceland between September 6, 2014 – January 3, 2015. Source: NASA Earth Observatory.

NASA has created an “Images of Change” gallery featuring photo of different locations around the world, showing environmental changes to the land over different time periods.

Some of these effects are related to climate change, others document urbanisation, or natural hazards such as fires and floods.

From dying lakes in Bolivia, to a new island appearing in the Red Sea, and a wild fire at Sampson Flat in Australia, here are some images from the collection.

Drying Lake Poopó, Bolivia

Images taken by the Operational Land Imager onboard Landsat 8. Source: NASA Earth Observatory.

April 12, 2013 - January 15, 2016

Lake Poopó, Bolivia’s second-largest lake and an important fishing resource for local communities, has dried up once again because of drought and diversion of water sources for mining and agriculture. The last time it dried was in 1994, after which it took several years for water to return and even longer for ecosystems to recover. In wet times, the lake has spanned an area approaching 1,200 square miles (3,000 square kilometers). Its shallow depth—typically no more than 9 feet (3 meters)—makes it particularly vulnerable to fluctuations.

More here.

Shrinking Ellesmere Island ice caps, Canada

Images taken by the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) instrument onboard NASA’s Terra satellite. Source: NASA Earth Observatory.

July 12, 2004 - August 4, 2015

These images show how much two dome-shaped glaciers—or ice caps—north of St. Patrick Bay, on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, Canada, have shrunk in the last 11 years. The larger one has reduced to 7 percent of the size it was in 1959 (yellow outline), when it was estimated at 2.9 square miles (7.5 square kilometers). The smaller ice cap has shrunk to 6 percent of its 1959 size. They are thought to have started forming about 5,000 years ago.

More here.

New island appears, Red Sea

Images taken by the Advanced Land Imager onboard NASA's Earth Observing-1 satellite. Source: NASA's Earth Observatory.

October 24, 2007 - December 23, 2011

A volcano erupted in the Red Sea in December 2011, apparently creating a new island. According to news reports, fishermen witnessed lava fountains reaching up to 30 meters (nearly 100 feet) high on December 19. By December 23, what looked like a new island had appeared. A thick plume can be seen in the 2011 image, dark near the bottom and light near the top, perhaps a mixture of volcanic ash and water vapor. The activity occurred along the Zubair Group, a collection of small islands off the west coast of Yemen. Running in a roughly northwest-southeast line, the islands poke above the sea surface, rising from a shield volcano. This region is part of the Red Sea Rift, where the African and Arabian tectonic plates pull apart and new ocean crust regularly forms.

More here.

Imja Glacier melt, Himalayas

1956 picture taken by Erwin Schneider; courtesy of the Association for Comparative Alpine Research, Munich. 2007 photo taken by Alton Byers; courtesy of the Archives of Alton Byers and the Mountain Institute.

Autumn, circa 1956 - October 18, 2007

Imja Glacier in the Himalayas, as seen from a point above Amphu Lake. Left: Autumn, circa 1956. Right: October 18, 2007. The latter image shows pronounced retreat and collapse of the lower tongue of the glacier and the formation of new melt ponds.

More here.

Melting Qori Kalis glacier, Peru

Source: Dr. Lonnie G. Thompson, Distinguished University Professor, Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center, The Ohio State University

July 1978 - July 2011

Qori Kalis is the largest outlet glacier of the world’s largest tropical ice cap, the Quelccaya Ice Cap, which lies on a plateau 18,670 feet (5,691 meters) high in the Andes mountains of south central Peru. In 1978, the glacier was still advancing. By 2011, the glacier had retreated completely back on the land, leaving a lake some 86 acres in area and about 200 feet (60 meters) deep.

More here.

Growing Wax Lake Outlet, Louisiana

Images taken by the Thematic Mapper onboard Landsat 5 and the Operational Land Imager onboard Landsat 8. Source: NASA Earth Observatory using data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

November 7, 1984 - October 25, 2014

Most of the Mississippi River delta plain is losing ground, but new land is forming in Atchafalaya Bay at the mouths of the Wax Lake Outlet and the Atchafalaya River. Wax Lake Outlet is an artificial channel built to reduce the severity of floods in Morgan City, Louisiana. The Atchafalaya is a distributary of the Mississippi River. Combined, their deltas grow an estimated 2.8 square kilometers (1.1 square mile) per year. Floods transport large amounts of sediment to Atchafalaya Bay, while hurricanes redistribute sediment within the bay and destroy coastal vegetation that would otherwise protect land from erosion.

More here.

Sampson Flat Fire, Australia

August 29, 2014 - January 4, 2015

The Sampson Flat Fire started on January 2, 2015—summer in the Southern Hemisphere—near Adelaide, Australia. Hot, windy weather quickly and erratically spread the fire. By January 7, it had burned more than 46 square miles (120 square kilometers) of woodland and grassland within the Mount Lofty Ranges. In the January image, burned areas are brown and active fire appears red with white-blue smoke rising from it. As of January 9, the fire was contained, but firefighters continued to monitor unburned pockets of vegetation for flare-ups.

More here.

Licungo River flooding, Mozambique

Image taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument onboard NASA's Terra satellite. Source: NASA's Earth Observatory.

February 1, 2014 - January 17, 2015

Weeks of heavy rainfall capped by a particularly strong tropical disturbance caused the Licungo and other rivers in Mozambique's Zambezia province to flood. By January 20, the Licungo was higher than it had been since 1971. As of January 22, news media reported that floodwater had killed 86 Mozambicans, destroyed 11,000 homes and displaced tens of thousands of people.

More here.

Lava eruption in Vatnajökull, Iceland

Images taken by the Operational Land Imager onboard Landsat 8. Source: NASA Earth Observatory.

September 6, 2014 - January 3, 2015

Since August 2014, lava has gushed from fissures just north of Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest glacier. As of January 6, 2015, the Holuhraun lava field had spread across more than 84 square kilometers (32 square miles), making it larger than the island of Manhattan. Its thickness is estimated to range from about 10 to 14 meters (33 to 46 feet). The eruption shows signs of slowing down but could continue for years.

More here.

Columbia Glacier melt, Alaska

Images taken by the Thematic Mapper onboard Landsat 5 and the Operational Land Imager onboard Landsat 8. Source: NASA Earth Observatory, using data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

July 28, 1986 - July 2, 2014

Alaska's Columbia Glacier descends through the Chugach Mountains into Prince William Sound. When British explorers surveyed the glacier in 1794, its nose extended to the northern edge of Heather Island, near the mouth of Columbia Bay. The glacier held that position until 1980, when it began a rapid retreat. The glacier has thinned so much that the up and down motion of the tides affects its flow as much as 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) upstream, until the glacier bed rises above sea level and the ice loses contact with the ocean.

More here.

Shrinking Aral Sea, central Asia

Images taken by the Moderate Resolution imagine Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board NASA’s Terra satellite. Source: NASA’s Earth Observatory.

August 25, 2000 - August 19, 2014

The Aral Sea was the fourth largest lake in the world until the 1960s, when the Soviet Union diverted water from the rivers that fed the lake so cotton and other crops could be grown in the arid plains of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The black outline shows the approximate coastline of the lake in 1960. By the time of the 2000 image, the Northern Aral Sea had separated from the Southern Aral Sea, which itself had split into eastern and western lobes. A dam built in 2005 helped the northern sea recover much of its water level at the expense of the southern sea. Dry conditions in 2014 caused the southern sea’s eastern lobe to dry up completely for the first time in modern times. The loss of the moderating influence of such a large body of water has made the region’s winters colder and summers hotter and drier.

More here.

Balbina Dam impact, Brazil

Source: United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). From Latin America and the Caribbean Atlas of our Changing Environment (2010).

June 1, 1984 / September 1, 1985 - February 18 / August 4, 2007

The Balbina hydroelectric plant, on the Uatumâ River in Amazon State, occupies about a third of the Waimiri-Atroari indigenous territory. The dam's reservoir covers 2,360 square kilometers (911 square miles). More than 100,000 million metric tons of vegetation were flooded to build the dam. It was designed to produce up to 250 megawatts to supply the energy demand of the city of Manaus, but a study shows that it generates less than half that amount.

More here.

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