This Is What It Looks Like When Glaciers Melt And The West Burns

This Is What It Looks Like When Glaciers Melt And The West Burns

What if you could peer back in time to see how glaciers melted over generations? Or how a major wildfire scarred the earth in a few days?

Launched in 2010, NASA's "State of Flux" image gallery shows the impacts of climate change, urbanization, natural disasters and other events in both the short and long term.


Between 1941 and 2004, Alaska's Muir Glacier retreated more than seven miles and thinned by more than 875 yards, according to the U.S. Geological Survey's Bruce Molnia.

Before: Muir Glacier, Alaska on August 13, 1941
After: August 31, 2004

Before: McCarty Glacier, Alaska on July 30, 1909
After: August 11, 2004

According to NASA, Bear Glacier retreated by 1300 feet in 140 years after 1809. Between 1950 and the mid-1990s, it retreated another 0.9 miles. By 2010, it had retreated an additional 1.9 miles in about 15 years. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Bear Glacier thinned by about 2.5 feet every year between the early 1950s and the 1990s.

Check out a ground level view of Bear Glacier's retreat here.

Before: Bear Glacier Alaska on May 16, 1989
After: May 26, 2010

Note: The area depicted in the photos above is about 25 miles wide.

NASA and the USGS explain, "Though a relatively small number of people may live near Alaskan glaciers, shrinking ice on that northern land may indicate bigger changes for millions of people living elsewhere because the meltwater from shrinking glaciers flows to the ocean and raises sea level."


Further south in the U.S., higher temperatures and more frequent droughts are fueling the size and intensity of wildfires. Scientists are quick to caution that it's difficult to attribute single episodes directly to climate change, but any extreme weather event must be viewed through the lens of a changing world.

In the 30 years leading up to 2012, the five worst years for wildfires in the U.S. occurred after 2004, according to government data about acres burned. Several states have also seen their worst wildfires on record in the second decade of this century.

For every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit of warming, "the size of the area burned in the Western U.S. could quadruple," explains Climate Central. They note the Western U.S. may see temperatures rise by between 3.6 F and 9 F by the middle of this century, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The Bastrop County Complex Fire, which destroyed more homes than any other fire in Texas history, burned over 34,000 acres and caused two fatalities. The fire began in early September 2011 and was declared controlled on October 10. The fire burned for another month after the second image below was taken.

Before: South-central Texas on August 26, 2011
After: September 11, 2011

The Black Forest Fire near Colorado Springs, Colorado burned for 10 days in June 2013 before it was considered fully contained. It was the most destructive fire in Colorado history, according to NASA, burning over 14,000 acres and leading to two deaths.

Before: Black Forest, Colorado on April 27, 2013
After: June 22, 2013


The Texas Panhandle's Lake Meredith has been shrinking almost continuously for several decades. Water levels have dropped "significantly" in recent years thanks to continuous drought, explains NASA.

Water levels -- which set a record high of 101 feet in April 1973 -- dropped to under 31 feet by 2011. With such little water available, Texas officials limited municipalities' year-round use of Lake Meredith to only 3 months in 2011. The low water level record was broken again in 2012 and 2013.

Before: Lake Meredith, Texas on June 18, 1990
After: June 12, 2011

Following 2012's Great Plains drought -- which was was more intense than the Dust Bowl of the mid-1930s -- a federal report downplayed manmade climate change as a significant cause of one of the nation's worst dry spells.

Other scientists were quick to point out that it was unlikely that the drought had a single cause and stressed the influence of indirect factors like the loss of Arctic sea ice and its effect on the jet stream.

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