Environmental Laboratory

  • How Has the World’s Surface Changed Over Time?

How Has the World’s Surface Changed Over Time?

Sep 01 2016

With global warming melting the ice caps, the world’s sea level is rising. This means some small islands are at risk of becoming submerged, and the coastal line of several bigger countries is being drowned away. It’s not quite that straightforward though, as land is actually being added elsewhere. Let’s take a look at how the Earth’s surface is evolving…

Measuring changes

Despite the general assumption that our land is being eaten away by the rising sea level, the Earth’s land mass has actually increased in the past 30 years. According to research by Nature Climate Change, the Earth’s surface has gained 115,000 km² of water, but has also gained 173,000 km² of land in the last three decades. Their study is the result of findings from the Deltares Aqua Monitor, which monitors changes in the surface from land to water and vice-versa.

Land to water

Starting with the more concerning trend, some of our land is being eaten away by erosion. Coastal areas are falling victim to rising sea levels, causing them to be disrupted and eventually become fully underwater. Because of the number of ice caps, one area that’s particularly affected is the Tibetan Plateau in Asia. Another contributory factor in the data, which is less alarming, is the construction of reservoirs. Of course, this is a man-made change, as opposed to the natural effects of climate change.

Water to land

The surprisingly high land gain has a number of factors. Firstly, land reclamation. This is the creation of new land on the ocean. Dubai’s artificial islands are an example of this kind of man-made change from water to land. It’s part of the reason that coastal areas have actually gained nearly 34,000 km² of land, while only gaining 20,000 km² water surface.

Drought also contributes to the land mass. Lakes, reservoirs and rivers can be reduced in size or completely dry up over time. Lake Mead is an example of this change. The largest reservoir in the US has shrunk considerably over the last 30 years.

Methods of monitoring

This intriguing kind of analysis is just one way we can measure the effects of global warming – monitoring both droughts and rising sea levels. But actually monitoring the effect of climate change on the weather is hugely important too. Accurately forecasting monsoons, typhoons and drought can minimise the impact and increase the effectiveness of solutions. These essential coping strategies are discussed in ‘Weather Monitoring & Climate Change’.

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