World Ocean Day 2021: This is how climate change may alter 10 of the world's natural wonders

Dryer climates, stronger storms and rising sea levels could destroy the sites.

June 8, 2021, 8:17 AM

Natural wonders around the world may be altered forever -- or even cease to exist -- if global temperatures continue to rise.

Climate change is contributing to rising sea levels and more intense weather events, which will not only leave humans and landscapes vulnerable but also some of the world's treasures as well.

Norway-based outdoor guide company Outforia used research and predictions from a plethora of published scientific papers to illustrate what could happen to 10 beloved landmarks if drastic measures are not soon taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The company chose which landmarks to feature based on sites that mean "a lot to a lot of different people," Carl Borg, founder of Outforia, told ABC News.

The deterioration of any of the landmarks would be a "great loss," both for humans who will no longer be able to experience the wonders and for the ecosystems and species that depend on the sites for survival, Borg said.

Here are the natural wonders that may be destroyed by climate change:

The Alps, mainland Europe

The Alps, the expansive mountain range that stretches across much of mainland Europe, may lose the glaciers and optimal ski conditions it is best known for if temperatures continue to rise.

The warming temperatures are affecting both the composition of the permafrost that holds the rocks together as well as the volume of the snow, according to the European Environmental Agency.

As the ice melts and falls, it creates a hazard for both locals and millions of tourists who visit the Alps annually, Fabrizio Troilo, a geologist for the Italian-based organization Safe Mountain Foundation, told ABC News in 2018 as glaciers atop Mont Blanc, located in the Alps between Italy and France, continued to melt in response to the warming Earth.

Glaciers in the European Alps could lose up to 90% of their ice by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions continue as business as usual, a study published in 2019 in The Cryosphere, part of the European Geosciences Union, found.

Borg, who grew up skiing in the Alps, said the issue is "close" to him.

"It's really one destination that will see severe change," he said.

The North Pole

Sea ice in the Arctic could disappear altogether by 2035 due to warming climates, which could potentially impact both organisms living in the North Pole and humans living thousands of miles away, according to a 2020 study published in Nature Climate Change.

In 2019, the Greenland Ice Sheet lost a record 1 million metric tons per minute, amounting to nearly 600 billion tons, according to a study published in Communications Earth & Environment based off NASA satellite imagery.

Polar sea ice helps to regulate Earth's climate by reflecting the sun's energy back into space, rather than allowing the dark seawater to absorb the radiation and make the global climate even warmer.

In addition, animals such as polar bears, which hunt seals from the ice, depend on it. Polar bears were added to the list of protected species under the Endangered Species Act in 2008 due to the melting of their habitat.

"That's 14 years from now, where the North Pole will only be reachable by boat for the first time in human history," Borg said.

The Everglades, Florida

Rising sea levels could potentially drown the Everglades, the expansive tropical wetlands located in South Florida, in saltwater.

Due to a combination of melting glaciers and ice sheets, as well as thermal expansion of seawater as it warms, sea levels have already risen about 8 to 9 inches since the 19th century, with about a third of that coming in just the last 5 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Global sea levels will likely rise at least another 12 inches by 2100 according to the latest models, "even if greenhouse gas emissions follow a relatively low pathway in coming decades," according to NOAA.

With Florida's flat topography, the state is especially vulnerable to sea level rise, Jayantha Obeysekera, director of the Sea Level Solutions Center, told ABC News. The effects of climate change are already being seen in urban areas such as Miami Beach, where "sunny day" flooding, which takes place in the absence of rain, is already happening during high tides, Obeysekera said.

As the ocean water comes in, the elevation in the Everglades is in danger of collapsing as the ocean water interacts with the natural ecosystem's swamp water, Obeysekera said.

The influx of salt will also not be conducive to maintaining the sensitive ecosystem of the Everglades, which is integral in housing mangroves and other vegetation in the region, Obeysekera said.

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