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Effects of Man on the Earth: The View from the Space Shuttle
William R. Muehlberger
From the perspective of the Space Shuttle astronauts, the effects of man on the surface of the Earth can be seen everywhere. The night segments of their orbits show well-lit cities connected by strings of lights, oil field flares, night-fishing fleets, and burning forests being converted to cultivated uses.
Day views show that the cities are always gray relative to their environs. Ship channels, harbor reshaping, roads and cuts on barrier islands, developments on reef chains, waste dumps, and river channel modifications are abundant in coastal regions. Desert regions preserve the scars of man: seismic grids, center-pivot irrigation schemes, age-old camel caravan tracks, and huge reservoirs modify their regions. Water diversions increasingly have impacted not only where the water was used but also downstream lakes that are now shrinking: the Aral Sea and Dead Sea, for example.
Extensive clearing and burning of pristine forests, dust from desertification, and smog from industrialized areas have now made the entire world's lower atmosphere the receptacle of massive amounts of air pollution. Volcanic eruptions contribute their share to the atmosphere, but at unpredictable times and places.
These problems will continue to grow with the increase in the human population of the world, and they must be addressed and solved before we drown in our wastes.
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