Earth: Planet of Altered States

Natural and human-caused change captured in these extraordinary image sequences covering years and decades of time. Read about the individual sequences on:

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. NASA’s World of Change series documents how our planet’s land, oceans, atmosphere, and Sun are changing over time.

Mt. St. Helens
The devastation of the May 18, 1980, eruption of Mt. St. Helens and the gradual recovery of the surrounding landscape is documented in this series of satellite images from 1979–2009.

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

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.

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 2008.

Southeast Australia
Drought has taken a severe toll on croplands in Southeast Australia during many years this decade.

Colorado River
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 2000 decade. The lake began to recover in the latter part of the decade, but as of May 2010, it was still less than 60 percent of capacity.

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 2008.

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 2008.

Larsen B Ice Shelf
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.

West Virginia
Based on data from NASA’s Landsat 5 satellite, these natural-color (photo-like) images document the growth of the Hobet mine in Boone County, West Virginia, as it expands from ridge to ridge between 1984 to 2009.

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 2009.

Yellow River Delta
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.

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