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Planet Earth

A World of Vanishing Lakes

Sarah Zielinski, smithsonianmag

From the Dead Sea to a Louisiana lake that was sucked into the Earth, the stories behind the disappearances are varied

A large body of water like a lake would seem to be a permanent fixture of the landscape, but that’s not always the case.

Some lakes naturally come and go from year to year, as the flow of water into and out of them changes throughout the months. For others, though, once they are gone, they are gone forever. Climate change is a worry for some places, such as subarctic lakes that are dependent on snowmelt.

The reasons behind lake disappearances are varied. Here are nine lakes that no longer exist or are in danger of disappearing:

Lake Urmia, Iran

This saltwater lake, located in the northwest corner of Iran, was once that nation’s largest, but it has quickly retreated from its shores. Climate change, wasteful irrigation practices (freshwater is diverted before it reaches the lake) and groundwater depletion account for a large portion of the water loss.

In addition, dams have cut off much of the supply of new water to the lake. “There are just too many people nowadays, and everybody needs to use the water and the electricity the dams generate,” one official, Hamid Ranaghadr, told the New York Times last week.

Only about five percent of the water in the lake remains compared to its volume about 20 years ago, according to figures from local environmental officials.

Lake Waiau, Hawaii

Lake Waiau was never a very big lake. Hawaii’s only alpine lake measured just 6,900 square meters at its maximum and 3 meters in depth. But it was considered sacred to native Hawaiians. According to myth, the lake was bottomless and a portal to the spirit world.

But in early 2010, the lake started to shrink, and by September 2013, the lake was little more than a pond, covering a mere 115 square meters and reaching a depth of less than 30 centimeters. Such a decline is “unprecedented in modern times,” the U.S. Geological Survey reported last year. The cause of the lake’s decline is currently unknown, but drought is among the suspects.

Dead Sea; Israel, the West Bank and Jordan

The Dead Sea is really a lake fed by the Jordan River. There’s no outlet to the ocean, though, so the lake is salty10 times saltier than the north Atlantic and inhospitable to most life other than microbes and human bathers.

The Dead Sea has persisted for thousands of years because the amount of water going into the lake has been more or less equal to the amount that evaporates from it. But as the region’s population has grown, that equation has come unbalanced. Water that once would have flown into the Dead Sea has instead been diverted to supply people’s homes and water-intensive businesses, such as chemical and potash companies. With less than a tenth of the water entering the lake now compared with several decades ago, the Dead Sea’s water level is dropping by about a meter a year.

Scott Lake, Florida

This central Florida lake drained away in just two weeks in June 2006 when a sinkhole opened up. Scientists estimate that 32 tons of wildlife were sucked into the Earth; some fish were left behind to rot on the exposed lake bottom.

Nearby residents considered efforts to plug the hole, but time took care of the problem for them. With the sinkhole now naturally plugged back up with clay and silt, it’s starting to fill with water and gradually the lake is returning. But Florida’s geology makes the state prone to sinkholes, so the lake’s permanence is not guaranteed.

Aral Sea
Between 1989 (left) and 2008 (right), the Aral Sea shrunk considerable. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/Wikimedia

Aral Sea, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan

The Aral Sea was the world’s fourth largest salt lake until it began shrinking in the last quarter of the 20th century. Since that time, ninety percent of the river flow from the Tian Shan Mountains into the lake has been diverted to irrigate rice and cotton fields planted in desert lands. As a result, the lake’s water level quickly began to drop. Fishing in the lake has ceased, and shipping has declined. And the exposed lake bottom has become a source of salt that is carried by winds across a radius of 300 kilometers and pollutes agricultural lands.

Lake Peigneur, Louisiana

Disaster struck this lake on November 20, 1980, when a Texaco oil rig accidentally punctured the roof of a salt mine. The lake—along with the drilling platform, 11 barges and many trees—were quickly sucked below through what was described as a giant whirlpool. “It was like watching a science fiction movie,” Virlie Langlinais told Mother Jones last year. Surprisingly, no one was injured or killed in the incident. Drained of its freshwater, the lake was refilled with salt water from nearby Vermilion Bay, temporarily creating the state’s largest waterfall.

Lake Cachet 2, Chile

This lake, high in the Andes, disappeared overnight on March 31, 2012. But that wasn’t all that unusual for the lake, at least not lately—it’s disappeared and refilled multiple times since 2008. The lake is a glacial lake, dammed in by the Colonia glacier. Climate change has been thinning the glacier, which has allowed a tunnel eight kilometers beneath to repeatedly open and close, draining the lake and letting it refill many times over. Prior to 2008, the lake was relatively stable.

Cachuma Lake, California

This southern California lake, located near Santa Barbara, is a popular recreation spot and a critical source of drinking water for 200,000 people. But the lake is now at just 39.7 percent of capacity. California is in the midst of a devastating drought that’s not expected to end anytime soon, and Cachuma Lake’s future remains in question.

Lake Chad; Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria

Once the world’s sixth largest lake, Lake Chad has lost 90 percent of its area since it began shrinking in the 1960s. Persistent drought, water withdrawals for irrigation and other human uses, and climate variability have worked in concert to drain the lake. “The changes in the lake have contributed to local lack of water, crop failures, livestock deaths, collapsed fisheries, soil salinity, and increasing poverty throughout the region,” according to a 2008 report from the United Nations Environment Programme.

Planet Earth

What is the real cause of explosions and fires around the world in the past few days?

What has caused all these giant explosions and apocalyptic fires in China, North Korea, Lebanon, India, USA, Iraq, Iran over the past few days?

China

It all began on August 3, 2020 in the Chinese province of Hubei, where an instant explosion at a chemical plant killed at least six people and injured four. The reason is under investigation.

North Korea

This first explosion was followed a few hours later by a giant explosion following a possible “gas leak” in Hyesan, Yangan Province, North Korea, killing 9 people and injuring at least 30 residents. The reason is being investigated.

Lebanon

The next day, the port area of ​​Beirut, Lebanon, was destroyed by a giant explosion, killing more than 140 people and injuring thousands.

India

Also on the afternoon of August 4, 2020, an explosion caused panic among residents living around the Vijayshree Pharma Company plant in the Rambilli Zone FEZ in Vishakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, India. The reason is being investigated.

Great Britain

On 4 August, an explosion occurred again in the middle of a residential street in Birmingham, UK, causing smoke and fireballs to rise into the air and residents fleeing to seek refuge. The explosion was so strong that fire alarms went off in the houses.

United States of America

Finally, on Tuesday, firefighters put out a massive fire in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota, that engulfed a building under construction. When the firefighters arrived at about 4:20 am, the flames were flying high into the air, and the glow was visible for miles.

Iran

A fire broke out on Tuesday inside three industrial warehouses east of Tehran. The fire destroyed production materials, including lumber and leather.

Then, on August 5, at least seven ships burst into flames at a shipyard in the southern Iranian port of Bushehr. According to reports, the reason remains unclear, no casualties.

United Arab Emirates

On 5 August 2020, on Wednesday evening at 18:30, a fire broke out in a market in the emirate of Ajman, 50 km from Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. The reason is being investigated.

China

A gas pipeline exploded and several roads collapsed after torrential rains flooded parts of Yulin, a city in China’s northwestern Shaanxi province. Local authorities evacuated about 600 people from the area. The reason is being investigated.

United States of America

On the same day in Midland, Texas, an investigation is under way of an explosion and subsequent fire in an oil storage facility. The reason is also unknown.

Iraq

Again, on August 6, 2020, a major fire broke out in over 20 wholesale market warehouses in Najaf, Iraq. The reasons are being investigated.

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Planet Earth

Geneticists have clarified the origin of American slaves

Frame from the movie "Django Unchained" - imdb.com

It is the largest study of DNA from people living in the Americas. It shows where the slaves came from in the United States and reveals the details of their abuse.

The work includes information on 50 thousand people, of which 30 thousand are of African origin. The article, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics , serves as “evidence that genetics can shed light on history,” said Alondra Nelson, professor of social sciences at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

The study began with the work of Joanna Mountain, senior director of research at the company 23andMe. Together with the team, she created a genetic database, which included mainly information about the company’s clients, whose grandparents were born in regions where slavery flourished. Dr. Stephen Micheletti, the geneticist at 23andMe who led the study, compared it to data from the Slave Travels digital project, which contains information about the people brought in: information on ports of embarkation and disembarkation, the number of enslaved men, women and children. He also collaborated with historians to learn more about the plight of African regions, such as contemporary Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the 17th and 19th centuries.

Scientists have found out: the DNA of the study participants from the United States showed their Nigerian origin. This means that there are far more ships that transported enslaved people directly to America from Nigeria than would be expected based on historical records. 

At first, historians “could not believe how many Nigerian ancestors were there in the United States,” Micheletti said. 

Later, after consulting with experts, the study authors learned that slaves were first sent to the British Caribbean Islands, and only then sold to the Americans.

Percentage of people of African descent in Africa, the Americas, and Europe. Red denotes the descendants of slaves from Senegal and Gambia, blue - from the west coast of Africa, green - from Nigeria, orange - from Congo / © Stephen Micheletti
Percentage of people of African descent in Africa, the Americas, and Europe. Red denotes the descendants of slaves from Senegal and Gambia, blue – from the west coast of Africa, green – from Nigeria, orange – from Congo / © Stephen Micheletti

Experts estimate that more than half of the people were brought into the United States and Latin America from West Africa. The study found that the modern black population is genetically related to six regions, among them Senegal, Gambia, Nigeria and Benin. Moreover, according to historical sources, there were more regions from which slaves were exported.

The work also showed that the brought women made a much greater contribution to the modern gene pool than men, although there were much fewer of them. Scientists have calculated that in the United States there are 1.5 times more descendants of slaves, and in Latin America and the Caribbean – 13-17 times. Moreover, in the United States, European men have influenced the modern gene pool of people of African descent three times more than European women, and 25 times more in the Caribbean.

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Planet Earth

The collapse of humanity is predicted with a 90% probability

A new study by theoretical physicists cites truly horrifying numbers. The results of a great deal of work have shown that if human society continues to move in the same direction, then civilization in the form in which we know it now will come to an “irreversible collapse” in a few decades.

The research findings, published in Scientific Reports, are a model for our future. The work is based on data on current rates of deforestation and other resource use. Scientists say that even the most positive forecasts show a 90% chance of disaster.

Physicists at the Alan Turing Institute and Tarapaki University predict that the last forests on Earth will be cleared somewhere between 100 and 200 years of this century.

Combined with global population changes and resource consumption, this is an incredible blow to humanity. In light of this, scientists say that society as we know it may cease to exist within the next 20 to 40 years. There is good news, the researchers note that from a global perspective, the rate of deforestation has actually slowed in recent years.

However, they are still too large and continue to suffer losses as newly planted trees cannot protect the environment as well as mature forests.

“Calculations show that while maintaining the real rates of population growth and consumption of resources, in particular forest resources, we have several decades left before the irreversible collapse of our civilization,” the article says.

A fundamental transformation will be required to prevent collapse. The authors say that the main driving force behind the collapse right now is that the consumption of planetary resources is not taken seriously because it is driven by the economy.

Our civilization gives preference to the interests of individuals, countries or territories, without caring about the entire ecosystem. Therefore, in order to stop the catastrophe, people need to reconsider the current model of society, and accept the one that puts the interests of the ecosystem above the individual.

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