Rainforests get swallowed by farms in Brazil
Humans have been clearing forests to make way for farms and pastures for at least 7,000 years. And as the world’s population soars past 7 billion, the pressure for cropland is only growing.
Cancún expands at a stunning rate
Cities and towns have been around for thousands of years, but the growth of urbanization has been astonishing over the past century. More than 3.9 billion peopleand counting now live in urban areas.
The images above show the rapid growth of Cancún, Mexico. In the 1970s, this area was lightly inhabited, home to artisanal fishermen and empty beaches
Dubai builds a chain of artificial islands
Some cities have gotten creative about urban growth, reclaiming land from the sea. These images show the rapid growth of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, between 2000 and 2011.
Efforts to tame the Colorado River hit a snag
The Colorado River begins in the Rocky Mountains and courses through the American Southwest. During the 20th century, Americans built a complex system of dams and reservoirs to tame the river, providing a steady source of freshwater for farms and cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas. Water from the river is divvied up among states under an elaborate set of rules.
The Aral Sea, once massive, nearly vanishes
The Aral Sea, tucked between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, was once the fourth-largest lake in the world. Today, after decades of being drained for irrigation, it’s nearly gone.
Alaska’s Columbia Glacier recedes rapidly
One of the most dramatic ways we’re transforming the planet is through global warming. And a great place to see its effects is through the melting of glaciers and ice sheetsaround the world.
Antarctica’s Larsen B ice shelf disintegrates
Receding glaciers are one thing. But the massive ice sheets atop Greenland and Antarctica are an even bigger deal. As the world keeps warming, these ice sheets are starting to melt into the ocean, a change that is expected to raise global sea levels significantly.
The US cleans up its air pollution
Not all of the ways we’re transforming the planet are negative. Here’s some good news: Satellite data from NASA, shown above, revealed a huge reduction in nitrogen dioxide pollution from cars, trucks, power plants, in the United States between 2005 and 2011.
Iraq’s marshes recover after Saddam Hussein
Here’s a change that actually restored nature — at least temporarily. During the 20th century, Iraq’s lush wetlands between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers had mostly dried up because of a series of dams that had been constructed for electricity, as well as a deliberate strategy by Saddam Hussein to drain the wetlands and punish the region’s Marsh Arabs for rebelling.
The ozone layer thins — but then starts healing
Sometimes it’s possible to stop an environmental catastrophe before it’s too late. Back in the 1970s, scientists first realized that we were rapidly depleting Earth’s stratospheric ozone layer, which protects us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. The culprit? Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) — chemicals that were widely used in refrigerators and air conditioners.