Shifting Geographies

World Atlas Charts Big Changes

Cartographers of the 12th edition of the Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World, originally published in 1895, have had to redraw coastlines and reclassify land types because of the effects of global warming. Since the last atlas was published in 2003, sea levels are up in some places, down in others, while ice caps have shrunk and key lakes have nearly disappeared.

“We can literally see environmental disasters unfolding before our eyes,” says Mick Ashworth, editor-in-chief. The main culprits, he reports, are climate change and ill-conceived irrigation projects.

The Aral Sea, in Central Asia, for example, was 75 percent smaller in 2007 than in 1967, Lake Chad, in Africa, is down 95 percent since 1963 and the Dead Sea is 25 meters lower than it was 50 years ago. Sections of the Rio Grande, Yellow, Colorado and Tigris rivers now dry out each summer and sometimes fail to reach the sea.

Some good news exists. Thirteen percent of the world’s land surface is now within some 107,000 designated protected areas worldwide. A new dam is mitigating the Aral Sea situation. Iraq is re-flooding large areas of Mesopotamian marshlands that had been drained. It’s a modest start.

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