World of Change

Earth is constantly changing. Some changes are a natural part of the climate system, such as the seasonal expansion and contraction of the Arctic sea ice pack. The responsibility for other changes, such as the Antarctic ozone hole, falls squarely on humanity’s shoulders. Our World of Change series documents how our planet’s land, oceans, atmosphere, and Sun are changing over time.

Columbia Glacier, Alaska

Columbia Glacier, Alaska:July 29, 1986 Columbia Glacier, Alaska:June 15, 2017
July 29, 1986 June 15, 2017

Since 1980, the volume of this glacier that spills into the Prince William Sound has shrunk by half. Climate change may have nudged the process along, but mechanical forces have played the largest role in the ice loss.

Growing Deltas in Atchafalaya Bay

Growing Deltas in Atchafalaya Bay:1984 Growing Deltas in Atchafalaya Bay:2017
1984 2017

While the sea overtakes much of the delta plain of the Mississippi River, sediment from the Atchafalaya River is building two new deltas to the west.

Coastline Change

Coastline Change:June 12, 1984 Coastline Change:September 11, 2017
June 12, 1984 September 11, 2017

The shoreline of Cape Cod provides a visual case study in the evolution and dynamic motion of barrier islands and spits.

Antarctic Ozone Hole

Antarctic Ozone Hole:September 17, 1979 Antarctic Ozone Hole:October 12, 2017
September 17, 1979 October 12, 2017

In the early 1980s, scientists began to realize that CFCs were creating a thin spot—a hole—in the ozone layer over Antarctica every spring. This series of satellite images shows the ozone hole on the day of its maximum depth each year from 1979 through 2017.

Shrinking Aral Sea

Shrinking Aral Sea:August 19, 2000 Shrinking Aral Sea:August 22, 2017
August 19, 2000 August 22, 2017

A massive irrigation project has devastated the Aral Sea over the past 50 years. These images show the decline of the Southern Aral Sea in the past decade, as well as the first steps of recovery in the Northern Aral Sea.

Water Level in Lake Powell

Water Level in Lake Powell:March 25, 1999 Water Level in Lake Powell:May 5, 2017
March 25, 1999 May 5, 2017

Combined with human demands, a multi-year drought in the Upper Colorado River Basin caused a dramatic drop in the Colorado River’s Lake Powell in the early part of the 2000s. The lake began to recover in the latter part of the decade, but as of 2015, it was still well below capacity.

Recovery at Mt. St. Helens

Recovery at Mt. St. Helens:June 17, 1984 Recovery at Mt. St. Helens:August 8, 2016
June 17, 1984 August 8, 2016

The devastation of the May 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens and the gradual recovery of the surrounding landscape is documented in this series of satellite images from 1979—2016.

Antarctic Sea Ice

Antarctic Sea Ice:September 1999 Antarctic Sea Ice:September 2016
September 1999 September 2016

Because of differences in geography and climate, Antarctica sea ice extent is larger than the Arctic’s in winter and smaller in summer. Since 1979, Antarctica’s sea ice has increased slightly, but year-to-year fluctuations are large.

Arctic Sea Ice

Arctic Sea Ice:March 2000 Arctic Sea Ice:March 2017
March 2000 March 2017

NASA satellites have monitored Arctic sea ice since 1978. Starting in 2002, they observed a sharp decline in sea ice extent.

Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada

Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada:March 26, 2006 Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada:April 3, 2017
March 26, 2006 April 3, 2017

Wet and dry years cause the snow cover to fluctuate, but the overall trend has been downward for nearly a decade.

Sprawling Shanghai

Sprawling Shanghai:April 23, 1984 Sprawling Shanghai:July 20, 2016
April 23, 1984 July 20, 2016

If you could go back in time to the 1980s, you would find a city that is drastically different than today’s Shanghai.

Athabasca Oil Sands

Athabasca Oil Sands:July 23, 1984 Athabasca Oil Sands:July 15, 2016
July 23, 1984 July 15, 2016

The Athabasca Oil Sands are at once a source of oil, of economic growth, and of environmental concern. This series of images shows the growth of surface mines around the Athabasca River from 1984 to the present.

Ice Loss in Glacier National Park

Ice Loss in Glacier National Park:August 17, 1984 Ice Loss in Glacier National Park:August 23, 2015
August 17, 1984 August 23, 2015

Shrinking since at least the early 1900s, the ice cover in Glacier National Park is expected to keep declining until only insignificant lumps remain. These images show changes to the park’s ice and surrounding landscape since 1984.

Mountaintop Mining, West Virginia

Mountaintop Mining, West Virginia:September 17, 1984 Mountaintop Mining, West Virginia:August 22, 2015
September 17, 1984 August 22, 2015

Based on data from the Landsat satellites, these natural-color images document the growth of the Hobet mine in Boone County, West Virginia, as it expands from ridge to ridge.

Development of Orlando, Florida

Development of Orlando, Florida:September 6, 1972 Development of Orlando, Florida:May 17, 2014
September 6, 1972 May 17, 2014

Theme parks and other development has turned Central Florida from swampland to the most visited tourist region of the United States.

Global Temperatures

Global Temperatures:1885 - 1894 Global Temperatures:2005 - 2014
1885 - 1894 2005 - 2014

The world is getting warmer, whatever the cause. According to an analysis by NASA scientists, the average global temperature has increased by about 0.8°Celsius (1.4° Fahrenheit) since 1880. Two-thirds of the warming has occurred since 1975.

Amazon Deforestation

Amazon Deforestation:July 20, 2000 Amazon Deforestation:July 18, 2012
July 20, 2000 July 18, 2012

The state of Rondônia in western Brazil is one of the most deforested parts of the Amazon. This series shows deforestation on the frontier in the northwestern part of the state between 2000 and 2012.

Fire in Etosha National Park

Fire in Etosha National Park:June 5, 2012 Fire in Etosha National Park:June 16, 2012
June 5, 2012 June 16, 2012

Prescribed fires should prevent blazes from raging out of control in one of Namibia’s most prized wildlife preserves.

Green Seasons of Maine

Green Seasons of Maine:April 14, 2008 Green Seasons of Maine:December 18, 2008
April 14, 2008 December 18, 2008

Not many places on Earth have year-round greenery and four distinct seasons. The images in this series show the four seasons of Maine, the most forest-covered state in the U.S.A.

Drought Cycles in Australia

Drought Cycles in Australia:mid-September 2000 Drought Cycles in Australia:mid-September 2011
mid-September 2000 mid-September 2011

Droughts have taken a severe toll on croplands in Southeast Australia during the past decade.

Burn Recovery in Yellowstone

Burn Recovery in Yellowstone:1989 Burn Recovery in Yellowstone:2011
1989 2011

In 1988, wildfires raced through Yellowstone National Park, consuming hundreds of thousands of acres. This series of Landsat images tracks the landscape’s slow recovery through 2011.

Severe Storms

Severe Storms:Damrey, 2000 Severe Storms:Megi, 2010
Damrey, 2000 Megi, 2010

This collection features the strongest hurricane, cyclone, or typhoon (from any ocean) during each of the past 11 years, including storms both infamous and obscure.

Seasons of the Indus River

Seasons of the Indus River:June 6, 2009 Seasons of the Indus River:June 9, 2010
June 6, 2009 June 9, 2010

Fed by glaciers in the Himalayas and Karakorams mountains — and by monsoon rains — the Indus River experiences substantial fluctuations every year. Because the river irrigates 18 million hectares of farmland, the landscape changes along with the river.

Urbanization of Dubai

Urbanization of Dubai:November 11, 2000 Urbanization of Dubai:April 25, 2011
November 11, 2000 April 25, 2011

To expand the possibilities for beachfront tourist development, Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates, undertook a massive engineering project to create hundreds of artificial islands along its Persian Gulf coastline.

Seasons of Lake Tahoe

Seasons of Lake Tahoe:August 27, 2009 Seasons of Lake Tahoe:December 23, 2009
August 27, 2009 December 23, 2009

Perhaps the most familiar change in our changing world is the annual swing of the seasons. This series of images shows the effects of the seasons on the Lake Tahoe region between 2009 and 2010.

Solar Activity

Solar Activity:April 29, 1999 Solar Activity:May 2, 2010
April 29, 1999 May 2, 2010

Images of sunspots and UV brightness document the 11-year cycle of solar magnetic activity. The series spans 1999–2010, capturing the most recent solar maximum and minimum, as well as the emergence of solar cycle 24.

Larsen-B Ice Shelf

Larsen-B Ice Shelf:January 31, 2002 Larsen-B Ice Shelf:April 13, 2002
January 31, 2002 April 13, 2002

In early 2002, scientists monitoring daily satellite images of the Antarctic Peninsula watched in amazement as almost the entire Larsen B Ice Shelf splintered and collapsed in just over one month. They had never witnessed such a large area disintegrate so rapidly.

Mesopotamia Marshes

Mesopotamia Marshes:February 28, 2000 Mesopotamia Marshes:February 8, 2010
February 28, 2000 February 8, 2010

In the years following the Second Gulf War, Iraqi residents began reclaiming the country’s nearly decimated Mesopotamian marshes. This series of images documents the transformation of the fabled landscape between 2000 and 2010.

Yellow River Delta

Yellow River Delta:February 13, 1989 Yellow River Delta:June 20, 2009
February 13, 1989 June 20, 2009

Once free to wander up and down the coast of the North China Plain, the Yellow River Delta has been shaped by levees, canals, and jetties in recent decades.

El Niño, La Niña, and Rainfall

El Niño, La Niña, and Rainfall:Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly, December 1997 El Niño, La Niña, and Rainfall:Rainfall Anomaly, December 1997
Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly, December 1997 Rainfall Anomaly, December 1997

For many people, El Niño and La Niña mean floods or drought, but the events are actually a warming or cooling of the eastern Pacific Ocean that impacts rainfall. These sea surface temperature and rainfall anomaly images show the direct correlation between ocean temperatures and rainfall during El Niño and La Niña events.

Global Biosphere

Global Biosphere:1999 Global Biosphere:2008
1999 2008

Earth would not be the planet that it is without its biosphere, the sum of its life. This series of images illustrates the variations in the average productivity of the global biosphere from 1999 to 2008.