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Environment

Here today, gone in the next century: seven threatened natural wonders

Whether or not you care about the environment, some of the world’s most enchanting places will disappear within just a few generations if we don’t change how we treat our planet. Some of them might even disappear no matter what we do at this point. If that alone doesn’t jolt you, here are some stunning sights from every corner of the world to tug at your heartstrings. Read it and weep; you may be part of the last generation that could actually see these places in real life.


1. The Alps: Parts of Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Slovenia, and Switzerland

Temperatures here have risen twice the global average in the past century, causing many climbing and hiking trails as well as ski resorts to close. Melting ice and rock make trails and snow sports dangerous, but the potential consequences go beyond recreational activities. Water from the Alps runs into several major rivers in Europe and contributes to a stable water supply for the continent, now at risk because of a decrease in glacial melt water.

Flickr | Rainer Schütz

2. Aral Sea: Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan

This lake was once one of the four largest in the world and is arguably the most extreme example on our list—today it is but 10% of its original size. The Aral Sea serves as a fantastic illustration of over-utilization of natural resources. In the 1970s, Soviet engineers undertook massive projects to redirect water from this body to irrigate the surrounding desert region for agriculture. Just five decades of exploitation could cause this five-million-year-old river to soon see its end.

FlickrAnastassiya Bondarenko

3. Congo Basin and Rainforest: Parts of Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo-Kinshasa, Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zambia

Not only does this area contain an immense array of biodiversity, the tropical forests surrounding it produce about two-fifths of the world’s oxygen supply. About a third of these forests have disappeared in the past twenty years, and another third is estimated to disappear in the next twenty. Flooding will likely result because deforested areas cannot retain as much rainfall as before. Flooding entails significant consequences not only for the environment, but also for displaced local peoples dependent on the river.

Flickr | congocuvitar

4. Glacier National Park: Montana, United States

Just one hundred years ago, Montana’s Glacier National Park was estimated to have had over one hundred fifty glaciers. Today, it consists of less than twenty-five, a number that could reach zero in just one or two decades. While temperatures at the bottom of the mountain have risen about two degrees Fahrenheit in the past fifteen years, peak temperatures have risen about two degrees yearly. With ice melting earlier each spring, ecological cycles become out of sync, severely affecting the mountains’ ability to maintain biodiversity.

Flickr | David Grimes

5. Great Barrier Reef: Off the Coast of Queensland, Australia on the Coral Sea

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, perhaps best-known for its role in 2003’s Finding Nemo and as a prime scuba destination, has more than halved in the past thirty years, a geographically unprecedented reduction. Coral reefs, which are extremely sensitive to rises in temperature as well as carbon dioxide levels, must deal with both in the face of climate change due to pollution by boats and people. The loss of the Great Barrier Reef would mean the loss of the largest and most biologically diverse marine ecosystem in the world.

Flickr | Heidi Kaldahl

6. Maldives: Indian Ocean/Arabian Sea

As global temperatures rise, seawater expansion and the melting of ice caps cause sea levels to rise. These conditions have led experts to estimate that the world’s lowest nation, made up of over one thousand islands (about two hundred of which people live on), has only about a hundred years left. The government has even begun to purchase land in other countries where citizens can ultimately relocate if, or perhaps when, the unfortunate need does one day arise.

Flickr marmitako

7. Patagonian Glaciers: Chile

These glaciers are said to be the fastest-melting in the world. In just five years, between 1995 and 2000, the melting rate increased by more than 50%, causing sea levels to rise exponentially and displacing a huge number of species, including humans. Some estimates say that more than a million species could go extinct by 2050, and more than two billion people might need to find a new source of water if conditions do not change for the Patagonian Glaciers.

FlickrMike Boruta


So, if that doesn’t bum you out, I don’t know what does. In just over a century, humans have abused our planet to a perilous degree, and for these wonders and many more there’s no turning back the clock. And these are just some of the most famous parts of the world. At this rate, your backyard is next. When will you start to care?