Drought, forest fires, and rapidly declining oceans; floods, pollution, and mass wildlife mortality: 2015 had it all, as the global phase transitions to unfavorable biogeochemical states accelerated. This year’s photos showed oceans on their way to a euxinic Canfield state, as toxic algae blooms and dead zones appeared globally. And there were lots of photos showing megafires converting forests to savannah, releasing huge quantities of carbon to warm the atmosphere further.
There were many mass die-offs of wildlife in 2015, from both poaching and unexplained causes. The annihilation of elephants in Africa continued unabated, and the water along most of the North America West Coast experienced an enormous toxic algae bloom. Add in the collapse of forage fisheries in the Pacific, and marine mammals died in extraordinary numbers, from California to Alaska.
It’s too early to know if humans have pushed Earth’s biogeochemical cycles past irreversible thermodynamic thresholds, but photos from 2015 show the kinds of effects that we would expect to see if we have.
Scroll down for more of the year’s doomiest images, and check out Desdemona’s doomiest posts of previous years:
- 2015 doomiest graphs and stories
- 2014 doomiest graphs, images, and stories
- 2013 doomiest graphs, images, and stories
- 2012 doomiest graphs, images, and stories
- 2011 doomiest graphs, images, and stories
- 2010 doomiest graphs, images, and stories
By Stephen Messenger
6 January 2015
(The Dodo) – In a touching show of solidarity amidst so much devastation, a wild koala stranded by wildfires in South Australia was captured on film accepting help from a passerby — offering proof that a wellspring of hope can emerge from even the simplest of gestures, and a few lifesaving sips from a stranger's canteen.
Fires have burned through nearly 30,000 acres of bushland in the hills around Adelaide, claiming dozens of homes and displacing countless creatures. To make matters worse, summer temperatures in recent days have soared to around 100ºF, toughening the battle for firefighters trying beat back the blaze.
But while the human toll continues to climb, everyday folks, such as Colin Phil Cook, are doing their part to help ease the impact for the victims — like this parched koala.
"A scorching hot Summers morning and a heat stricken Koala not getting enough moisture from the drying Gum leaves. Many die throughout Summer here in Sth. Australia," writes Cook on YouTube. "I came across this little chap in a distressed state so I offered a helping hand from my water bottle and he drank … eagerly without hesitation."
Sadly, if past wildfires in Australia are any indicator, this blaze could result in millions of animals lost.
2 February 2015 (YouTube) – Late January 2015: Mother Koala and Baby in a bluegum plantation near Bessiebelle in South West Victoria. The plantation is owned by Australian Bluegum Plantations. The Contractors are C3 Australia. The plantation is certified by Forest Stewardship Council. Hundreds of koalas are reported to be living in plantations in the local area. How many more will be injured or killed?
By Aislinn Laing
19 July 2015
Seronera, Serengeti National Park (The Telegraph) – As Howard Frederick flew in a Cessna low over the scrubland of Tanzania’s Selous game reserve, it was the complete absence of elephants rather than the piles of scattered bones he saw that chilled him most.
The team conducting the aerial wildlife counts of Tanzania in 2013 and 2014 knew poaching was becoming a major problem, but nothing could have prepared them for what they uncovered.
Tanzania had lost two-thirds of its once mighty elephant population in just four years, as demand from China for their ivory tusks sent a highly-organised army of rifle and chainsaw-wielding criminals into its game reserves.
“I had never seen anything like that – there were carcasses everywhere, whole family groups on their sides, between three and seven animals, wiped out,” he told The Telegraph.
“Flying over these huge areas and even driving through, you used to see dozens of huge bull elephants.
“There was this incredible sense of life missing from that landscape that’s so defined by these creatures. It’s just hollow.”
Three to four thousand frozen pangolins lie in a pit before being burnt in Medan, Indonesia. This huge seizure was a joint operation between the Indonesian National Police’s criminal investigation division and the Wildlife Conservation Society’s wildlife crimes unit, from a warehouse in Medan, the largest city on the island of Sumatra, on 23 April 2015. A total of 96 live animals were found including five tonnes of frozen pangolins, 77kg of scales with an estimated street value of $1.8m (£1.2m), plus 24 bear paws. Photo: Paul Hilton / WCS
By Emma Howard
3 November 2015
(The Guardian) – More than half of the world’s population of an endangered antelope died within two weeks earlier this year, in a phenomenon that scientists are unable to explain.
At least 150,000 adult saiga antelopes were buried during a fortnight in May, but scientists say the actual figure will be significantly higher as many more carcasses were found but not counted as part of the burials. Calves were not counted, but it is thought that hundreds of thousands died too.
The mass mortality defies understanding of how biological systems normally behave, scientists have said. They believe the deaths occurred too quickly to be attributed to a transmissible disease.
21 October 2015 (The Siberian Times) – Border guards seize 14 birds, as FSB lead search for criminals behind cruelty.
The tethered peregrine falcons were hidden in two bags on a freight train bound from Russia to Kazakhstan, said border guards in Altai region. Shocking pictures show how the birds - the fastest flyers in the world - were kept after being seized at the Lokot crossing in Rubtsovsk.
The falcons, listed as endangered in the Russian Red Book, were confiscated and handed to the investigation department of the Altai customs. In a state of anabiosis - or temporary suspended animation - they survived their ordeal and are now in 'rehab' before being returned to the wild.
Mikhail Mikhailov, spokesman for the Border Guard Department of the FSB, said: “We believe that the offenders tried to smuggle the birds initially to Kazakhstan in order to sell them later to Arab sheikhs, who use them in falconry.”
15 January 2015 (EPA) – A message in graffiti which reads 'Welcome to the Cantareira desert' is written on a car which was once submerged in water, at the Atibainha dam, part of the Cantareira System, which shows lowest levels of water, in Nazare Paulista city, 90km away from Sao Paulo, Brazil, 15 January 2015. The drought in the region is the worst in 80 years, according to reports, with the region only receiving a third of the usual rainfall during the wet season from December to February. Photo: Sebastiao Moreira / EPA / Corbis
By Mídia NINJA and Laura Capriglione
27 February 2015
(NINJA) – The Iguatemi Mall, on Faria Lima Avenue, did not seem to welcome the crowd. Neither did the Rolls Royce store, on Cidade Jardim Avenue.
These sacred luxury consumer temples (where the water tanks are always full), lowered their doors before the march that brought together 15 thousand men, women and children - a significant part dressing in MTST (Workers Homeless Movement) t-shirts - in addition to other left-wing organizations protesting on Thursday (26 February 2015) against the water crisis in São Paulo.
Francisca has no water tank. When Sabesp (Sao Paulo’s water management company) turns off the supply, as it has every day between 1pm and 7 am recently, she is completely without water. The unified protest was designed to hold the the government of São Paulo and Sabesp responsible for the crisis, and to ask for measures to reduce the impact of the crisis on the poorest population (which has been the most affected by the water rationing, despite official denials). Activists also demand transparency and increasing access to information about the real situation of the reservoirs, and oppose to the state proposal of increasing water supply fares (scheduled to come into effect in April), that is considered a perverse measure, that privileges the biggest and wealthier water consumers, while leaving the poor unassisted.
"I pay … but I shouldn’t … Because water is not a commodity" was one of the slogans yelled by the marching crowd, which also included a water truck as a “parade float”, carefully escorted by heavily armed military police officers. "That's what will happen with the deepening crisis. Police will ‘guard’ the water for those who can pay for it, while we die of thirst. We are here to show that we will not accept it."
By Matt Stevens, Taylor Goldenstein, and Chris Megerian
8 April 2015
SACRAMENTO, California (Los Angeles Times) – In an aggressive push to reduce water usage statewide, California regulators are proposing that the biggest urban water users cut consumption by as much as 35 percent over the next year.
Most communities would be required to cut water use by 20 percent to 25 percent, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Long Beach, Santa Ana, San Jose, and Anaheim.
The targets were released the same day that the board announced dismal water conservation numbers for February. Californians reduced water use just 2.8 percent in February compared to the same month in 2013. It was the smallest decrease since officials began releasing monthly conservation numbers last summer.
Southern Californians actually used more water in February, while most other areas cut back.
"It's a really disturbing number," said State Water Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus, who attributed February's results to warmer weather and the improving economy.
By Nelson D. Schwartz
6 MAY 2015
FRESNO, California – […] A stroll down East Shepherd Avenue reveals sprawling mansions with impossibly green lawns, fringed with koi ponds, Japanese maples, and roses.
Ron and Donna Fena, who have a swimming pool as well as a koi pond in their backyard, say they used only 14,000 gallons last month and are following the guidelines on weekly watering, but they say that’s beside the point.
“People are focusing too much on lawns,” Ms. Fena said. “There is still a lot of water around.”
She complained that half of California’s surface water goes to keeping rivers flowing and other environmental needs, like sustaining fisheries and also preventing endangered species like the delta smelt from becoming extinct.
“I like fish, but I’m not giving up my lawn for some smelt,” Ms. Fena said, only half-joking. “Let those fish die up north. There’s a cycle of life.”
By Natalie Roterman
18 October 2015
(Latin Times) – The colonial Temple of Quechula has once again resurfaced for a second time in the Nezahualcoyotl reservoir due to a drought.
Thanks to a drastic drought in the Grijalva River in Chiapas, Mexico, a mid-16th century church has resurfaced for a second time in the Nezahualcoyotl reservoir. The church or Temple of Santiago or Temple of Quechula, was first abandoned around 1773, and was flooded when the dam was completed in 1966.
By Isabelle Groc
7 January 2015
(National Geographic) – In August of 2014, biologists from the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center Stranding Response Team were notified of an unusual sighting in the Elizabeth River, a busy, industrial tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. A 45-foot-long young female sei whale was spotted swimming up the river, far from the deep waters of the Atlantic where the species, listed as endangered, is normally found.
"She was in the wrong place at the wrong time," says the aquarium's research coordinator Susan Barco.
The whale seemed disoriented. Barco and her colleagues followed it for several days in an attempt to protect it from a fatal collision with a ship. Despite these efforts, the whale was found dead a few days later.
A necropsy revealed the animal had swallowed a shard of rigid, black plastic that lacerated its stomach, preventing it from feeding. The weakened whale also had been struck by a ship and suffered a fractured vertebrae. "It was a very long and painful decline," Barco says.
By Sandra Kinnaman Nordström
28 October 2015
(Facebook) – This week I am travelling around in Brazil and lecturing about Zero Waste, The Good Talents, and the opportunities in switching to a circular economy. With me on this trip I have lots of inspiring people that are experts in their fields. Charles Moore is a famous author and captain, the first to start researching on the plastic in our oceans.
Yesterday, while I was lecturing for the association of supermarkets here in Brazil, Charles was visiting a turtle rescue group. They performed an autopsy on a turtle that had died the night before. Inside they found 70 pieces of plastic and huge ulcers in the turtle’s stomach, caused by problems related to having plastic in its body.
By Richard Gray
7 July 2015
(Daily Mail) – It has been found inside the digestive tracts of turtles, sea birds and whales, but it appears plastic litter in our oceans is also clogging up the insides of the tiny plankton that many larger sea creatures feed on.
For the first time copepods – tiny creatures that feed on algae in the ocean – have been filmed eating grains of plastic while they are feeding.
The video shows microscopic polystyrene beads being drawn towards the creature by its legs and eaten. The beads can be seen accumulating in the creature's body.
Normally copepods feed on certain species of algae using chemical and touch receptors to discriminate what they can eat and discard what they will not.
The video provides growing evidence that the volumes of plastic litter finding its way into the world's oceans is having a profound impact on wildlife and ecosystems.
By Nick Kirkpatrick
23 January 2015
(Washington Post) – Along a seashore in Hong Kong yesterday, a vibrant blue glow was seen emanating from the water. Beautiful photographs show the shore glimmering, with the lights of the city sparkling in the background.
But this idyllic setting is potentially toxic.
The luminescence is an algal bloom created by Noctiluca scintillans, nicknamed “sea sparkle.” When disturbed by currents or waves, the bloom glows. “It looks like algae and can act like algae. But it’s not quite,” wrote Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press. “Noctiluca is a type of single-cell life that eats plankton and is eaten by other species.”
So why is it toxic? Such blooms are caused by farm pollution. “The plankton and Noctiluca become more abundant when nitrogen and phosphorous from farm run-off increase,” Borenstein wrote, “Noctiluca’s role as both prey and predator can eventually magnify the accumulation of algae toxins in the food chain.” […]
Noctiluca scintillans can be lethal to plants and animals. Scientists think the dead zone was created when the species killed off native algae and compromised the fish population. Gwynn Guilford of Quartz wrote: “Few animals can survive ‘dead zones’ of oxygen-poor water. As the scientists discovered, N. scintillans thrives in these conditions…. And once a dead zone sets in, it’s hard for the ocean to recover.”
5 May 2015 (Sea Shepherd Global) – Today, the work continues to get off the Sam Simon the illegal gill nets confiscated in the Southern Ocean during Operation Icefish. Here are a few aerial shots of the ship and onshore crew working. The Sam Simon is quickly going back to a state of normality with the decks appearing again after months buried underneath the 72 km of lines and net.
By Nadia Drake
5 June 2015
(National Geographic) – More than 3,000 starving sea lion pups have washed up on California’s beaches since January—easily 15 times more than in a normal year.
“It’s unprecedented,” says Sarah Wilkin, national marine mammal stranding and emergency response coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
And those are the lucky pups. The situation on California’s Channel Islands, where more than 90 percent of the U.S. sea lion population congregates to breed and nurse young, is even worse than in other parts of the state.
The influx of weak, sickly pups—3,110 as of May 20—has overwhelmed rehabilitation centers for the third year in a row. From San Diego to north of San Francisco, rescuers are busy retrieving pups (sometimes from city streets and oceanside bars), fattening up the ones that can be saved, and releasing them back into the sea [see video]. During the worst month, March, more than 1,000 pups rolled ashore, more than rescuers would normally see in an entire year.
Rare Guadalupe fur seals stranding in record numbers – ‘These stranded animals are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of animals affected by the unusually warm water temperatures we’ve been seeing off the coast’
Brain damage in a California sea lion (left) compared with a healthy brain (right). The unprecedented algae bloom that has indefinitely delayed the Dungeness crab season is causing brain damage in California sea lions. Photo: Marine Mammal Center / KTVU
Children play in a carpet of algae covering a beach in Haiyang, Shandong province, on 28 June 2015. Photo: Reuters
Every summer, the Yellow Sea turns green as a thick carpet of algae covers the beaches of Shangdong Province, eastern China. People living in Qingdao and nearby coastal towns have grown accustomed to their beaches looking more like verdant meadows every July.
By David Mcfadden
10 August 2015
KINGSTON, Jamaica (Associated Press) – The picture-perfect beaches and turquoise waters that people expect on their visits to the Caribbean are increasingly being fouled by mats of decaying seaweed that attract biting sand fleas and smell like rotten eggs.
Clumps of the brownish seaweed known as sargassum have long washed up on Caribbean coastlines, but researchers say the algae blooms have exploded in extent and frequency in recent years. The 2015 seaweed invasion appears to be a bumper crop, with a number of shorelines so severely hit that some tourists have canceled summer trips and lawmakers on Tobago have termed it a "natural disaster."
From the Dominican Republic in the north, to Barbados in the east, and Mexico's Caribbean resorts to the west, officials are authorizing emergency money to fund cleanup efforts and clear stinking mounds of seaweed that in some cases have piled up nearly 10 feet high on beaches, choked scenic coves and cut off moored boats.
"This has been the worst year we've seen so far. We really need to have a regional effort on this because this unsightly seaweed could end up affecting the image of the Caribbean," said Christopher James, chairman of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association.
By Suzanne Goldenberg
27 August 2015
(The Guardian) – The extreme loss of Arctic sea ice due to climate change is forcing thousands of walruses to crowd ashore on a remote barrier island off Alaska, and threatening their survival.
The first reported sighting of animals forced to come ashore in the Chukchi Sea was by a photographer on 23 August 2015, and confirmed by villagers in the remote hamlet of Point Lay late on Thursday, the US Fish and Wildlife Service said.
Such landings, forced by the absence of sea ice on which to rest and feed, put the animals at risk of stampede in the limited space of the barrier island.
The animals are easily spooked by aircraft or onlookers, government scientists warned. Trampling deaths are one of the biggest natural risks.
By Tim Maughan
2 April 2015
(BBC) – From where I'm standing, the city-sized Baogang Steel and Rare Earth complex dominates the horizon, its endless cooling towers and chimneys reaching up into grey, washed-out sky. Between it and me, stretching into the distance, lies an artificial lake filled with a black, barely-liquid, toxic sludge.
Dozens of pipes line the shore, churning out a torrent of thick, black, chemical waste from the refineries that surround the lake. The smell of sulphur and the roar of the pipes invades my senses. It feels like hell on Earth.
Welcome to Baotou, the largest industrial city in Inner Mongolia. I'm here with a group of architects and designers called the Unknown Fields Division, and this is the final stop on a three-week-long journey up the global supply chain, tracing back the route consumer goods take from China to our shops and homes, via container ships and factories.
You may not have heard of Baotou, but the mines and factories here help to keep our modern lives ticking. It is one of the world’s biggest suppliers of “rare earth” minerals. These elements can be found in everything from magnets in wind turbines and electric car motors, to the electronic guts of smartphones and flatscreen TVs. In 2009 China produced 95% of the world's supply of these elements, and it's estimated that the Bayan Obo mines just north of Baotou contain 70% of the world's reserves. But, as we would discover, at what cost?
By Debasish Ghosh
1 October 2015
(The Guardian) – IT professional Debasish Ghosh has been documenting toxic foam in the Indian city’s polluted lake system. The snowy froth, a cocktail of chemicals and sewage, has a pungent odour and causes irritation on contact with the skin.
Bangalore was once known for its interconnected lake systems which provided a reliable source of water.
As the city grew these lakes became polluted by chemicals and sewage, creating a harmful snowy froth, which floats up from the city’s largest lake and spills over into surrounding areas.
Bellandur Lake, in India’s technology capital, now carries huge volumes of snowy froth which blocks the adjacent canals.
Many such lakes in Bangalore becoming polluted with harmful chemicals like nitrates, potassium, and sulphates.
In May, the lake caught fire twice.
By Olga Gertcyck
20 November 2015
(Siberian Times) – Famed for the purest water on the planet, but this 'is no longer true' with 'no drinking' warning in southern part of lake.
One of the wonders of the world, Baikal is Russia's jewel, but it is now facing severe pollution, according to stark new warnings. It's pristine waters are so clear, the guidebooks say, that you can peer 40 metres into the planet's deepest lake, which contains some 20 percent of all unfrozen freshwater on Earth, and more than the North American Great lakes combined.
Worryingly, its famously drinkable water is drinkable no more, say scientists, at least in the southern part of the lake, in an area covering around 30 percent of its area.
It is regarded as unsafe for animals to drink, never mind humans, warned a report this week on UlanMedia, which stated Baikal 'does not meet sanitary and epidemiological requirements'.
By Kathryn Hansen
4 August 2015
(NASA) – On July 28, 2015, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 captured these images of algal blooms around the Great Lakes. The bloom is visible as swirls of green in western Lake Erie (top) and in Lake St. Clair (bottom).
Earlier in July, NOAA scientists predicted that the 2015 season for harmful algal blooms would be severe in western Lake Erie. They suggest that algae growth in western Lake Erie could rival the blooms of 2011. Algae in this basin thrive when there is an abundance of nutrients (many from agricultural runoff) and sunlight, as well as warm water temperatures.
Research confirmed that in 2011, phosphorus from farm runoff combined with favorable weather and lake conditions to produce a bloom three times larger than previously observed. The researchers noted that if land management practices and climate change trends continue, the lake is likely to see more blooms like the 2011 event.
An aerial view shows illegally built slums on the border of the polluted water of Billings reservoir in São Paulo, 12 February 2015. According to local media, the Billings dam supplies 1.6 million people in greater São Paulo, and the state government wants to treat the water to be adequate for human consumption, adding to the complexity of securing a safe water supply during the drought. the bright green color is caused by an algae bloom that is fed by pollution and sewage. Photo: Reuters
By Dom Phillips
15 May 2015
RIO DE JANEIRO (Washington Post) — The site chosen for the finals of next summer’s Olympic sailing races could not be more spectacular. Located at the mouth of Guanabara Bay, at the foot of Rio de Janeiro’s Sugarloaf Mountain, in full view of the crowds on Flamengo Beach, it is one of the most scenic places on the planet.
But there is one not-so-little problem.
“It is dirty,’’ said Brazilian Olympic windsurfer Ricardo Winicki. “It is one of the dirtiest places. And one of the most beautiful.’’
So notoriously grimy are the waters that Brazilian authorities are fighting to defend their selection of the site, which is polluted with raw sewage and garbage that floods into the 147-square-mile bay from open sewers and rain gullies — according to a 2014 report, 1.6 million homes in cities around the bay still lacked sewage collection.
By Tom Phillips in Beijing
7 December 2015
(The Guardian) – Beijing has issued its first pollution red alert as acrid smog enveloped the Chinese capital for the second time this month.
The alert will begin at 7am on Tuesday and should see millions of vehicles forced off the roads, factories and construction sites shut down and schools and nurseries advised to close.
“It is history – this is a precedent set,” said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public an Environmental Affairs in Beijing. “This is extremely important to stop children from being exposed to such a high level of pollution.”
Photo gallery: China disappearing into haze of air pollution – ‘We have reached a point in history where we seriously have to think about how we want to proceed as a species and how we want to treat the world we inhabit’
ABSTRACT: An established rift in the Larsen C Ice Shelf, formerly constrained by a suture zone containing marine ice, grew rapidly during 2014 and is likely in the near future to generate the largest calving event since the 1980s and result in a new minimum area for the ice shelf. Here we investigate the recent development of the rift, quantify the projected calving event and, using a numerical model, assess its likely impact on ice shelf stability. We ﬁnd that the ice front is at risk of becoming unstable when the anticipated calving event occurs.
It seems inevitable that this rift will lead to a major calving event which will remove between 9 and 12% of the ice shelf area and leave the ice front at its most retreated observed position. More signiﬁcantly, our model shows that the remaining ice may be unstable. The Larsen C Ice Shelf may be following the example of its previous neighbour, Larsen B, which collapsed in 2002 following similar events.
Western Washington University student and activist Chiara D’Angelo boarded the Shell Oil Company vessel Arctic Challenger in Bellingham Bay and fastened herself to the vessel’s anchor chain on 22 May 2015, to protest the company’s planned arctic drilling. Photo: KING 5 News
By Macrina Cooper-White
23 February 2015
(The Huffington Post) – Scientists were baffled last July when they discovered three giant holes in the ground in the Yamal Peninsula in northern Siberia.
Now, with the help of satellite imagery, researchers have located four additional craters--and they believe there may be dozens more in the region. That has them calling for an urgent investigation to protect residents living in the area.
"I am sure that there are more craters on Yamal, we just need to search for them … I suppose there could be 20 to 30 craters more," Prof. Vasily Bogoyavlensky, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and deputy director of the Moscow-based Oil and Gas Research Institute, told The Siberian Times. "It is important not to scare people, but to understand that it is a very serious problem and we must research this."
By Michael Muskal
31 August 2015
(Los Angeles Times) – For a time over the weekend, three powerful Category 4 hurricanes churned in the central and eastern Pacific basins at the same time, an event that is believed a meteorological first in the ocean region.
According to Chevy Chevalier, a meteorologist for the Honolulu-based Central Pacific Hurricane Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the region averaged 16.6 named storms a year from 1981 to 2010. The largest number, 28, was recorded in 1992 and the fewest, eight, was in 1977 and 2010.
Many storms brush the Hawaiian islands or cause enough disturbance in the ocean to have an effect, Chevalier said. Only four storms have made landfall in Hawaii since 1949; two caused major damage but none since 1992.
Still, for a time all three were Category 4 storms in the same region. Even three Category 3 storms would be a record, Chevalier said.
“I would say it’s very rare, extremely rare,” he said. “I don’t think it has ever happened before.”
By Lorenzo Brenna
11 September 2015
(LifeGate) – The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) is the planet’s largest carnivore, it can exceed 2.5 metres in length and 800 kg of weight. The bear pictured by Kerstin Langenberger in an island of the Svalbard archipelago, Arctic Ocean, is a pale caricature of the majestic plantigrade.
The picture by wildlife photographer Kerstin Langenberger shows an undernourished and exhausted animal, which unsteadily wanders on a thin layer of ice. The image, with its great expressive power, reminds us our responsibilities by documenting climate change consequences.
Due to an increase in global temperature, arctic ice is melting, literally liquefying polar bears’ habitats, and forcing them to travel long distances, even swimming, in search of food. These conditions force the animals to go through longer and longer periods of fast, and many bears, exhausted by hunger and strain, don’t survive.
By Brian Kahn
14 October 2015
(Climate Central) – This year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest winners were officially announced on Wednesday. All the images are stunning displays of the natural world, but this year's winner also has a climate change tale to tell.
The image, titled "A Tale of Two Foxes," was taken by amateur photographer Dan Gutoski on the tundra of Wapusk National Park located in the far northeast corner of Manitoba. It shows a red fox with the carcass of an Arctic fox it had killed. To capture the photo, Gutoski spent three hours in -22°F weather waiting for the red fox to finally carry the carcass to another location for storage.
The stunning image also shows one of the impacts of climate change. Red foxes are invading the range of Arctic foxes as the temperature warm, putting the two foxes in direct competition for resources. Red foxes are larger and can outcompete Arctic foxes for limited resources. Declining snowpack also makes the Arctic fox's white coat less of an asset when hunting, particularly in fall and spring, while changing plant cover on the tundra is furthering altering prime Arctic fox habitat.
By Christopher Sherman, with additional reporting by Peter Orsi, and E. Eduardo Castillo
23 October 2015
MANZANILLO, Mexico (AP) – Hurricane Patricia headed toward southwestern Mexico Friday as a monster Category 5 storm, the strongest ever in the Western Hemisphere that forecasters said could make a "potentially catastrophic landfall" later in the day.
Residents of a stretch of Mexico's Pacific Coast dotted with resorts and fishing villages on Thursday boarded up homes and bought supplies ahead of Patricia's arrival.
With maximum sustained winds near 200 mph (325 kph), Patricia is the strongest storm ever recorded in the eastern Pacific or in the Atlantic, said Dave Roberts, a hurricane specialist at the U.S. National Hurricane Center.
By Anna Liesowska
16 April 2015
(The Siberian Times) – Local residents near Chita have described the events of the past few days like 'an apocalypse' with smoke covering much of the area. Volunteers and firefighters are continuing to battle the elements on the outskirts of villages in a bid to save both people and houses.
16 April 2015 (The Moscow Times) – President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that the federal government would send at least 5 billion rubles ($100 million) to the southern Siberian republic of Khakasia, ravaged by wildfires in recent weeks.
"I talked with the governor today. … About 2,400 homes need to be rebuilt. This will require money from the federal budget, about 5 or 6 billion rubles," Putin said during his annual call-in show, according to the Interfax news agency.
Dozens of people have died and about a thousand have sought medical attention because of the fires, linked to small agricultural brushfires that grew out of control amid abnormally dry conditions, according to local authorities.
Moscow, 25 June 2015 (Prensa Latina) – The wave of fires in the republic of Buryatia in Siberia, moved about two thousand hectares in the last 24 hours, and already covers 13 thousand square kilometers, confirmed the territorial forestry agency.
At least 29 sources were located in 11 districts and in the outskirts of the regional capital, Ulan-Ude, in the National Park of the Trans-Baikal Fauna, and the Natural Reserve of Lake Baikal, said spokeswoman Alexandra Yegorova.
By Olga Gertcyk
2 September 2015
(The Siberian Times) – […] Nikolai Shmatkov, Director of WWF-Russia's forestry programme, said: 'The rise in frequency and intensity of forest fires is one of the consequences of global climate change. It will only get worse in the future. Forestry needs a set of measures to adapt to changing circumstances which are impossible to be put in place without investment in research and development, and their application.'
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, some 450,000 hectares [1.1 million acres] are ablaze across Russia with the worst-hit areas in Irkutsk region and the Republic of Buryatia - around Lake Baikal - and the Amur region and the Sakha Republic, also known as Yakutia.
'The situation with forest fires around Baikal, world's largest freshwater reservoir, is close to catastrophic,' said the WWF. 'Forests have been burning over the last month and a half, as a result, the lake and its shores are covered with smoke. The fire is particularly fierce in Irkutsk region and Buryatia, both regions account for about a half of all the fires stopped - over 200,000 hectares [494,000 acres].
'At the same time, the territory of forests still burning continues growing. Over the last week, the territories on fire almost doubled. The situation in eastern regions of Russia is quite worrying too. The area covered by fires have increased to 73,000 hectares in Yakutia, and to 33,000 hectares in Amur region.
'Experts say that the economy and environment have been hugely affected by the forest fire. Not only residential areas but also the wildlife are threatened.'
Alexander Bryukhanov, WWF forest coordinator warned that Siberia's famous coniferous forests - notably pine, fir and spruce - are being hit hardest. 'These sorts of trees don't have bark strong enough to protect from fire, and they recover very slowly after fire,' he said. 'Mid-sized mammals, such as fox, lynx, hare, marten and others are the most affected.'
According to Rosleskhoz, the Federal Forestry Agency, wildfires have affected 2 million hectares of forest since the beginning of 'fire' season. But citing environmental researchers and scientists of Forestry Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, WWF suggests 'this figure is too low'. The WWF say 'underestimating the problem may lead to further growth of fires and aggravation of the situation in other Russian regions'.
Svetlana Stankevich, from Irkutsk, said: 'It's a horror! There is nothing to breathe and animals are dying. They walk outside the taiga, to the cities. There hasn't been any rain for almost 3 months … Am so sorry for animals, they are dying…'
By Adam Voiland
18 April 2015
(NASA) – In a reminder of the interconnectedenss of our atmosphere, smoke that originated in Siberia had reached the West Coast of North America when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) captured this image on April 18, 2015. The smoke likely came from wildfires burning in the steppe of southern Russia. Farmers there have an old tradition of burning dried grass in the spring to fertilize the soil for the coming year.
In April 2015, unusually warm temperatures and strong winds turned the tradition into a nightmare. Several fires escaped the control of their handlers and spread rapidly across the dry landscape. According to media reports, escaped fires devastated several villages, killed about two dozen people, and left thousands homeless.
23 August 2015 (The Siberian Times) – These unnerving images show the scale of destruction from wildfires close to Lake Baikal, the jewel of Siberia. The sky is aglow over the Republic of Buryatia from the uncontrolled burning, the latest outbreaks of fires that have been destroying forests around the world's oldest and deepest lake for a number of weeks.
Locals and tourists could only gaze from beaches beside the lake at the impressive but disturbing images from the flames and smoke.
The shocking scenes came amid a warning from a senior politician that wildfires now pose the greatest threat to the lake, on the UNESCO World Heritage List, which contains 20% of the unfrozen freshwater on the planet.
Mikhail Slipenchuk, deputy head of the Russian parliament's committee on natural resources and ecology, said: “Fires near the lake's shores actually kill the water arteries, thus damaging the water balance in the lake”.
Some 36 fires are burning over an area of 77,000 hectares, after a hot summer with a lack of rainfall, it was reported. […]
“It feels like doomsday”, said one eyewitness.
By Lindsay Abrams
22 July 2015
(Salon) – Wildfire season isn’t what it used to be.
In Washington state, a combination of ongoing drought and rapid development made 2014 particularly nightmarish, and this year’s unusually hot conditions are fueling another season of dangerous blazes — more than 300 so far, including one, 3,000-plus acre wildfire that destroyed homes and businesses in central Washington.
That’s no longer out of the ordinary. Washington firefighters are bracing themselves for an onslaught of oxymoronic-sounding “urban wildfires,” NPR reports – basically, brush fires that bump right into cities, threatening entire communities. Officials there say it’s a “growing threat,” one more commonly associated with cities like San Diego — although increasingly, they point out, the weather in Washington state seems to resemble that of southern California.
By Kate Lamb
26 October 2015
(Jakarta) – Raging forest fires across Indonesia are thought to be responsible for up to half a million cases of respiratory infections, with the resultant haze covering parts of Malaysia and Singapore now being described as a “crime against humanity”.
Tens of thousands of hectares of forest have been alight for more than two months as a result of slash and burn – the fastest and quickest way to clear land for new plantations.
Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil and fires are frequently intentionally lit to clear the land with the resulting haze an annual headache.
But this year a prolonged dry season and the impact of El Niño have made the situation far worse, with one estimate that daily emissions from the fires have surpassed the average daily emissions of the entire US economy.
The fires have caused the air to turn a toxic sepia colour in the worst hit areas of Sumatra and Kalimantan, where levels of the Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) have pushed toward 2,000. Anything above 300 is considered hazardous.
Endangered wildlife such as orangutans have also been forced to flee the forests because of the fires.
Six Indonesian provinces have declared a state of emergency.
By Adam Voiland
19 October 2015
(NASA) – Heavy smoke continued to pour from peat fires in Borneo, Indonesia, when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this image on 19 October 2015. Red outlines indicate hot spots where the sensor detected unusually warm surface temperatures associated with fires. Gray smoke hovers over the island and has triggered air quality alerts and health warnings in Indonesia and neighboring countries. Small cumulus clouds are visible along Borneo’s southern coast. The lower image shows a more detailed view of some of the fires.
These fires in Jambi province, seen on 5 September 2015, burned within well-defined rectangular grids, showing that these were agricultural fires intentionally set by growers. According to land-use maps published by Global Forest Watch, the fires are burning within a palm oil plantation. Smoke and Fires in Sumatra
By Joe Cochrane
30 October 2015
JAKARTA (The New York Times) – A disoriented, pregnant orangutan, her treetop home in Indonesian Borneo reduced to charred wood, is rushed to a rehabilitation centre by conservationists, who dodged walls of fire and toxic smoke.
Veterinarians care for 16 abandoned baby orangutans already living at the centre. The babies had developed respiratory infections because of haze from the fire, delaying the conservationists’ continuing attempts to teach them how to live on their own in the wild.
Long-awaited heavy rains this week in the Indonesian regions of Sumatra and Kalimantan appeared to be the beginning of the end of the mass forest fires that have raged since late August, Indonesia’s worst such disaster in at least 20 years.
While plenty has been written about the economic costs of the fires and the human suffering they have caused — hundreds of thousands of people sickened by the haze in Indonesia and Southeast Asia, and a regional price tag that one expert estimated at more than US$14 billion (S$19.6 billion) — so far, scientists and environmentalists can only speculate about the extent of the damage to wildlife, including endangered species like the orangutan. […]
But orangutans are far from the only species suffering. Indonesia’s fauna is among the world’s most diverse, and a broad spectrum of wildlife — including elephants, birds, snakes, and even insects — has been severely affected by the fires and choking haze, scientists say.
This month, Indonesia’s Forestry Ministry announced that more than 4.2 million acres of forest and open land had been destroyed by the fires. Each year, fires are intentionally set to clear land cheaply — for palm oil plantations, for pulp and paper mill operations, and for other agricultural uses — but they grew out of control this year because of prolonged drought and the effects of El Niño, scientists say. […]
Indonesia’s forest fires take toll on wildlife, big and small – ‘This double-punch or triple-punch of drought, fire, and smoke is likely to be much more damaging to the biome than any one of these elements alone’
By Cedar Attanasio
30 March 2015
(Latin Times) – Fourteen are confirmed dead and dozens are still missing following heavy rains in the Chilean Andes that flooded the northern regions of Atacama, Antofagasta, and Coquimbo last week. The rains started on Tuesday March 24th but have since ceased. Rescue workers are racing to evacuate residents that now face blackouts, blocked roads, and contaminated water systems.
By Alex DeMarban
21 May 2015
DEADHORSE (Alaska Dispatch News) – Unprecedented flooding continues to interfere with daily operations on the North Slope oil patch after surging waters wiped away swaths of the Dalton Highway and isolated a section of Deadhorse, the jumping-off point for the sprawling industrial region.
“This is just epic,” said Mike Coffey, commander of the unified incident command, a response team consisting of the state, the North Slope Borough and oil companies. “People who have been here for decades say they’ve never seen anything like it.”
The event was caused by heavy summer rains followed by extensive freezing this winter, trapping the water in place, then a rapid spring warmup that has brought record temperatures to the region.
“It’s kind of a perfect storm for things to go south,” said Coffey.
By Sofia Chaava, Matthew Grimson, and Ian Sherwood
14 June 2015
(NBC News) – Georgia mobilized its special forces on Sunday and warned residents in the capital not to leave their homes after lions, tigers and bears — among other animals — escaped during floods that have claimed at least 11 lives.
Heavy rains and wind hit Tbilisi overnight on Saturday, turning a normally small stream that runs through the hilly city into a surging river. Officials said at least 20 people were injured, while several were missing.
The surging floodwater destroyed enclosures at the zoo, killing some animals and letting loose others.
Georgian Culture Minister Mikheil Giorgadze told NBC News: "The special forces are doing everything to control the situation. We are all mobilized."
It wasn't immediately clear if the eight people were killed from the flooding or animal attacks, The Associated Press reported.
Three zoo workers were killed in the floods, the zoo said. One of them was Guliko Chitadze, a zookeeper who lost an arm in an attack by a tiger last month.
A spokeswoman for the zoo told NBC News that many of the animals were killed in the flooding or by special forces, but it was not known how many remained at large.
By Gideon Mendel
13 November 2015
(The Guardian) – For eight years, Gideon Mendel has travelled the globe, photographing people whose lives have been devastated by floods. Here are his images of a drowning world.
Gideon Mendel’s Drowning World was shortlisted for this year’s Prix Pictet global award in photography and sustainability. It will be at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris until 13 December, and on billboards as part of Artists 4 Paris Climate 2015.