Analyzing the Human Impact on Geography

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

In this lesson, you're going to learn how humans have impacted and continue to impact geography around the world via deforestation, desertification, and greenhouse gas emission.

Human Impact on Geography

I love nature. I love nothing more than a nice swim in a lake, a climb up a mountain, or a walk among the waterfalls in a forest.

But while my personal activity doesn't impact the geography of a landscape, you better believe that human activity has and continues to impact our planet's geography, the topographical features of the Earth.

This lesson is going to give you several scary concrete examples of this.


Deforestation, the clearing of trees and forests, is one such instance of this. All over the world, forests have been chopped down to build shelters, to provide warmth, and to give someone well-off an extremely expensive table made of very rare wood.

The cost of this has been and remains immense. In the U.S., 90% of the forests that had once covered the continental U.S. have been wiped out.

U.S. virgin forests in 1620 and 1926
US Virgin forests

In the past 50 years alone, 20% of Brazil's rainforest has been eliminated. Other South American countries like Bolivia also face high deforestation. The list goes on and on all over the world.

Deforestation in Bolivia
Deforestation in Bolivia

The consequences of deforestation are varied and all in the end impact us. They include the loss of plants that may have medicinal qualities that can save the lives of countless people. The loss of unique species of animals we'll never have the pleasure of seeing or hearing again. And the loss of entire civilizations, as occurred on Easter Island, to which deforestation was a major contributing factor, if not the major cause.


Desertification, the gradual process by which an area of land becomes more and more like a desert, is another problem humans have created.

A superb example of this is what was once the fourth largest lake in the world, actually called the Aral Sea. For all intents and purposes, it no longer even exists as it once did, all because of human activity. It is now 10% of its former size due to irrigation projects started by the Soviet Union. This has led to most of its natural plant and animal life to die off completely. In its place, guess what has appeared? A desert, now called the Aralkum Desert, which was created by man through the destruction of the lake.

The Aral Sea in 1989 vs 2014
The Aral Sea 1989 vs. 2014

The removal of vegetation through overgrazing by livestock is another major cause of desertification in many areas around the world.

Rising Sea Levels

While desertification helps create dry conditions, humans have at the minimum also contributed to rising sea levels. As we've emitted greenhouse gases into the environment, we've contributed to the rise in temperatures around the world. In turn, rising temperatures have caused ice all over the world, such as mountain glaciers and polar ice sheets, to melt. This, then, has caused the ocean levels to rise.

Global sea levels have risen about 7 inches in the past 100 years. If current trends continue, then by 2099, the sea levels may rise by almost two feet compared to the levels in 1990.

Trend in rising sea levels
Trend in Rising Sea Levels

What impact has this had on geography and people? Well, simply put, islands, coastal communities, and some entire nations are threatened with being flooded or being submerged by the oceans completely.

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