Wildfires scorch Argentina’s Pampas region
Starting in mid-December 2016, roughly two dozen wildfires consumed about 2.5 million acres in the Pampas region of Argentina. Likely caused by thunderstorms following a stretch of severe drought, the first fires started southwest of the city of Bahía Blanca, as shown by small red burn scars in the Dec. 22 image (left), which cover an area of about 100,000 acres. The fires persisted despite rain at the end of December. On January 7, 2017, the Landsat 8 satellite’s Operational Land Imager (OLI) captured dramatic imagery of larger red burn scars across Argentina’s La Pampa and Rio Negro provinces.
Arctic sea-ice coverage hits record low
The area of the Arctic Ocean covered in ice increases during the winter and then shrinks during the summer, usually reaching the year’s low point in September. The minimum coverage for 2012 set a record low since at least 1979, when the first reliable satellite measurements began. These images compare the 1984 minimum, which was roughly equal to the average minimum extent for 1979–2000, with that of 2012, when the minimum was about half that. The 2013 minimum was larger, but continued the long-term downward trend of about 12 percent sea-ice loss per decade since the late 1970s, a decline that accelerated after 2007. The 2016 minimum was tied for the second-lowest on record. “At the rate we’re observing this decline,” said NASA scientist Joey Comiso, “it’s very likely that the Arctic’s summer sea ice will completely disappear within this century.”
Lithium mining in Chile’s Atacama Desert
Lithium is a key ingredient in many rechargeable batteries and Chile’s Atacama Desert contains the world’s largest deposit of lithium that is economically practical to recover. Miners retrieve it by pumping lithium-rich brine from underground to evaporation ponds on the surface, where the lithium salts dry out. These images show the increase in evaporation ponds from 1991 to 2018. The lighter the shade of blue, the greater the concentration of lithium salts in the pond.
Greenland’s Tracy and Heilprin glaciers melt
Tracy (upper) and Heilprin (lower) are the two largest glaciers that drain into Inglefield Bredning, a fjord on Greenland’s northwestern coast. They receded at similar rates in the 1980s and 1990s, about 125 feet (38 meters) and 118 feet (36 meters) per year, respectively. But between 2000 and 2014, Tracy’s loss rate zoomed to about 1,194 feet (364 meters) per year, more than three times as fast as Heilprin’s 358 feet (109 meters) per year. The likely reason for the difference is that Tracy flows into a much deeper channel of seawater, making it more vulnerable to melting from below as the seawater warms.
Flooding in Somalia
Somalia, in Eastern Africa, suffered devastating flooding in April and May 2018 as heavy rains overflowed the Shebelle and Jubba rivers. The flooding affected more than 695,000 people, according to the World Health Organization, including nearly 215,000 people who were displaced. These images show a section of the Shebelle River in normal times and during the flood. The water disaster follows a drought that left more than six million people in need of humanitarian assistance in 2017.