Not only did 2018 turn out to be the oceans’ warmest year on record, but scientists realized that oceans are also heating up 40% faster than they’d previously thought. What’s more, research has found that the Antarctic ice sheet is melting nearly six times as fast as it did in the 1980s.
So when a viral photo challenge emerged in which people on social media juxtapose pictures of themselves from 2009 and 2019, some environmentalists seized on the opportunity to highlight Earth’s own “10-year challenge.”
Sites like Reddit and Instagram have exploded with posts calling for greater public awareness about the effects of climate change. While the original challenge is meant to provide a visual representation of the way someone has matured or changed, the climate-change versions convey a more serious message: This is the 10-year challenge we need to focus on.
The real #10yearchallenge? Climate change. According to @IPCC_CH #SR15, we have just over 10 years to #ActOnClimate before we cause irreparable damage to our planet. Take our free course on #ClimateAction and become a part of the solution. Enroll now! https://t.co/puzQgIiUoQ pic.twitter.com/Ujz7kEAnoH
— The SDG Academy (@SDG_Academy) January 14, 2019
Many of the 10-year comparison photos show melting glaciers, one of the most visually dramatic effects of a warming planet.
Melting glaciers mean the North Pole and the South Pole are slowly getting makeovers (and not the good kind). In a worst-case scenario, called a “pulse,” warmer water could cause the glaciers holding back Antarctica’s and Greenland’s ice sheets to collapse. That would send massive quantities of ice into the oceans, potentially leading to rapid sea-level rise around the world.
If a pulse were to happen, the sea level in South Florida could increase by 10 to 30 feet by 2100. But because water, like most things, expands when it warms, sea-level rise is inevitable even if the ice sheets don’t melt — the oceans absorb 93% of the extra heat that greenhouse gases trap in the atmosphere.
It’s one thing to talk about these threats in the abstract. But it’s a different ball game when we see visual evidence.
Glaciologists think that half of Switzerland’s small glaciers — and the streams they feed — will be gone within the next 25 years, according to Reuters.
This pair of images shows the retreat of Alaska’s Pedersen Glacier from 1917 to 2005.