11 GIFs That Show the Effects of Climate Change

Sometimes nothing's as good as just showing people the GIFs.


Some of the effects of climate change are tough to spot. Higher sea levels, when viewed from the shore, are pretty tough to prove. And while scientific evidence showing this year is the hottest ever should be irrefutable, all it takes is a cold snap in the Buffalo for politicians — who, let’s be real, are the recipients of fossil fuel campaign contributions — to cast doubt or start saying “there’s room for debate.” (Can you imagine if they said there was “room for debate” in a statistics class?) Sometimes nothing’s as good as just showing people the visual evidence, as the animated GIFs — the internet’s preferred image type — below do with such damning efficacy.

“The glaciers are melting!” sounds like a cliche, until you see the GIFs.

Melting Ice

Think of glaciers as sunblock for the planet. The white ice reflects the sun’s rays and heat. (We’re not going to hazard and SPF rating.) When all that white ice melts, that means there are less reflective white surfaces bouncing the sun’s warming radiation back into space. The Earth gets warmer, melting more ice. All the melting ice is even moving the North Pole toward England. Watch the ice disappear:

Arctic ice receding over 15 years in National Geograhic atlases.

National Geographic

National Geographic’s 2014 atlas update had a big change: the tiny Arctic ice sheet. It was the biggest update the publication’s made to their maps since the end of the Soviet Union. Now shipping companies and oil drilling companies are eyeing the Arctic for new shipping routes and drilling opportunities.


The Columbia Glacier in Alaska is one of the most dramatic examples of the effect of climate change on glaciers. The southern side of the glacier has receded 12 miles in 30 years, and the remaining parts of the glacier in the Chugach mountains are thinner.

We are getting a bit too close to that 1.5 degrees Celsius line.

Ed Hawkins

Rising Temperatures

This mesmerizing graph above shows the temperature change from 1850 to 2016. The 0.0º Celsius line at the beginning is the pre-industrial baseline, while 2.0º Celsius is the threshold scientists think is the point of no return for the climate.


This map from the Canadian Centre for Climate Modeling and Analysis shows the near-surface temperature change between 1986 and 2005. Summers are getting hotter, and winters are getting colder.

That is way too much dark red.


There are two scenarios here: What happens if Earth’s atmospheric CO2 levels reach 550 or 800 parts per million by 2100? Temperatures skyrocket under both conditions, but 800 ppm looks particularly awful. For reference, we’re currently sitting at about 400 ppm.


Water in California is more precious than ever thanks to a prolonged drought. And it’s not just happening in California. Syria is experiencing its worst drought in 900 years, and a drought in the Southeastern United States has exacerbated wildfires.

Yes, California got some rain and snow in 2016, but that wasn’t enough to fix the drought. The state may be stuck with drought for the foreseeable future.

The Sierra Nevada mountains are looking a little barren these days. 


The Yosemite Conservancy has a number of webcams set up around the national park, and these shots from their High Sierra camera, prominently featuring Half Dome, were all taken around the same time each year from 2011 to 2016. The dramatic change in snow cover shows just how bad California’s drought is, even in the mountains.



Deforestation in the Amazon for agriculture and development is releasing a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere. In fact, deforestation worldwide is responsible for about 15 percent of CO2 emissions.

Before and after Alaska's intense 2015 fire season.

Jeff Schmaltz,LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response

Alaska’s 2015 wildfire season was one of the worst on record for the state. A particularly warm spring dried the ground out earlier than normal, and conditions were perfect for more than five million acres to go up in flames.

If you want more terrifying photos of climate change in action, check out NASA’s Images of Change and Google’s Earth blog.

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