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Drought around the world, August 2022, in dramatic images


Flat map of Earth showing blue to red locations, red indicating drought.
View larger. | Here’s a global drought map as of August 25, 2022. It includes data from the Northern American Drought Monitor, the 1-month GPCC Global Drought Index and the 1-month GPCC Standardized Precipitation Evaporation Index. Image via NOAA.

Drought has been crippling many regions of the world in Northern Hemisphere summer, 2022. While the shrinking Lake Mead and Lake Powell in the American West have gotten the lion’s share of press coverage here in the U.S., the issue is a global one. The BBC reported on August 24 that Europe’s drought is the worst in 500 years, and several famous European rivers have run dry. China’s largest freshwater lake and longest river are also running dry. The Guardian said on August 19 that drought in the Horn of Africa has the potential to push more than 22 million people into starvation.

Drought in Europe

The Global Drought Observatory released a report on August 22, 2022, that said two-thirds of Europe are under a drought warning. The lack of rainfall, plus persistent European heat waves, are expanding and worsening dry regions. The heat and drought has stressed summer crops, especially grain maize, soybeans and sunflowers. Forecasts continue to call for warmer and drier conditions in Europe into November.

The most visually dramatic effect of the drought in Europe is the dwindling levels in famous European rivers, as illustrated below:

Satellite view of the Rhine River with a green streak of water.
The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission captured part of the Rhine River – Europe’s 2nd-largest river – near Cologne in western Germany. This image, and the one below, reveal the stark difference between August 2021 and August 2022. Here’s the Rhine in August 2021. The river fills its banks, and greenery surrounds it. Image via ESA.
Satellite image of the Rhine River showing a dark streak and lighter embankments.
In this image from August 2022, the Rhine River is narrower, and you can see more of the river embankments exposed to the sun. Image via ESA.

Drying rivers and lakes reveal secrets in Spain

The shrinking lakes and rivers are revealing sights long hidden in some parts of Europe. In Spain, the drought exposed a prehistoric stone circle, dubbed the Spanish Stonehenge, in a reservoir whose water level has dropped to 28% of capacity. Archaeologists believe that the circle of dozens of megalithic stones, officially called the Dolmen of Guadalperal, dates back to 5000 BCE. It currently sits fully exposed in one corner of the Valdecanas reservoir, in the central province of Cáceres.

Circle of vertical stones, with blue water in the backfground.
The Dolmen of Guadalperal completely visible due to a low water level in the Valdecañas reservoir. Image via Wikipedia.

Nazi ships revealed in Serbia

In Serbia, the receding waters of the Danube River near the town of Prahovo have uncovered dozens of World War II-era German warships, according to an August 19, 2022, Reuters report. Many of the ships still contain ammunition and explosive devices.

Czech’s hunger stone

In a small northern Czech town, close to the German border, lowering river water has revealed a rock inscribed with an eerie message. On August 19, 2022, The Guardian said:

As Europe’s rivers run dry in a devastating drought that scientists say could prove the worst in 500 years, their receding waters are revealing long-hidden artefacts, from Roman camps to ghost villages and second world war shipwrecks.

The so-called ‘hunger stone’ at Decín is one of dozens in central European rivers engraved to mark their levels during historic droughts, and warn future generations of the famine and hardship likely to follow each time they became visible.

Shrinking reservoirs in the U.S. Southwest

On August 16, 2022, the Bureau of Reclamation said that 23 years of drought and low amounts of runoff have resulted in historically low water levels at the two largest reservoirs in the U.S., Lake Mead and Lake Powell on the U.S. Colorado river.

About 40 million people, across seven states and Mexico, rely on the Colorado River system for drinking water and to support livelihoods including farming and recreation.

As of August 24, 2022, Lake Powell stands at its lowest level since it was filled in the mid-1960s, at just 26 percent of capacity, its lowest point since 1967. NASA Earth Observatory reported:

Downstream from Lake Powell, water storage at Lake Mead on August 22 stood at 28 percent of capacity, and the entire Colorado river system held just 34 percent. At the same time, roughly 86 percent of the land area across nine western states was affected by some level of drought, according to the August 16 report from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Two satellite images of a lake, side by side.
These satellite images show portions of Lake Powell in the summers of 2017 and 2022, Lake Powell straddles the border of southeastern Utah and northeastern Arizona; most of the area shown is in Utah. Read more about these images from NASA Earth Observatory.

Drying Lake Mead reveals bodies and boats

Water levels in Lake Mead – the largest reservoir in the U.S. – are at their lowest since the completion of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s, which stopped the flow of the Colorado River and created this lake in the desert. The retreating lake is revealing things hidden underwater for decades. People are finding trash, boats (including a World War II-era craft) and human bodies. In fact, Newsweek reported that officials said there are probably 100s of bodies waiting to be found in Lake Mead.

Dinosaur tracks in Texas

Dry conditions have lowered water levels at Texas’s Dinosaur Valley State Park, revealing 113 million-year-old dinosaur tracks in the Paluxy River riverbed.

The tracks, preserved in limestone, are usually covered by water and sediment. However, months of hot, dry conditions have turned rivers and creeks to puddles in places, exposing the prints. Park Superintendent Jeff Davis told The Hill:

You can actually see their individual toes, their individual claw marks. You can even see where they slipped as they were running.

Drought in China

China has been breaking heat records all summer. And the extreme temperatures and low rainfall have created a prolonged drought in China. The Yangtze River – longest river in China and third longest in the world – is withering away. The river basin is home to 450 million people and 1/3 of China’s crops, and the people there are dealing with depleted wells and brush fires.

China’s largest freshwater lake, Poyang, is also drying up. It’s now less than 25% of its normal surface area. A view from an airplane shows the water in the lake to have dwindled down into a shape that some of the locals are calling The Tree of Death.

Drought in the Horn of Africa

Four years of failed rains in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia have left the Horn of Africa facing catastrophe, The Guardian said. The drought puts 22 million people at risk of starvation by September, according to an August 19, 2022, report from the United Nation’s World Food Programme (WFP). The region is seeing the worst drought conditions in 40 years, with no end in sight.

Bottom line: Drought is crippling many regions of the world in 2022, from the US and Europe to China and the Horn of Africa. As waters recede, ancient artifacts are appearing.

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