Orbital View: Rising Oceans, Shrinking Glaciers

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Here’s a tranquil view above the Maldives:

A photo posted by TerraServer (@terra_server) on

But the archipelago is also the lowest nation in the world, so it’s under existential threat as sea levels continue to rise worldwide. NPR’s Geoff Brumfiel reported yesterday on a depressing new study:

“Sea level rise in the 20th century was truly extraordinary by historical standards,” says Bob Kopp, an associate professor of Earth and planetary sciences at Rutgers University, and who is lead author on the study, which appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Sea levels rose by roughly 5½ inches in the past hundred years, Kopp says, noting, “That’s faster than any century since at least 800 B.C., since the founding of Rome.” ...

Looking forward, Kopp and his co-authors predict things are going to get worse. The team’s findings suggest sea levels will rise between 1 to 4 feet by 2100.

If that isn’t bleak enough, NASA just posted a GIF illustrating the melting glaciers in Patagonia’s Sierra de Sangra, an icy stratovolcano spanning the border of Chile and Argentina:

From the caption:

The first image shows the glaciers of Sierra de Sangra on January 14, 1986. The second image shows the area on January 14, 2015. Snow and ice are blue in these false-color images, which use different wavelengths to better differentiate areas of ice, rock, and vegetation. … [T]he southeast outlet glacier retreated the most—about 1200 meters, or 25 percent of its length. The north outlet retreated by about 700 meters; the south outlet by 700 meters; and the east outlet by 300 meters.

(See all Orbital Views here)