A geography lesson in a hundred years from now

Imagine what a map of the world will look like to school children in a hundred years from now. They will probably not have an atlas or a globe, but a global will be projected in front of them in three dimensions which they and the teacher will be able to manipulate, zoom in and out, check facts and information in whatever detail was necessary.

The teacher will point to various parts of the globe. Starting in the North the children will see a huge blue ocean covering the North Pole area, called the Arctic. Perhaps the teacher will ask the pupils to compare and contrast the geography of the Arctic with the Geography of it a hundred years ago. Then the children will learn that seas and land change their shapes, usually slowly and over eons of time but in the past hundred years the pace of the change has accelerated. In the Atlases of today the Arctic was coloured white for ice, but that white has shrunk rapidly and is still shrinking.

The smallest recorded extent of sea ice in the Arctic was in 2012. There has been a decline in the extent of summer sea ice in the Arctic for many years, although some years vary, taken as a whole Arctic summer sea ice has lessened in extent. In fact it has lessened so much so that the North West Passage, sought by explorers seeking to sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific through Northern waters is now readily available in the summer months of the year.

Not only is the sea ice extent declining, but scientists are also measuring a lessening of the thickness of land ice, especially in the North of Greenland and in the Canadian archipelago islands.  The measurements reveal a smaller decline in the winter ice in the Arctic than expected, in volume as well as extent, which seems to be a feedback of the decline in summer ice.

If these trends continue no doubt one day teachers will explain to their pupils that the Arctic was not always an ocean over which ships could sail, but was once, not so long ago, covered in ice all year round.

There will be other changes in the colours of the globe in a hundred years. There has already in my lifetime been a rapid decrease in the amount of equatorial region which used to be covered dark green to signify tropical forests. Much of it today would be coloured pale green, or covered with black dots to signify human conurbations.

To the north in Africa the extent of yellow, for desert, has increased greatly and is spreading eastwards.

There will be other changes in other places. Perhaps it is beneficial to humanity in the short term that the sea ice reduces to nothing at both poles but desertification is not beneficial to humanity. For most of us these places are out of sight and out of mind.

I understand that times change and change places with them. It has always been thus; it has always been that humans have changed their environment but one day they will change it too much, so that the environment will no longer support humanity and when that happens we humans will have no place to go and all our knowledge and learning will have been in vain.

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