35 Images Just Released by NASA That Prove Climate Change Is Real

Human activity has drastically changed the Earth. Flip through the slides for photos from NASA's new series, "Images of Change."
Wikimedia Commons

Early sea-ice breakup in Beaufort Sea, Arctic

April 13, 2015 - April 15, 2016

"Ice in the Beaufort Sea, off the Arctic Ocean, suffered significant fracturing and breakup by mid-April in 2016, considerably earlier than the late-May period when this usually happens. NASA ice specialists attribute the change to unusually warm air temperatures during the first months of the year and to strong winds caused by a stalled high-pressure system over the area. The thicker, multi-year ice that once covered the region has largely given way to seasonal, first-year ice that is thinner, weaker and more easily broken up by strong winds."

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Landsat Missions Gallery; “Beaufort Sea Ice Experiences Unusually Early Breakup”; U.S. Department of the Interior / USGS and NASA.

Shrinking Aral Sea, central Asia

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. "

NASA’s Earth Observatory

Shrinking glaciers along western Antarctica

February 18, 1975 - March 2, 2015

"A new analysis of satellite data reveals that glaciers along the Bellingshausen Sea coast of western Antarctica have been shrinking for at least four decades. The likely cause is relatively warm ocean water licking at the underside of ice floating near 'grounding lines,' where ice flowing from the continent is connected to the seafloor. In these images, ice loss is most pronounced along the ice stream named for Jane Ferrigno, a U.S. Geological Survey scientist who used satellite data to map Antarctica."

NASA Earth Observatory

Boreal forest wildfire on Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia

July 18, 2015 - June 10, 2016

"A massive wildfire on the Kamchatka Peninsula in far-eastern Russia has consumed nearly 600,000 acres of boreal forest and tundra since late May 2016. Fires appear orange in the 2016 image and smoke looks light blue. The large, brown area is the burn scar. The Siberian Times reported that smoke from the Russian wildfire was “producing exceptional sunsets” in the western United States and Canada. The newspaper attributed the Kamchatka fire and others this spring in eastern Russia partially to an unusually warm, dry winter and faster than normal snowmelt."

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Landsat Missions Gallery; “Large Wildfire Consumes Boreal Forest in Eastern Russia;” U.S. Department of the Interior / USGS and NASA

Exceptionally early ice melt, Greenland

June 10, 2014 - June 15, 2016

"Meltwater streams, rivers and lakes form in the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet every spring or early summer, but melting began exceptionally early in 2016. Melting encourages further melting when ponds of meltwater develop, since they darken the surface and absorb more sunlight than ice does. Surface melt contributes to sea-level rise when the water runs off into the ocean and when it flows through crevasses to the base of a glacier and temporarily speeds up the ice flow."

NASA Earth Observatory

Iran's Lake Urmia changes color

April 23, 2016 - July 18, 2016

"Some combination of algae and bacteria is periodically turning Iran’s Lake Urmia from green to red. The change typically occurs when summer heat and dryness evaporate water, increasing the lake’s saltiness. Data from satellites indicate that the lake has lost about 70 percent of its surface area over the last 14 years."

NASA Earth Observatory

Drying Lake Poopó, Bolivia

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."

NASA Earth Observatory.

Pedersen Glacier melt, Alaska

Summer, mid-1920s to early 1940s - August 10, 2005

"The foreground water in the earlier image is part of a lagoon, adjacent to Aialik Bay, into which Pedersen Glacier was calving icebergs. In the 2005 photograph, most of the lagoon has filled with sediment and supports grasses, shrubs and aquatic plants. The dead trees visible among the grasses are remnants of a forest that was drowned when the coast sank by some 10 feet (3 meters) during the 1964 Alaskan Earthquake. Pedersen Glacier’s terminus has retreated more than a mile (2 kilometers) and stands of trees have grown between the wetland and the glacier. The tributary high above Pedersen Glacier separated from it some time during the third quarter of the 20th century."

U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior. Earlier image is from a postcard by an unknown photographer, courtesy of Kenai Fjords National Park. Later image is a USGS photograph by Bruce F. Molina.

Urban growth, San Antonio, Texas

June 16, 1991 - June 4, 2010

"San Antonio has grown faster during the last two decades than all but three other cities in the U.S., nearly doubling from 790,000 people in 1991 to 1.4 million in 2010. Under state law, which allows the city to direct growth and zoning in much of the surrounding unincorporated land, San Antonio has opposed the creation of other nearby municipalities and has preserved agricultural production areas. A series of military bases and airfields, which ring the larger community, have also contributed to the city's growth."

USGS Landsat Missions Gallery, "San Antonio, Texas 1991-2010," U.S. Department of the Interior / U.S. Geological Survey

Landslide in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska

September 13, 2015 - August 7, 2016

"On June 28, 2016, a 4,000-foot-high mountainside in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve collapsed, dropping rocky debris equivalent to 60 million mid-size SUVs onto nearby Lamplugh Glacier. Seismologists estimated that the material tumbled down the mountain for nearly one minute and then continued to slide along the glacier for another 6 miles. The southeast corner of Alaska, where this event took place, is geologically active and considered a hotspot for such landslides."

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Landsat Missions Gallery; U.S. Department of the Interior / USGS and NASA.

Older, thicker Arctic sea ice declines

September 1984 - September 2016

"The area covered by Arctic sea ice at least four years old has decreased from 718,000 square miles (1,860,000 square kilometers) in September 1984 to 42,000 square miles (110,000 square kilometers) in September 2016. Ice that has built up over the years tends to be thicker and less vulnerable to melting away than newer ice. In these visualizations of data from buoys, weather stations, satellites and computer models, the age of the ice is indicated by shades ranging from blue-gray for the youngest ice to white for the oldest."

NASA Earth Observatory

Flooding on the Ganges River, India

August 10, 2015 - August 21, 2016

"Heavy monsoon rains have caused catastrophic flooding along the Ganges and other rivers in eastern and central India. At least 300 people died and more than six million were affected by the flooding, according to news reports. These images show a stretch of the Ganges near Patna."

NASA’s Earth Observatory

Three Gorges Dam brings power, concerns to central China

September 24, 1993 - August 22, 2016

"China’s Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River became the world’s largest hydroelectric power plant upon its completion in 2012. It has also eased flooding and river navigation and provided water for irrigation. However, construction forced some 1.2 million people to relocate and, according to a 2010 study, triggered about 3,400 earthquakes and numerous landslides from mid-2003 through 2009. Changes in river flow have raised concerns about silt accumulation and biodiversity loss. Important archeological sites and ancient monuments were reportedly inundated as the reservoir filled. Forested areas appear red in these images to represent measurements by infrared sensors."

1993 image: Landsat 5. 2016 image: Landsat 8. Source: U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Landsat Missions Gallery; U.S. Department of the Interior / USGS and NASA.

Shrinking Ellesmere Island ice caps, Canada

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."

NASA Earth Observatory

Urban growth, southwestern Morocco

July 2, 1985 - June 24, 2011

"The Moroccan cities of Agadir, Inezgane and Tikiouine are close to the Atlantic coastline (seen in blue in the images), and stretch into the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. Agadir was nearly destroyed by an earthquake in 1960. Reconstruction has focused on tourism, turning this area into a winter destination. The 1985 image shows the area 25 years into the rebuilding. By 2011, the urban areas reach into the Sahara Desert. Growth has been influenced by the expanding fishing industry and modern commercial ports."

USGS Landsat Missions Gallery, "Urban Growth in Morocco, 1985-2011," U.S. Department of the Interior / U.S. Geological Survey

Melting Qori Kalis glacier, Peru

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."

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

Ice avalanche in Tibet’s Aru Range

June 24, 2016 - July 21, 2016

"The collapse of a glacier tongue on July 17, 2016, sent a huge stream of ice and rock tumbling down a narrow valley in Tibet’s Aru Range. Nine people in the remote village of Dungru were killed along with their herds of 350 sheep and 110 yaks. The ice avalanche, one of the largest ever recorded, left debris as much as 98 feet (30 meters) thick across 4 square miles (10 square kilometers). The reason for the collapse has so far eluded glaciologists."

NASA’s Earth Observatory

Vanishing glaciers in Glacier National Park, Montana

August 17, 1984 - August 23, 2015

"Glacier National Park, in Montana’s portion of the Rocky Mountains, is expected to be virtually glacier-free by around 2030. The roughly 150 glaciers it contained in 1850 dwindled to 83 by 1968 and to 25 today. The area shown here is the central portion of the park. Most of the blue bodies in these false-color images are permanent snow and ice. Glaciers in the Blackfoot-Jackson basin decreased from 21.6 square kilometers (8.3 square miles) in area in 1850 to just 7.4 square kilometers (2.9 square miles) in 1979. The 2015 image also shows burn scars from wildfires."

NASA Earth Observatory

Deforestation near Angangueo, Mexico

April 20 and 21, 1973 - March 21 and April 13, 2000

"These images show a mountainous region of central Mexico near the town of Angangueo. Mexico City lies in the eastern part of each picture. Red areas show fir trees found on only about 40 to 50 thousand acres in Mexico. Monarch butterflies need thick forests of these trees for protection from the elements and predators after the long migration from the eastern U.S. and southern Canada. But many people who live along this area depend on the land for subsistence through farming, grazing and woodcutting, and the forest is being thinned despite the Mexican government having declared a number of reserves here for the monarchs."

Earthshots: Satellite Images of Environmental Change, U.S. Geological Survey.

Urban growth in Manila, Philippines

January 25, 1989 - April 14, 2012

"The Philippine capital of Manila is the most densely populated city in the world, with more than 1.6 million inhabitants in 14.8 square miles (38.5 square kilometers). The greater metro area covers 246 square miles (638 square kilometers) and hosts a population of over 11 million. These satellite images illustrate how much the city has expanded in little more than two decades, bringing significant infrastructure and environmental problems. The Pasig River, which cuts through the urban area, is one of the most polluted rivers in the world."

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Landsat Missions Gallery, "Manila, Philippines," U.S. Department of the Interior / USGS and NASA.

Lake Mead at record low

May 15, 1984 - May 23, 2016

"Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the U.S., has fallen to the lowest level since it began filling in the 1930s, the result of 16 years of drought in the Colorado River Basin. The 1984 image shows the lake nearly full, compared to 37 percent full in the 2016 image. Lake Mead supplies water to 25 million people, including virtually all of Las Vegas and farms, tribes and businesses in Arizona, California, Nevada and northern Mexico. Also see this image pair."

U.S. Geological Survey

Flooding, Sri Lanka

March 31, 2016 - May 18, 2016

"Flooding from the heaviest rains in a quarter century forced 200,000 people out of the low-lying parts of the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo, sent 400,000 fleeing to state-run relief camps and covered entire villages in walls of mud, according to officials in the country’s Disaster Management Center. Per international treaty, Sri Lanka’s government was provided rapid access to Landsat and other satellite data for assessing the extent of damage and helping with disaster response."

U.S. Geological Survey

Light pollution, Milan

2012 - 2015

"These photos of Milan, taken by astronauts onboard the International Space Station, are examples of the effect seen when cities replace their older street lighting with LED lamps. In the 2012 image, the illumination level of central Milan is similar to that of its suburbs. In the 2015 image, taken after the transition to LEDs in the city’s center, the light there is noticeably brighter and bluer, further limiting the ability to see stars from within the city."


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."

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Landsat Missions Gallery "Sampson Flat Fire, Australia," U.S. Department of the Interior / USGS and NASA.

Shrinking Mýrdalsjökull ice cap, Iceland

September 16, 1986 - September 20, 2014

"More than half of Iceland's numerous ice caps and glaciers lie near or directly over volcanoes. Seen here is Mýrdalsjökull, Iceland's fourth largest ice cap, which covers the Katla volcano at the country's southern tip. In the 2014 image, the depressions at the southwest-central part of Mýrdalsjökull are ice cauldrons caused by geothermal heat from below. Along the northern part of the ice cap, ablation has exposed brown bands of ash from past eruptions. But not all of the changes are associated with volcanic activity. Most of the monitored glaciers have been shrinking since the 1990s, including Sólheimajökull (lower left), which has been retreating as much as 50 meters (164 feet) per year. A parking lot near this glacier is moved almost annually to accommodate tourists."

NASA Earth Observatory, using data from the U.S. Geological Survey

Urban growth in Montgomery, Alabama

September 21, 1986 - September 10, 2011

"Montgomery, the capital of Alabama, sits by the Alabama River in the south central portion of the state. Its population has nearly doubled during the past 30 years, from just under 125,000 to more than 200,000, thanks to increased tourism and commercial and industrial development. These images show changes from forest and croplands to urban and industrial areas around Montgomery and Prattville, located across the river on the northern side. The changes have been a major factor in altering regional air quality and the production of crops and lumber."

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Landsat Missions Gallery, "Urban Growth of the Montgomery, Alabama, area," U.S. Department of the Interior / USGS and NASA.

Columbia Glacier melt, Alaska

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."

NASA Earth Observatory, using data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Drought in Lake Powell, Arizona and Utah

March 25, 1999 - May 13, 2014

"Prolonged drought coupled with water withdrawals have caused a dramatic drop in Lake Powell's water level. These images show the northern part of the lake, which is actually a deep, narrow, meandering reservoir that extends from Arizona upstream into southern Utah. The 1999 image shows water levels near full capacity. By May 2014, the lake had dropped to 42 percent of capacity."

NASA's Earth Observatory

Typhoon Nari flood, Cambodia

May 17, 2013 - October 24, 2013

"In October 2013, Typhoon Nari followed heavy seasonal rains to create substantial flooding along the Mekong and Tonlé Sap Rivers in Cambodia. The flood affected more than a half million people, and more than 300,000 hectares (about three-quarters of a million acres) of rice fields are believed to have been destroyed. The capital city of Phnom Penh is just south of the image center."

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Landsat Missions Gallery "Flooding in Cambodia," U.S. Department of the Interior / USGS and NASA.

Coastal change in Sonora, Mexico

August 7, 1993 - July 8, 2011

"These images show changes to the western coastline of Sonora, Mexico due to the construction of shrimp farms over the past two decades. While the shrimp industry has generated profits and jobs, there have been concerns about its effect on the ecosystems of the region, and disputes have arisen about property rights to the communal coastal lands."

USGS Landsat Missions Gallery, "Aquaculture Changes Mexican Shoreline," U.S. Department of the Interior / U.S. Geological Survey.

Twin Cities growth, Minnesota

July 25, 1988 - July 25, 2011

"In the 1950s and 1960s, automobile plants and grain mills dominated the economy of "twin cities" Minneapolis and St. Paul. The population of the greater Twin Cities area, including 334 smaller cities and townships, was approximately 1.5 million. As the local economy transitioned to high-tech, finance and information-technology industries, many people moved to the suburbs for retail jobs and lower living costs. The suburbs grew together and by 2011, the population of the "Greater Twin Cities" had grown to some 3.7 million. Improved transportation facilitated the growth. Planners and commercial analysts use satellite data to plan future transportation options and ways to accommodate the increased demand for services."

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Landsat Missions Gallery "Urban Growth: The Minnesota Twin Cities," U.S. Department of the Interior / USGS and NASA.

Binhai New Area growth, China

July 30, 1992 - April 8, 2012

"The Binhai New Area — once home to salt farms, reed marshes and wasteland — has grown into one of China's key economic hubs. Since development began in the 1990s, it has become the home of numerous aerospace, oil, chemical and other manufacturing industries. Plans for coming years include an international airport. The changes over 20 years can be seen in these images acquired in 1992 and 2012. The Binhai New Area is located on the coast of the Bohai Sea Region southeast of China's capital city, Beijing."

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Landsat Missions Gallery, "Binhai New Area, China," U.S. Department of the Interior / USGS

Agricultural impact in Aimogasta, Argentina

June 18, 1975 - March 15, 2008

"Aimogasta is a regional center of olive production, trade and tourism. Expansion of the agricultural frontier in this region has led to increased wind and water erosion, salinization, and loss of biodiversity. In the 2008 image, cultivated fields that did not exist in 1975 are visible around Aimogasta, Villa Mazán and El Pajonal (seen as green areas with regular geometric patterns)."

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

Owens Lake degradation, California

September 21, 1985 - September 10, 2010

"Owens Lake lies in the Owens Valley between the Sierra Nevada and Inyo Mountains, about 130 miles north of Los Angeles, California. For thousands of years, it was one of the most important stopover sites in the western U.S. for migrating waterfowl and shore birds. However, in the early 20th century, the lower Owens River, which fed the lake, was largely diverted to the Los Angeles aqueduct. Water from springs and artesian wells kept some of the lake alive, but toxic chemicals and dust impinged on the regional environment and disturbed the bird habitat. Beginning in 1999, a plan was put in place to restore the lake region and alleviate the dust build-up, using ponds, native grasses, gravel deposits and limited shallow flooding."

Source: USGS Landsat Missions Gallery, "Owens Lake restoration," U.S. Department of the Interior / U.S. Geological Survey

Irrigation impact in Chihuahua, Mexico

August 17, 1992 - August 3, 2010

"These images illustrate major changes in agricultural practices in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Increased diversion of water from the Luis L. Leon Reservoir for agricultural irrigation has affected vegetation patterns in the northeastern part of Chihuahua and significantly reduced the amount of water reaching the Rio Grande River. Farmers use center pivot irrigation systems (marked by red circles) to grow alfalfa and sorghum for dairy farms and cattle feedlots. The drop in water supplying the Rio Grande seriously threatens wildlife habitat and natural vegetation."

USGS Landsat Missions Gallery, "Irrigation Expansion in Mexico," U.S. Department of the Interior / U.S. Geological Survey

Yesterday, President Donald Trump took official steps to tie the hands of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), instituting a media blackout and barring staff from awarding new contracts or grants. Today, NASA published a collection of over 100 before-and-after photos that show the very real effects of climate change.

We can’t say for sure this is a direct response to the Trump Administration’s actions to deny climate change, but we can’t say it’s a coincidence either. That would be some coincidence.

The series, called “Images of Change,” features photos from all over the world, some taken decades apart and some taken less than a year apart. The collection shows the various ways the Earth has been drastically transformed in recent times: there are photos showing changes in ice, water, urbanization and even the devastation caused by extreme events like hurricanes, landslides, floods and wildfires, which are occurring more often and in more alarming ways than ever before due to climate change.


During his hearing, Trump’s pick for EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, acknowledged that humans contribute to climate change “in some manner” but stated it’s still up for debate and refused to call human activity the cause. NASA, however, is not subtle with what it’s trying to show here—you can even sort photos explicitly tagged “human impact.”

Flip through the slides above to see some of the photos.

We noticed you're using an ad blocker.

We get it: you like to have control of your own internet experience.
But advertising revenue helps support our journalism.

To read our full stories, please turn off your ad blocker.
We'd really appreciate it.

How Do I Whitelist Observer?

How Do I Whitelist Observer?

Below are steps you can take in order to whitelist Observer.com on your browser:

For Adblock:

Click the AdBlock button on your browser and select Don't run on pages on this domain.

For Adblock Plus on Google Chrome:

Click the AdBlock Plus button on your browser and select Enabled on this site.

For Adblock Plus on Firefox:

Click the AdBlock Plus button on your browser and select Disable on Observer.com.

Then Reload the Page