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Unspoiled lands disappearing from face of the Earth at an alarming pace, finds Study

The wilderness losses in the past two decades make up a combined area about half the size of South America's vast Amazon region

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FILE - An overview of the Cascade Range inside the North Cascades National Park near Marblemount, Wash., near the Canadian border. A quarter of the planet's land surface remains wilderness, conservationist James Watson says. Source: VOA
  • Only 11.6 million square miles remain worldwide as biologically and ecologically intact regions without notable human disturbance
  • The wilderness losses in the past two decades make up a combined area about half the size of South America’s vast Amazon region
  • “We are running out of time and we are running out of space.” says conservationist James Watson 

Unspoiled lands are disappearing from the face of the Earth at an alarming pace, with about 10 percent of wilderness regions — an area double the size of Alaska — lost in the past two decades amid unrelenting human development, researchers said Thursday.

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South America, which lost 30 percent of its wilderness during that period, and Africa, which lost 14 percent, were the continents hardest hit, they said. The main driver of the global losses was destruction of wilderness for agriculture, logging and mining.

The researchers’ study, published in the journal Current Biology, was the latest to document the impact of human activities on a global scale, affecting Earth’s climate, landscape, oceans, natural resources and wildlife.

The researchers mapped the world’s wilderness areas, excluding Antarctica, and compared the results with a 1993 map that used the same methods.

They found that 11.6 million square miles (30.1 million square kilometers) remain worldwide as wilderness, defined as biologically and ecologically intact regions without notable human disturbance. Since the 1993 estimation, 1.3 million square miles (3.3 million square kilometers) of wilderness disappeared, they determined.

Amazon Manaus Forest. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Amazon Manaus Forest. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

‘Shocking implications’

“This is incredibly sad because we can’t offset or restore these places. Once they are gone, they are gone, and this has shocking implications for biodiversity, for climate change and for the most imperiled biodiversity on the planet,” said conservationist James Watson of the University of Queensland in Australia and the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York.

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The wilderness losses in the past two decades make up a combined area about half the size of South America’s vast Amazon region.

Watson, who led the study, said about a quarter of the planet’s land surface remains wilderness, particularly in central Africa, the Amazon region, northern Australia, the United States, Canada and Russia. The losses in the past two decades were most acute in the Amazon region and central Africa.

“We need to focus on quality of habitat and keeping some places on Earth that are largely untouched by us,” Watson said. “We are running out of time and we are running out of space.” (VOA)

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Rapid Decay Indicated By Giant Cavity In Antarctic Glaciers

The melting rate on this side of the glacier is extremely high.

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A glacier is shown in a photo taken in Half Moon Bay, Antarctica, Feb. 18, 2018.
A glacier is shown in a photo taken in Half Moon Bay, Antarctica, Feb. 18, 2018. VOA

Scientists from NASA have discovered a gigantic cavity, almost 300 metres tall, growing at the bottom of the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica, indicating acceleration in rising global sea levels due to climate change.

The size of the cavity, at Thwaites’ bottom where ocean water could flow in and melt the glacier from below, is big enough to have contained 14 billion tonnes of ice.

Importantly, most of that ice melted over the last three years, the findings showed.

“(The size of) a cavity under a glacier plays an important role in melting,” said lead author Pietro Milillo of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California.

Antarctica, Ice
The Collins glacier on King George Island has retreated in the last 10 years and shows signs of fragility, in the Antarctic, Feb. 2, 2018. VOA

“As more heat and water get under the glacier, it melts faster.”

The cavity, reported in the Science Advances journal, was revealed by ice-penetrating radar in NASA’s Operation IceBridge — an airborne campaign beginning in 2010 that studies connections between the polar regions and the global climate.

Thwaites Glacier is currently responsible for approximately 4 per cent of global sea level rise.

It holds enough ice to raise the world’s oceans a little over 2 feet and backstops neighbouring glaciers that would raise sea levels to an additional 8 feet if all the ice were lost.

Antarctica
Antarctica melting away at alarming rate: Study. Flickr

Thwaites is one of the hardest places to reach on Earth, but it is about to become better known than ever before.

The huge cavity was under the main trunk of the glacier on its western side – the side farther from the West Antarctic Peninsula.

In this region, as the tide rises and falls, the grounding line retreats and advances across a zone of about 3 to 5 km. The glacier has been coming unstuck from a ridge in the bedrock at a steady rate of about 0.6 to 0.8 km a year since 1992.

Also Read: Global Greenhouse Gas Level Continues To Rise, Need For a New Political and Investment Paradigm

Despite this stable rate of grounding-line retreat, the melting rate on this side of the glacier is extremely high.

These results highlighted that ice-ocean interactions were more complex than previously understood. (VOA)