Climate Change Reshapes World’s AtlasSeptember 11, 2007 By Thomas RenardClimate change has been altering the world’s geography so rapidly that cartographers can hardly keep up. The prestigious Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World was last published in 2003, and in preparation for the release of the 12th edition this year, coastlines, lakes, forests, and cities have had to be redrawn.
The Aral Sea in Central Asia has shrunk by 75 percent in 40 years, while Lake Chad in Africa is only 5 percent of its 1963 size. Furthermore, during certain times of the year, the Rio Grande, Colorado, Yellow, and Tigris rivers fail to reach the sea.
The 12th edition of the atlas contains approximately 20,000 updates. Naturally, not all the updates are consequences of climate change: 3,500 are simply name changes, and not every geographic update is the result of climate change. Also, not all the geographic changes occurred during the last four years—some happened earlier, but are only now being noticed by mapmakers, who are becoming increasingly aware of climate change-related geographical changes.
Some changes were previously unknown because they were happening in isolated parts of the world. In India, for instance, official records list 102 islands in the Sunderbans, where the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal. Those islands are inhabited by 1.8 million people. However, after a six-year study, scientists have been able to map only 100 islands, finding that the other two had been swallowed up by the sea, said Sugata Hazra, director of Calcutta’s School of Oceanography Studies at Jadavpur University. Scientists estimate that the submersion of the two islands rendered approximately 10,000 people homeless.
Rising sea levels—which threaten to submerge some 12 additional islands in the Sunderbans—are sometimes perceptible to the human eye. In Bangladesh, many islands disappear each year, forcing populations to migrate from island to island and to live in extremely precarious conditions. As Shahidul Mullah, who lives with his family on a small island in Bangladesh, told Spiegel Online, “When I moved here, we still had three fields in front of the house. Now there are only two. I’m afraid the water will take another piece away from me this year.”
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