23 images that show how much we’ve reshaped planet Earth over the last century

An active logging site near Groveland, California.

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An active logging site near Groveland, California.
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Robert Galbraith/Reuters

There are around 7.7 billion people on Earth today. By the year 2100, there could be around 11.2 billion.

Already, the impact we’ve had on Earth is becoming more profound and irreversible.

Nowhere is that transformation more apparent then in before-and-after comparisons of pictures taken in the same spot. Such photos show dying coral reefs, melting glaciers, and retreating forests in ways both striking and damning.

Since today is the 49th annual Earth Day – a global event aimed at increasing worldwide awareness about how humans are changing the planet – we’ve juxtaposed some of these images below.

In some cases, the two photos were taken as much as 50 years apart; in other cases, only a decade or so passed in between.


Melting glaciers are some of the most visually dramatic effects of a warming planet. Here’s Alaska’s Muir Glacier as pictured in August 1941 (left) and August 2004 (right).

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NASA

This pair of images shows the retreat of Alaska’s Pedersen Glacier from 1917 (left) to 2005 (right).

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NASA

Glaciers that aren’t in the Arctic are retreating, too. Here’s Peru’s Qori Kalis Glacier in 1978 (left) and again in 2011 (right).

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NASA

These aerial images document melting ice in Ecuador, from March 1986 (left) to February 2007 (right).

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NASA

Even in the last decade, the changes have been striking. The top photo shows the Rhone Glacier in Switzerland last year, while the bottom shows how much more ice there was in 2009.

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Denis Balibouse/Reuters

Source: Reuters


Glaciologists think that half of Switzerland’s small glaciers — and the streams they feed — will be gone within the next 25 years.

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Rhone glacier at the Furkapass, Switzerland on September 13, 2018 (top) and September 9, 2009 (below).
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Denis Balibouse/Reuters

Source: Reuters


Drastic changes can even happen within months. These composite photos show the melting of the Sólheimajökull Glacier in southern Iceland. Just six months passed between the top and bottom photographs.

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Melting Sólheimajökull Glacier in southern Iceland.
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James Balog/EIS/Chasing Ice

Source: Business Insider


Elsewhere in Switzerland, the Matterhorn mountain in saw a marked drop in snowpack between August 1960 (left) and August 2005 (right).

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NASA

Deforestation, often from logging or to clear room for agriculture, is another highly visible human-driven change. Starting in the 1970s, NASA began using satellite images to document deforestation in national parks around the world. Here’s Mount Elgon National Park in Uganda in 1973 (left), compared with the park in 2005 (right).

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NASA

This pair of images shows how Mabira Forest in Uganda changed over just five years, from 2001 (left) to 2006 (right).

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NASA

Every year, more than 18 million acres of forest disappear worldwide. That’s about 27 soccer fields’ worth every minute. More deforestation is visible in Kenya’s Mau Forest in these photos from January 1973 (left) and December 2009 (right).

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NASA

Source: World Wildlife Fund


A similar contrast is visible in these images of Kenya’s Lake Nakuru National Park, shown here in 1973 (left) and 2000 (right).

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NASA

The Baban Rafi Forest in Niger also shrank from 1976 (left) to 2007 (right).

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NASA

Deforestation is a major issue in South America as well. The Atlantic Forest in Paraguay, seen here, shrank significantly between 1973 (left) and 2008 (right).

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NASA

This area of Rondonia, Brazil was heavily deforested between 1975 (left) and 2009 (right).

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NASA

The loss of Argentina’s Salta Forest is starkly visible in this pair of photos from 1972 (left) and 2009 (right).

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NASA

In the 1980s, NASA also started documented shrinking bodies of water and rivers across the globe. This photo of Great Sand Dunes National Park in the US state of Colorado shows how much of the lakes there disappeared between 1987 (left) and 2011 (right).

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NASA

The same goes for the Elephant Butte Reservoir in the state of New Mexico. Here it is in 1994 (left) and again in 2013 (right).

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NASA

The Aral Sea in Central Asia shrunk drastically between 2000 (left) and 2014 (right).

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NASA

Argentina’s Mar Chiquita Lake has also gotten significantly smaller. The image on the left is from 1998, and the lake is shown in 2011 on the right.

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NASA

Iran’s shrinking Lake Urmia is pictured below in July 2000 (left) and again in the same month in 2013 (right).

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NASA

Some rivers have been shrinking as well — these images compare waterways in Arizona and Utah in March 1999 (left) and May 2014 (right).

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NASA

Coral reefs have been negatively affected, too. Higher ocean temperatures cause corals to expel the algae living in their tissues and turn white — what’s known as coral bleaching. This causes the reef to die, as seen here on the right.

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Singapore Photographer Imran Ahmad/Getty (left) / Rainer von Brandis/Getty (right)