5 Disappearing Natural Wonders

These remarkable sites are in danger of vanishing.

By Aarti Virani

In addition to delivering the four hottest years on record—2015 to 2018—climate change is plundering the earth’s natural treasures. But Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the much-bemoaned poster child for the effects of global warming, isn’t the only landmark facing a wipeout. From a dwindling of Joshua trees in California’s eponymous national park to 70-million-year-old cliffs in Dover, England, eroding at an alarming new pace, here are five fleeting natural marvels to check out before they officially take a bow. (If you go, follow these tips to do so responsibly.)

Ontario Ice Caves

Canada

Courtesy of a fierce wind-and-wave cocktail that whips the northern part of Lake Superior, the shoreline near the Canadian town of Sault Ste. Marie is home to large caverns made of ice. These majestic formations can soar to more than 20 feet tall and are reachable via the Trans-Canada Highway (they’re about an eight-hour drive from Toronto). February has long been considered the best time to go, but that window may be closing, as warmer winters threaten the caves’ existence.

Joshua Tree National Park

California

This cactus-studded playground near Palm Springs has routinely drawn rock climbers and hikers, but its namesake trees—the spiky shrubs are actually a type of yucca—face extinction due to a significant rainfall reduction over the past few years. Scientists predict that by 2100 the gangly plant, practically shorthand for the American desert itself, won’t be able to reproduce because of the drought ravaging much of its home state.

The Dead Sea

Israel and Jordan

One of the world’s saltiest spots—the Dead Sea contains nearly nine times more salinity than the ocean, which is why it’s so easy to float on—is quickly shrinking and sinking, dropping at a staggering rate of three feet per year, according to nonprofit group EcoPeace Middle East. An increasingly hot and dry Middle Eastern climate paired with an overactive mineral-extraction industry—which combs the body of water for beauty-product ingredients—could lead to the Dead Sea drying up entirely by 2050.

Viedma Glacier

Argentina

There are a number of ways to take in this southern hemisphere spectacle, such as strapping on a pair of crampons—special footwear designed for ice climbing—to hike its electric-blue perimeter or taking in the view aboard a boat that weaves through the glacier’s maze of mini icebergs. But go soon: Rising temperatures and plummeting precipitation rates are causing the Patagonian ice field, which accounts for a hefty chunk of the world’s freshwater reserves, to dramatically retreat.

White Cliffs of Dover

England

Britain’s southeastern coastline—immortalized in King Lear, Annie Lennox song lyrics, and countless other cultural tributes—is made up of 350-foot cliffs composed partly of chalk, which accounts for their namesake color. Intense sea storms, linked to balmier water temperatures, are to blame for an accelerated erosion rate. Over the past 150 years the cliffs have crumbled and tumbled into the English Channel a whopping 10 times faster than in the 7,000 prior, stated a 2016 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. For the ultimate view of the cliffs, embark on one of the sea safaris offered by local tour companies.

  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: February 2019