Most of the time, the earth beneath our feet seems to last forever. Land, sea, sky… Compared with the human life span, they seem endless. However, the earth sometimes changes rapidly and dramatically. Over the past year, we’ve seen moments like wildfires that destroy ecosystems to earthquakes that change the landscape in an instant that will change the planet forever.
In the 2019 Amazon Basin fire season, the incredible “Fire of Hell” rips apart the largest rainforest on Earth. According to the Brazilian Space Research Institute, the incidence of fires in Brazil and the Amazon in 2019 was 80 percent higher than the previous year. The smoke from the August fires even turned the day in Sao Paulo into a grey night. These fires were caused by humans to clean up the bushes and open up agricultural land, but under dry conditions, the spread of many fires was out of control.
Together with human logging, these fires have accelerated the loss of the Amazon rainforest. Deforestation in Brazil surged 278 percent in July 2019, losing 2,253 square kilometers of vegetation that month alone, according to the Brazilian Space Research Institute.
Arctic sea ice thinning
Another alarming trend in 2019 is the continued decline of Arctic sea ice. According to the Arctic sea ice model, ice-free waters will increasingly appear in high latitudes in the future. This year, this new normal is once again confirmed in the Bering Sea. By April of this year, there was already already no sea ice in the Bering Sea. In the past, sea ice peaked in April and continued to melt until around May.
Meanwhile, researchers found this year that the Arctic’s oldest and thickest sea ice, which usually lasts more than five years, is disappearing at twice the rate of young sea ice. It is estimated that Arctic sea ice may disappear seasonally by 2044. The past year has clearly shown that this change is ongoing.
Deadly landslide in Jayapura, Indonesia
In March, persistent rains turned steep slopes in Indonesia’s Papua region into flowing mud and rubble. Landslides swept through several villages, killing more than 100 people and leaving almost as many missing. According to the Red Cross and Red Crescent Society, the floods have forced thousands of residents to flee their homes. Heavy rainfall fell on the steep slopes of Papua’s one-eyed Giant Mountain, a mountain where much of the vegetation has been cut down to develop agriculture; the resulting floods and landslides have left deep scars on the mountains and contaminated reservoirs that provide drinking water.
Earthquake in Peru
At 2:41 a.m. local time on May 26, an 8.0-magnitude earthquake struck near the Peruvian town of Yurimaguas. The death toll was only one because of the remoteness of the quake, which was deep in the earth’s crust. But the quake also released the equivalent of 6.27 million tons of TNT, permanently altering the landscape. The banks of the Wayaga River collapsed, and landslides ripped through vegetation on hillsides and cracked roads.
The volcano has come back to life.
On the volcanic archipelago between Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula and Japan’s Hokkaido Island, a volcanic island called Leigong Island is located. On June 22 this year, the volcano erupted, creating a mushroom-like ash cloud of up to 13 kilometers.
The remoteness of the volcano on the island means that it has only severely affected air travel, forcing aircraft to turn to avoid volcanic ash clouds. But the day after the eruption, crews on a cruise ship approached the island and filmed the sudden change of the once-sleeping volcano. According to the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanic Activity Program, the island’s hillsides are covered with thick, light ash, and several metres of ash and debris flow from the volcano’s flanks.
Vanishing Seismic Island
Pakistan’s “earthquake island” appeared in 2013, and six years later the mysterious island disappeared again.
The quake island was formed in September 2013 in a 7.7-magnitude earthquake in southwestern Pakistan that killed more than 800 people. As the Arabian and Eurasian plates are pushed together, hot mud buried underground flows to the surface with rocks and boulders. This resulted in an island with a prominent surface of about 20 metres, which is measured to be about 90 metres long and 40 metres wide. Locals name the island Zalzala Koh, which means “earthquake mountain” in Urdu.
By this year, the earthquake island’s sediments were almost wiped out by erosion. Researchers at NASA say this short-lived life cycle is common for islands formed by “mud volcanoes.” Mud volcanoes are volcanoes formed by deep mud and rock ejecting from cracks in the earth’s crust.
Destroyed Dorian in the Bahamas
On September 1, 2019, the slow-moving Atlantic Category 5 hurricane, Hurricane Dorian, swept through the Bahamas, bringing hours of heavy rain and high winds to the Abaco Islands and the Greater Bahamas, with maximum winds of 295 km/h. Satellite images captured by the Finnish commercial satellite ICEYE SAR Satellite Constellation show that 60 per cent of the Grand Bahama island was underwater on September 3 as the storm moved.
Hurricane Dorian destroyed the island’s human infrastructure and killed dozens of people. The storm also damaged the Bahamas’ natural ecosystem, destroying trees and threatening wildlife that dependons on the island’s ecology. Scientists fear the hurricane could kill the world’s last brown-headed bahamian subspecies, known by sitta pusilla insulari. After Hurricane Matthew hit the island of Grand Bahama in 2016, the number of birds found only on the island of Grand Bahama was reduced to just a few. It’s not clear whether the species escaped, but the terrible storms and flooding of water have undoubtedly damaged their forest habitats, and there are fears that the hurricane is a deadly blow to the rare and endangered species.
When the waters of the Atlantic Ocean were swept by Hurricane Dorian, the Pacific Ocean experienced a significant ocean heat wave. The incident in the Pacific is almost a repeat of The Blob, an unusually warm area of the West Coast of the United States that continued to occur between 2013 and 2016. According to California’s Ocean Heat Wave Tracking System, the 2019 “warm water zone” is almost as wide and warm as last time. The warming affected salmon and other marine life, with ocean surface temperatures 3 degrees Celsius above average.
By definition, these heat waves are temporary events, not permanent increases in ocean temperatures. But scientists are increasingly concerned that these high temperature events will become the new normal. “We know from the ‘warm water zone’ and similar events around the world that unexpected things are becoming more common in the past,” Cisco Werner, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Science Program, said in a news release in September. “
Antarctica Iceberg Breaks
Scientists had predicted that an iceberg in Antarctica would collapse in 2015. By September 26 this year, the 1,636-square-kilometer block of ice had finally broken from the Ameri ice shelf in the eastern Antarctic continent. Scientists report that the ice shelf appears to break up a large iceberg every 60 to 70 years.
Although The coastline of Antarctica has changed, icebergs are already floating in the ocean, so its collapse will not affect sea levels. On the other hand, ice loss in Antarctica is accelerating. Scientists estimate that Antarctica has lost 3 trillion tons of ice in the past 25 years, causing sea levels to rise by 8 mm.
The carbon content in the atmosphere is getting higher and higher.
Perhaps the most profound change the Planet will undergo in 2019 is the continued carbon emissions from humanity to the oceans and atmosphere, reaching record levels this year.
According to a report by the Global Carbon Project, human activity, from agriculture to transportation to industry, emits about 43.1 billion tons of carbon in 2019. That makes 2019 a record year, breaking the previous record for 2018. Excess carbon in the atmosphere will persist for decades, even centuries. As a result, carbon emissions in 2019 will affect the distant future. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), if greenhouse gas emissions do not fall rapidly, atmospheric temperatures are expected to rise by 3 degrees Celsius by 2100 from pre-industrial levels.