As ice caps melt and wildfires rage, scientific assertions that climate change is occurring at a rate faster than formerly expected have become manifest in locales around the world. The effects of global warming have put many of the world’s prime travel destinations at risk of suffering serious consequences, with some facing the prospect of vanishing entirely. From Alaska to the Amazon, here are 14 places to visit before they disappear.
This gallery was originally published in September 2016. It has been updated with new information.
The Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Spanning more than 1,400 miles, the Great Barrier Reef, located off the northeast coast of Australia, is the largest coral reef system in the world. Replete with marine life, the reef draws millions of snorkelers and scuba divers each year. But rising ocean temperatures have caused coral bleaching in vast portions—a condition in which the coral turns white and is prone to mass die-offs. Following back-to-back bleaching incidents in 2016 and 2017, scientists report coral mortality rates in the range of 50 percent, meaning half the living corals have died from bleaching.
It’s impossible to walk the streets of Venice without being seduced by its anachronistic charm: the Adriatic Sea coursing through its canals, the romance of a gondolier’s serenade as you float beneath the Bridge of Sighs. In a place so at one with water, locals have come to expect flooding in Piazza San Marco and other parts of the low-lying city—but as ocean levels rise, Venice inches toward more serious inundation. Activists have taken on the challenge, investing in advanced flood gates and other technologies to stymie the impending swells. Artists have also taken a stand; in 2017, Italian artist Lorenzo Quinn created a massive sculpture of hands reaching out of the Grand Canal in an effort to draw attention to the sinking city.
Glacier National Park, Montana
Spread over a million acres in Montana on the U.S.-Canada border, Glacier National Park attracted some 3.3 million visitors in 2017. But as global temperatures rise, this pristine ecosystem, home to hundreds of species of animals and thousands of plants, is rapidly losing one of its main attractions: the very glaciers that give it its name. According to data released in May 2017 by the U.S. Geological Survey and Portland State University, since 1966, a warming climate has significantly reduced the size of 39 different glaciers in the park—the worst of which have seen reductions up to 85 percent. And the shrinkage shows no sign of slowing down, either. As the glaciers melt, entire ecosystems will be altered, and scientists predict there will be little ice left after a couple more decades—and none at all by the end of the century.
The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea is shrinking at a rate of around four feet a year; the body of water has already lost one-third of its surface area since development in the region started earlier this century, and sinkholes are appearing in spots where the water has receded. Construction of dams, storage reservoirs, and pipelines over the years has reduced inflow water levels to just five percent of their original volume, and given that the Dead Sea’s minerals have been heralded as therapeutic, too, extraction on the part of cosmetic companies has also proved detrimental. Add that to the fact that the Middle East’s increasingly hot climate makes it difficult for the lake to replenish itself, and therein lies the problem: Experts estimate that if it continues to disappear at its present rate, the Dead Sea could be completely dry by 2050.
The largest rainforest on earth, the Amazon covers roughly 40 percent of South America. Here, travelers will find scarlet macaws and blue poison dart frogs living side-by-side with jaguars and brown-throated sloths in the wet broadleaf rainforest. Yet despite the Amazon’s size, climate change has made it a fragile habitat. Extreme droughts have left tree species throughout the tropical jungle parched, as a result, they’re vulnerable to large-scale dieback and more susceptible to forest fires. NASA reports that the Amazon’s trees will start to die if the area’s dry season lasts longer than 5-7 months—right now, the dry season clocks in at just a few weeks shy of that threshold.
Yamal Peninsula, Russia
The indigenous Nenets people have seen their reindeer-herding ways in northwest Siberia realigned by climate change, which is already affecting Russia’s far north as the permafrost melts, the weather becomes increasingly unpredictable, and the vital winter season shortens. In the winter of 2013, unusually warm temperatures brought rain to the peninsula, which then froze and covered the pastured in a thick layer of ice; the reindeer couldn’t dig through the ice to find food, resulting in tens of thousands of the animals starving to death. Climate scientists predict that this type of weather will only become more frequent as earth continues to warm—a dangerous premonition for Russia’s reindeer herds.
Clustered in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is made up of a series of atolls—ring-shaped islands formed from coral—and with year-round temperatures that range from 81–84 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s the perfect place to channel your inner beach bum. The Maldives is also the lowest-lying country in the world (sitting an average of only 1.3 meters above sea level), however, and risks vanishing entirely as climbing tides are already displacing locals.
Key West, Florida
A sun-soaked paradise once home to Ernest Hemingway, Key West is known for its pastel-colored buildings, ideal snorkeling conditions, and a relaxed atmosphere. But even before Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc last year, the southernmost city in the U.S. was facing environmental challenges: The Army Corps of Engineers estimates that the sea level in the Florida Keys will rise 15 inches over the next 30-odd years. Continual flooding has pushed Key West to undergo a massive, $1 million effort to elevate roads before they become a permanent underwater attraction.
The Rhône Valley, France
Situated in the south of France, the Rhône Valley is among the most vaunted winemaking regions in the world. It covers a corridor of more than 120 miles in length, and visitors could spend a full week driving from one tasting to the next, admiring the sprawling vineyards surrounded by mountainous backdrops. But as global temperatures rise, making the environment inhospitable for grapevines, many experts predict production will shrivel (we’re talking an 85 percent decrease) and winemakers will be forced to relocate to cooler locales in Northern Europe.
Home to more than 18 million people, Mumbai is one of the world’s most populous cities—and it surges with energy. From the vendors lining the Colaba Causeway to the Victorian Gothic Revival architecture of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, it’s a city that immerses you in its all-consuming spirit. It’s also a city that continues to expand, with recently redacted regulations allowing developers to construct skyscrapers along the shoreline. Unfortunately, such structures could prove a problem, as they represent a bureaucratic tin ear to warnings of sea level rise from climate change, which, without proper preparation, could leave major parts of the city underwater in future decades—a likely outcome, seeing as a mere two-inch rise in water by 2050 would leave the city prone to frequent flooding.
This European mountain range has long served as a Shangri-La for skiers, stretching across eight countries and providing some of the most sought-after slopes in the world. With increasing temperatures, however, significant snowmelt continues to shorten the season for winter sports—in 2017, it was 38 days shorter than it was back in 1960, Time reports. Even more unsettling? Scientists predict that by the end of the century, you’ll have to climb up to the 10,000-foot mark to see snow on the mountains. Many resorts have already begun to compensate by offering spa treatments and outdoor activities like horseback riding or tennis to lure more off-season visitors.
Napa Valley, California
Since the first commercial winery opened there in 1859, Napa has been among the premier stateside destinations for oenophiles, alongside California counterpart Sonoma. Napa County alone is home to more than 1,000 commercial wine producers, from which visitors can sip pinot noir while enjoying views of rolling vineyards set against Mount Saint Helena. Like the Rhone Valley, however, the temperate climate that has long been a boon to Napa winegrowers is undergoing change that has the potential to disrupt the industry.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Climate experts have predicted that Rio de Janeiro will be the South American city most hurt by climate change. Projections show that if temperatures continue to increase, the sea level around Rio will rise up to 32 inches by the year 2100—enough to cover the city’s famous beaches, airport, and even some inland neighborhoods. Aside from flooding concerns, rising waters would also lead to landslides, water shortages, and spreading of diseases. City leaders have partnered with NASA to try and better understand climate change, using data from NASA satellites to figure out ways to better understand and adapt to increasing temperatures.
At more than twice the size of Texas, the vast Alaskan wilderness has much to offer the adventurous outdoor traveler. Whether you choose to kayak the Kenai River or hike Denali National Park, natural wonders are abundant. But with its proximity to the fast-thawing Arctic, Alaska is already experiencing major changes in the form of coastal erosion, sea ice retreat, and permafrost melt. The state’s many ice caps are receding at extraordinary rates, triggering landslides so intense they register on the Richter scale. Another devastating effect of higher temperatures: wildfires. Over the last ten years, fires have destroyed more forest in Alaska than any other decade recorded, and that number is expected to double by 2050.