Google Maps shows glacier retreat

Political leaders more obsessed with short-term gains are hampering the move toward policies that will protect the environment, the WWF has said. (Boris Grdanoski, AP)
Political leaders more obsessed with short-term gains are hampering the move toward policies that will protect the environment, the WWF has said. (Boris Grdanoski, AP)
 Cape Town - A series of images taken over several years has provided startling evidence of the changes in the environment.

The animated images provided by Google Earth, show the retreat of the Columbia glacier from 1984 to 2011. The glacier is on the south coast of Alaska and the images show its dramatic retreat.

The images also show the decline in Lake Urmia near Iran's border with Turkey. The drying of the lake is a blow to efforts to protect the area dedicated as a Unesco Biosphere Reserve.

Users who saw the images expressed their shock on Google+.

"This is very horrible :(," wrote Indra Kusuma about the Columbia Glacier.

"I've been there five times and the retreat in my lifetime is breathtaking," added Paul Bruce.

Sceptics

Not all were convinced, however.

Some expressed their sentiment that climate change science is wrong about the role that humans have played in influencing the climate.

"Now if only Google could go back 4.5 billion years and do a timelapse of how many times glaciers have been formed and melted away without "human destruction" maybe it'll make people realize this happens in cycles. Yes, we may be playing a role but with only what 2000 years of data to go by, we can't say with 100% certainty that this is 100% mans fault... Science has proven time and again this happens in cycles..." wrote Daniel Locke.

While climate scepticism is a popular topic in fringe political groups, the evidence points to irreversible climate change with devastating impacts for poor communities if no action is taken.

"No doubt, Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents to climate variability and change because of multiple stresses and low adaptive capacity. Environmental and climatic stress also raises existing inequalities between rich and poor," Professor Oliver C Ruppel told News24.

While climate sceptics might argue that there have been warming periods in Earth's history, scientific consensus indicates that some warming may have been localised and not as dramatic as claimed.

"We've known for over 20 years that the climate is changing," Professor Inez Fung from the University of California, Berkeley told News24.

Vested interest

She said that some researchers were employed by groups who have a vested interest in ensuring the status quo remained the same.

"The political reality is such that we have groups that have a vested interest in the near term," said Fung.

This echoes the sentiment from Naomi Oreskes, professor of History and Science Studies at the University of California San Diego.

Oreskes, who co-authored Merchants of Doubt with Erik Conway, said that established science is usually conservative in its view, despite the accusation of exaggeration.

"We've heard a lot of noise lately about exaggeration of scientific claims - alarmism; hysteria - but actually, I believe that history shows that scientists have actually been conservative in their estimates and that global warming has begun to unfold faster than scientists thought," said Oreskes.


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