It’s an idiom that you’re “up a river without a paddle” when you’re in a jam from which there’s no way out. However, if that river happens to be located in the northern hemisphere this summer, the paddle is probably not going to be of any use.
Rivers in the United States, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East are drying up due to a severe lack of rain and relentless heat waves. Most are getting shorter and narrower. Occasionally, you’ll see a chunk of the riverbed that’s been exposed by the water. Some rivers have dried up to the point where crossing them is nearly impossible.
The global climate crisis, driven in large part by human activity, is having a negative effect on rivers and the communities that rely on them. Whether it’s for fresh water, crop irrigation, power, or transportation, rivers play an essential role in the lives of nearly everyone on Earth.
Check out the view of six of them from orbit.
An historic drought in the American West shows no signs of ending, and the riverbed of the Colorado is drying up and narrowing as a result. Since two of the country’s largest reservoirs are instrumental in keeping the river flowing, the federal government has enacted mandatory water cuts and asked states to develop additional action plans to protect the river basin.
Lake Mead, one such reservoir, is losing volume as its water level falls toward “dead pool” status, at which point water can no longer be released downstream through a dam. Since the year 2000, its water levels have been steadily declining, but the decline has accelerated as of 2020. Due to the lake’s dramatic decline over the past year, some bizarre artifacts have been uncovered, such as the skeleton of a person who was likely murdered decades ago and was found in a barrel. The Colorado River crisis also has far-reaching repercussions. The river provides water for human consumption, agricultural use, and power for about 40 million people in seven U.S. states and Mexico.
As in, the Yangtze
The banks of Asia’s Yangtze River are drying up, and the riverbed is emerging in some locations. However, the tributaries of the Yangtze are severely dry at the present time. For the first time in nine years, China has issued a nationwide drought alert, and the country is experiencing its longest heat wave in sixty years.
Consequences of the Yangtze’s depletion have been dramatic. Approximately 80% of Sichuan’s electricity capacity comes from hydropower. The authorities there have shut down all the factories for six days because they rely so heavily on Yangtze River hydropower and the river’s flow has decreased. According to Xinhua, the state news agency, the province is only receiving about half of its typical rainfall, and some reservoirs have completely dried up.
An Affair With the Rhine
Beginning in the Swiss Alps, the Rhine travels through Germany and the Netherlands before emptying into the North Sea. A vital passageway for European shipping, it is currently a nightmare to cross.
It has become more difficult for ships to navigate the river because parts of the riverbed have risen to the surface, creating a maze of obstacles that must be navigated.
Water levels in the Rhine have dropped to as low as 32 centimeters in Kaub, which is located just west of Frankfurt, Germany, among the many gauges along the river’s length (12.6 inches). According to Deutsche Bank economists, shipping companies typically don’t bother with the Rhine if the water level drops below 40 centimeters, and in Kaub, if the water level drops below 75 centimeters, a container ship typically has to reduce its load to about 30 percent. When water levels are low, businesses have to pay more to pass through levees, which adds to the cost of shipping and is typically passed on to consumers.
The Po River
Flowing out into the Adriatic Sea from its northernmost point in Italy, the River Po is a prominent geographic feature of the country. Fast-moving because of its steep fall and the snow that accumulates on the Alps in the winter and the heavy rains that come in the spring. Destruction from floods is more common in this area due to the prevalence of this river.
The Po, however, has undergone a drastic transformation recently. The lack of snowfall during a dry winter, followed by similarly dry spring and summer months, has plunged northern Italy into its worst drought in seven decades. An old bomb from WWII was discovered in its receding waters, proving how dry it is.
The fact that millions of people depend on agriculture along the Po for survival is a serious issue. Some of Italy’s most well-known exports, including Parmesan cheese, are created along the Po, where about 30 percent of the country’s food is produced.
This is the Loire River.
France’s most well-known vintages come from the Loire Valley’s vineyards. The river runs for about 600 miles, and it is widely recognized as the last truly wild river in France. Its valley is home to a wide variety of ecosystems, many of which are protected by UNESCO.
The Loire in the French city of Saumur appears to be more exposed riverbed than water in satellite images. Around it in the valley, the land is mostly brown and withered where it was green a year ago. Mostly to make sure there is enough water to cool the four nuclear power plants that sit along the river, authorities are releasing water from dams into the river.
The Danube River flows through ten different countries and is the longest river in Western Europe. Workers in Romania, Serbia, and Bulgaria are dredging the river to keep it navigable.
Although the Danube is not in as bad of shape as other European rivers, it is having an impact on countries like Hungary that rely heavily on tourism. Certain stretches of the river have prevented some cruise ships from reaching Hungary. Since so many stations have been forced to close due to falling water levels on river banks, those that are still operating cannot stop along their regular routes. According to the Hungarian tourist board, a typical 1,600-ton vessel can no longer make it through the stretch with cargo.
Journalist Barbie Nadeau and CNN’s Julia Buckley, Laura He, Angela Fritz, and Rachel Ramirez all chipped in as well.
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