New Maps Show How We Changed the Earth’s Surface Over the last 25 Years

We, humans, changing the Earth – mostly (almost always) in a bad way. Just over the last 25 years, we have destroyed 10% of the Earth’s wilderness. Now, a new world map created by the University of Cincinnati geography professor Tomasz Stepinski shows how the Earth’s surface has dramatically changed between 1992 and 2015.

Stepinski created the new world map to better understand the migration patterns across the globe, especially why people leaving Guatemala and Honduras to reach the United States. He used high-resolution satellite images from the European Space Agency and turned them into one of the most detailed looks so far at how people are reshaping the planet. The colorful charts, published on November 15, 2015, on the UC News webpage show the changes in forests, urban areas, agricultural land and wetlands, water gain and loss, and more.

The map packaged up into 9-kilometer by 9-kilometer (5.6-mile by 5.6 mile) squares (81 km2 or 31.36 sq mi). Those squares were then color-coded to produce the maps. Darker shades indicate the highest rate of change in each category.

Changing Earth: Americas
A portion of UC geography professor Tomasz Stepinski’s new world map shows changing landscapes in North and South America. White indicates little or no change. Darker shades indicate the highest rate of change in each category. We can see while forests are gaining some land especially in Canada, there is a huge deforestation in South America, especially in the Amazon basin – but in a lot of other areas as well. Source: Graphic/Tomasz Stepinski/UC

His map shows how Guatemala has seen widespread deforestation, for instance. Stepinsky says “Right now there are caravans of people walking to the United States. Many of them are coming from Guatemala. “And they’ve lost the forest because people use wood for fuel. It’s one part of the refugee crisis.”

He adds: “We already knew about deforestation or wetland loss or increasing urbanization. But now we can see exactly where all of that is happening”.

Changing Earth: Eurasia
A broad view of landscape change across Europe and Asia in UC geography professor Tomasz Stepinski’s new map. Stepinski used a Fuller projection style to be more faithful to actual comparative geographic size. Southeast Asia is the most populous place in the world, and as a result, the situation is really bad there. Source: Graphic/Tomasz Stepinski/UC
Changing Earth: Africa and Oceania
Landscape changes over the past 25 years across Oceania and Africa are evident in UC professor Tomasz Stepinski’s new world map. The Sahara Desert has grown, the maps show, as grassland has turned into the desert because of rising temperatures. Source: Graphic/Tomasz Stepinski/UC

Since 1992, the European Space Agency is capturing satellite images of the Earth to study climate change. The surface cover can dramatically influence the global temperature depending on whether it absorbs or reflects sunlight. Likewise, forest cover absorbs way more carbon dioxide than the urban areas.

“The great achievement for the European Space Agency was to make sure the satellite images were compatible from year to year so you could compare them,” Stepinski says.

He also adds the map shows how finite natural resources are being exploited on a global scale, an at an incredible pace: “What makes this so depressing is that it’s examining a timescale that is shorter than our lifetime”.

Sources

  • “New UC map shows why people flee: Using 24 years of satellite data, the global map helps explain stories such as the Central American migrant caravans” on University of Cincinnati News Webpage
  • “Stunning Maps Show How We’ve Changed The Face of Earth Over The Last 25 Years” on Science Alert

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