10 Places to Appreciate Before They Vanish

Waterway surrounded by snowy mountains under a blue sky
Photo: Eric E Castro/Wikimedia Commons

Sea levels are predicted to rise by 20 inches or more in the next century, and those encroaching waters may mean the end of small island nations that reside at sea level. Coral reefs, home to about 25 percent of all marine species, are dying around the world as rising ocean temperatures have led to mass coral bleaching events. And melting glaciers are significantly changing the landscape — take, for example, Alaska’s Muir Glacier, which was a mountain of ice in 1941 but now has a melted valley filled with ocean water.

Whether it's rising sea levels, desertification, torrential monsoons, melting glaciers or ocean acidification, climate change is rapidly altering the landscape of our planet. We may be one of the last generations to witness some of the Earth's most cherished places. Here's our list of 10 places to appreciate before they vanish.

1
of 10

Great Barrier Reef

Photo: ProDesign studio/Shutterstock

In 2016, Outside Magazine ran an obituary for the Great Barrier Reef, declaring it dead at 25 million years old. But scientists (and social media) were quick to point out the gorgeous natural wonder is not actually dead. Rising ocean temperatures, water pollution, ocean acidification and cyclones continually pummel the reef and have caused mass coral bleaching. So it's in trouble, yes, but definitely still alive.

The 133,000-square-mile reef system has recently become a "last chance" tourist destination, where visitors travel there to see it before it's gone. What took 8,000 years for nature to create could disappear within our lifetimes.

2
of 10

Glacier National Park

Photo: Trey Ratcliff/flickr

A little more than 100 years ago, there were as many as 150 glaciers strewn throughout Glacier National Park in Montana. Now, only 39 remain, and those glaciers are expected to disappear by 2030, if not earlier. The warming climate has reduced the glaciers' size by as much as 85 percent since 1966, according to data released by the U.S. Geological Survey and Portland State University.

“The park-wide loss of ice can have ecological effects on aquatic species by changing stream water volume, water temperature and run-off timing in the higher elevations of the park,” said lead USGS scientist Dr. Daniel Fagre in a press release.

Many of the plant and animal species that call the park home require cold water, meaning the ecosystem of the park and the tourism industry around it may change dramatically when the glaciers are gone. Some once-populous fish species like the bull trout already are in decline as water temperatures rise. Streams fed by melting snow are reaching their spring highs and summer lows earlier than usual, meaning farmers have less water to irrigate late summer crops. And some small ski areas have shuttered, saying there isn't enough snow to stay open, the New York Times reports.

3
of 10

Venice, Italy

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Acqua alta means "high water" in Italian, and the phrase is what Venetians use to describe high tides that flood the city. In the last century, the frequency of acqua alta has increased from fewer than 10 times a year to more than 60 times a year, leaving many to wonder how much longer Venice can stay above water.

A flood in 1966 left more than three feet of water on the city's streets, and during a severe flood in 2009, some parts of Venice were under four feet of water. That's waist-high!

Rising sea water isn't the only problem Venice faces. In the 20th century, excessive groundwater pumping led the city to "sink" about 2 millimeters a year, though that number has slowed to about 0.08 inches each year, according to a 2012 report.

4
of 10

Saharan Africa

Photo: John Spooner/flickr

The Sahara is the largest non-polar desert in the world, covering 3.6 million square miles or about 8 percent of the world's land area. The continental United States could easily fit inside it. And the desert is growing by about half a mile a month, according to some estimates. At that rate, this desertification could consume all of Northern Africa, altering the environment of a continent.

5
of 10

Maldives

Photo: Shahee Ilyas/Wikimedia Commons

The Republic of Maldives in the Indian Ocean is the lowest-lying country in the world, with a maximum natural ground level of 2.3 meters (7 feet, 7 inches), and an average of only 1.5 meters (4 feet, 11 inches) above sea level. The nation of 1,190 islands is expected to experience a sea level rise of 1.5 feet — and lose 77 percent of its land — by the year 2100. If sea levels were to rise by three feet, the country and its white sand beaches could very well be covered by the ocean by the end of this century, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

6
of 10

Patagonia, Argentina

Photo: Luca Galuzzi /Wikimedia Commons

A land of untouched beauty, South America's Patagonia could be dramatically altered by climate change. Many of its 50 glaciers are steadfastly retreating (and have been for 50 years) because of rising temperatures and declining precipitation, which spells bad news for humans and animals as the Southern Patagonian Icefield is the third-largest reservoir of fresh water in the world.

While this land won't disappear entirely, its landscape may soon be altered beyond recognition if global warming persists.

7
of 10

Bangladesh

Photo: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images

Set in the low-lying Ganges–Brahmaputra River Delta, Bangladesh sits in a perfect storm of climactic conditions. About 50 percent of the area would be flooded if the sea level were to rise by just one meter. Bangladesh also lies at the heart of the monsoon belt. Natural calamities, such as floods, tropical cyclones, tornadoes and tidal bores occur here almost every year — with tragic results.

The largely poor residents of one of the most densely populated areas of the world face an uphill battle. By 2050, rising sea levels will inundate 17 percent of the land and displace about 18 million people, the New York Times reports.

And like Venice, Bangladesh is also sinking. The nation relies almost entirely on groundwater for drinking supplies because the rivers are so polluted. "The resultant pumping causes the land to settle. So as sea levels are rising, Bangladesh’s cities are sinking, increasing the risks of flooding. Poorly constructed seawalls compound the problem," according to the Times.

8
of 10

Alaskan tundra

Photo: Jack French/Wikimedia Commons

Global warming heats up the Arctic twice as fast as the rest of the world, meaning Alaska's beautiful northern tundra could vanish completely if temperatures continue to rise. As the tundra's permafrost melts, it not only drastically alters the ecosystem but also releases additional carbon — ironically hastening global warming.

Newsweek describes the problem: "In great swaths of land across much of Alaska’s vast central and northern interior, the past decade of too-warm winters has unlocked organic material that’s been trapped in icy ground for some 30,000 years. That ground is made of permafrost: many yards of mammoth bones, grasses, soil and other detritus frozen when this land was steppe tundra, ice-cold all year round. Now that permafrost is thawing. The land, losing its ice content, is receding."

9
of 10

South Australia

Photo: edella/Shutterstock

Much like the Sahara in Africa, desertification threatens South Australia. Australia is one of the twelve most biologically diverse nations in the world, and it's also one of the driest continents. Across the region, fresh water supplies are rapidly drying up. Meanwhile, the parched landscape increases the occurrence of wildfires, threatening agriculture, wildlife and hundreds of Australian homes.

10
of 10

The Alps

Photo: Aiguille/Wikimedia Commons

The European Alps sit at a lower altitude than the Rocky Mountains, and their glaciers and ski resorts are more susceptible to the effects of global warming. The famed glaciers are predicted to disappear by 2050; on average, about three percent of the ice is lost each year. The loss, according to National Geographic, would "change the supply of drinking and irrigation water, lead to more falling rocks, and cripple the European ski industry."