Famous for its 1,200 tropical islands, snow-white beaches, swaying palm trees, and richly colored coral reefs, the Republic of Maldives stretches across more than 600 miles. With 80 percent of the country less than 3.3 feet above sea level, rising ocean levels and a potential increase in the intensity of tropical storms pose a serious threat.
Shrouded in clouds and surrounded by waterfalls, Cherrapunji is one of the wettest places on Earth. Paradoxically, its residents face water shortages, since there is generally no rain for nearly eight months of the year. Rainfall has decreased over the last century, and erosion from deforestation limits the ground’s capacity to store rainwater.
Farmers and cattle breeders at the foot of the Tian Shan mountain range have been dependent on meltwater from Central Asian glaciers for 3,000 years. But in the past 50 years, the glaciers have lost about 36 percent of their mass. With temperatures projected to increase, water may be limited at a time when demand is growing quickly.
Blue waters and white coral reefs are home to some of the last surviving nomadic sea hunters and gatherers in the world. Their very existence is now endangered by changes in ocean movement and rising sea temperatures, which also threaten the entire reef ecosystem.
Indus River, Pakistan
Fed by glaciers on the Himalayan mountains, the Indus runs for 1,900 miles, nourishing temperate forests, plains, and countryside. The melting of the Tibetan glaciers and an increasingly irregular precipitation pattern could create more intense water shortages
Historically, the Bajau people have lived a nomadic seafaring life in this tropical monsoon climate. But traditional life is growing increasingly complicated. Overfishing and other illegal tactics such as blasting and poison-fishing are damaging the coral reefs. Rising sea-surface temperatures and increasing acidification only exacerbate this problem.
The Empty Quarter is the largest continuous sand sea in the world. For centuries, Bedouin communities have survived in this vast wilderness. The vegetation—scattered herbs, shrubs, and weeds—feeds the Bedouins’ livestock, and this sensitive ecosystem is particularly vulnerable to increasing temperatures.
The Russian section of this mountain range is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List because of its diverse plant life, which varies from steppe to mixed forest to alpine vegetation. Temperatures have been rising over the last century and a significant reduction of the permafrost is expected in the coming decades, threatening this unique natural habitat.
The highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest, is known to the Nepalese as Sagarmatha. This high-altitude landscape of snow and rock is home to the snow leopard, musk deer, and red panda. Two thirds of the Himalayan glaciers have retreated significantly, a trend that could lead to rapid expansion of glacial lakes, causing floods and landslides.