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Discover the Cultural Treasure Turkey Threatens to Flood

Construction of the hydroelectric Ilisu Dam threatens the ancient village of Hasankeyf

“Absurd.” That’s how documentary photographer Mathias Depardon describes the surreal scene of a mosque’s minaret jutting out from the water as a boat passes by in Savaçan.

The tiny community along the Euphrates River in the predominantly Kurdish southeastern region was flooded by the filling of the Birecik Dam’s reservoir about 15 years ago, pushing its residents and others nearby into a new settlement erected by the country’s housing authority.

Activists worry Hasankeyf is next. The small village with ancient roots on the edge of the Tigris River is upstream from the hydroelectric Ilisu Dam, the last major dam to be built within the decades-long Southeastern Anatolia Project, Turkey’s largest hydropower project that is comprised of 22 dams and 19 power stations. Once construction on Ilisu is done—Turkey was forced to secure alternative funds after European backers pulled out, putting it behind schedule as environmental campaigns steadily lobbied against it—the filling of an 11 billion cubic-meter reservoir will inundate some 74,000 acres, including Hasankeyf.

Ankara has long-positioned the dam as a provider of irrigation and jobs to an impoverished corner of Turkey, and considers it part of the solution to the country’s dependence on foreign energy imports amid increasing domestic demand, as the dam is expected to generate some 2% of Turkey’s current electricity supply. The tradeoff, aside from the further of squeezing crucial supplies downstream in Syria and Iraq, exacerbating already strained tensions from decades of cross-border water disputes, is that part of Hasankeyf—along with its found and still hidden archaeological treasures—and other nearby sites will morph from open air exhibits on ancient Mesopotamia to underwater treasure chests. (Hasankeyf was placed on the World Monuments Fund’s 2008 Watch List.)

Turkey says archaeologists are working to excavate, record and preserve “as much as possible.” And, like others impacted by dams, residents due to be displaced by water can move into a new settlement built across the river.

Depardon, who is half-French and half-Belgian, heard about the project after he moved to Turkey a few years ago. For the 34-year-old photographer, who estimates that he shoots 30 to 50 assignments in a given year, the disappearing village became part of his personal project: an environmental portrait of a land steeped in history before it’s drowned.

A lot of people have assumptions about what Hasankeyf will be like, he says, especially in light to what happened to Savaçan: “People don’t go [to Savaçan] with the nostalgia of the place. Obviously, they didn’t know the place before that, they’d never been there. But they go there and they visit as they would an entertainment park.” Still, he adds, not everyone in the area is against the dam.

Hasankeyf is the iconic at-risk community, Depardon says, but his project is more of a visual look at overall Turkish dam policy that’s driven, he says, by anti-environmental policymakers in Ankara. That’s part of why he named the project Gold Rivers. The expected completion of the dam this year, and the energy that it will help generate, will help pad state coffers while impacting local tourism industries: “The water is now money.”

Mathias Depardon is a documentary photographer based in Istanbul, Turkey. Follow him on Instagram @mathiasdepardon.

Mikko Takkunen, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.

Andrew Katz is a News Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @katz.

TIME Environment

America’s Second-Worst Oil Spill Is Still Scarring the Shores of Alaska

Exxon-Valdez spill
Chris Wilkins—AFP/Getty Images An oil skimming operation near the southwest end of Prince William Sound in April 1989 in Valdez, a week after the beginning of an oil disaster which occurred when the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on March 24, 1989

March 24, 1989: The Exxon Valdez runs aground, leaking 11 million gallons of crude oil

It was the worst man-made environmental catastrophe in U.S. history — that is, until five years ago, when it was eclipsed by a disaster roughly 20 times its scope. On this day, March 24, in 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound and spewed an estimated 11 million gallons of oil into pristine arctic waters. Only the 2010 drilling-rig blowout in the Gulf of Mexico was worse; then, over the course of 87 days, more than 200 millions of crude oil gushed into the Gulf.

Twenty-six years ago, however, it was hard to picture a more destructive oil spill than the one in Prince William Sound. The oil slick fanned out as far as 500 miles from the tanker’s crash site and oozed along 1,300 mi. of shoreline. Tarred, feathered sandpipers and oil-coated otters featured in devastating nightly news footage. Salmon and eagle populations were decimated. Thousands of seals and a quarter of a million shorebirds died, per TIME. And despite a massive, multi-year cleanup effort that cost Exxon billions of dollars, the region is still suffering.

While the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico teem with bacteria that have helped break down some of the crude unleashed by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout, the icy waters of Prince William Sound inhibit decay, and oil patches that can be traced back to the Valdez still linger on remote beaches, just below the sand.

“The oil may not leak out in quantities that are immediately visible, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there,” one scientist told TIME in 2009, when random tests along the shoreline revealed that an estimated 20,000 gallons of oil remained. “We thought the cleanup would be a one-shot deal — but it’s still lingering.”

As of the spill’s 25th anniversary last year, only 13 of 32 affected wildlife populations and habitats monitored by the government since the spill were listed as “fully recovered” or “very likely recovered,” according to CNN. Some were listed as “not recovering,” including the herring population, once the source of a booming fishery, and a pod of killer whales that lost 15 of its 22 members after the spill and is expected to die off completely in the coming years.

While the lessons learned in the Alaskan cleanup may have led to a better response to the spill in the Gulf, the most enduring lesson is that maritime oil spills are devastating even with the best possible response.

“Whether it’s Prince William Sound or the Gulf of Mexico, seldom is more than 10 percent of the spilled oil recovered,” Alaskan writer Marybeth Holleman concluded in a CNN opinion piece. “This will be especially true in Arctic waters. And regardless of how safe we make oil drilling, tankers, or pipelines, we’ll never reduce spill risk to zero.”

Read TIME’s 1989 cover story about what really happened on the Exxon Valdez, Fateful Voyage

TIME Archaeology

World’s Largest Asteroid Crater Unearthed in Australia

Evidence of 250-mile wide impact zone found deep underground

Scientists have discovered evidence of a 250-mile wide crater in central Australia they believe was created by a colossal asteroid hundreds of millions of years ago.

The largest impact zone ever discovered is no longer visible on the Earth’s surface, researchers from the Australian National University said in a statement Monday, but could be identified by evidence buried deep in the earth’s crust.

The scientists had been drilling for another geothermal research project when, by chance, they came across rock layers that had been turned to glass, which usually signifies a high-energy impact. Their findings, published recently in the journal Tectonophysics, contributes to the understanding of the Earth in prehistoric times.

“Large impacts like these may have had a far more significant role in Earth’s evolution than previously thought,” said lead researcher Andrew Glikson. Still, the exact details of when the impact occurred remain unclear. While the rocks surrounding the impact zone are around 300 million years old, scientists said they have not yet found a similar layer in other sediments the same age.

“It’s a mystery — we can’t find an extinction event that matches these collisions,” Glikson said. “I have a suspicion the impact could be older than 300 million years.”

TIME Environment

Pollutants Created by Climate Change Are Making Airborne Allergens More Potent

Smog arrives at the banks of Songhua River on January 22, 2015 in Jilin, Jilin province of China.
ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images Smog arrives at the banks of Songhua River on Jan. 22, 2015, in Jilin, China

It could explain why more people are suffering from year to year

If you think your seasonal sneezing, wheezing and sniffling is getting worse, you aren’t simply imagining it.

Currently, some 50 million or so Americans suffer from nasal allergies, but the number is going up, and researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany say a pair of pollutants linked to climate change could be to blame. That’s according to a report in Science Daily.

The two gases are nitrogen dioxide and ground-level ozone, which appear to set off chemical changes in some airborne allergens, increasing their potency.

“Scientists have long suspected that air pollution and climate change are involved in the increasing prevalence of allergies worldwide,” said the institute’s Ulrich Pöschl. “Our research is just a starting point, but it does begin to suggest how chemical modifications in allergenic proteins occur and how they may affect allergenicity.”

Pöschl’s team found that ozone (a major component of smog) oxidizes an amino acid that sets off chemical reactions that ultimately alter an allergenic protein’s structure. Meanwhile, nitrogen dioxide (found in car exhausts) appears to alter the separation and binding capabilities of certain allergens.

Researchers believe that together, the two gases make allergens more likely to trigger the body’s immune response, especially in wet, humid and smoggy conditions.

The team hopes to identify other allergenic proteins that are modified in the environment and examine how these affect the human immune system.

[Science Daily]

TIME public health

5 Ways to Celebrate World Water Day

water
Getty Images

A holiday for H2O

Sunday is World Water Day, a United Nations initiative to celebrate clean water and bring attention to those who don’t have enough of it. A new report released ahead of World Water Day warns about a looming shortage, and centers on this year’s theme: water and sustainable development.

Here are five ways to celebrate World Water Day

Learn about poop water

First charcoal juice becomes a thing, and now poop water? Hey, Bill Gates drinks it—thanks to a new machine called the Omniprocessor that literally transforms waste into water through a steam engine. On his blog, Gates writes about drinking a “delicious” fresh glass of it and marvels at the possibilities to improve sanitation in low-income countries. “The processor wouldn’t just keep human waste out of the drinking water; it would turn waste into a commodity with real value in the marketplace,” Gates writes.

Take a break from meat

Showering and hydration are hardly your main uses of water—but food is. The average American uses 7,500 liters of water each day, according to the U.N. If you’re eating meat, your water usage shoots way up; a steak dinner for two requires 15,000 liters of water for the meat alone. Eating more meat and dairy has been the single greatest factor for water consumption in the past 30 years, says the group—so going vegetarian, even temporarily, can make a difference.

Wash your hands the right way

Only 5% of Americans do, according to a study of men using public restrooms. (If you need a refresher on proper technique, you should use soap and water and wash for at least 15 seconds.) Sounds gross—and it is a public health hazard, according to UNICEF, organizers of Global Handwashing Day, another water-related holiday worth celebrating. “Handwashing with soap prevents disease in a more straightforward and cost-effective way than any single vaccine,” supporter UNICEF writes.

Support a future female farmer

Most of the world’s hungry are women, says the U.N.’s new report, and most don’t own land—or even have time to make an income, since 25% of their day is spent collecting drinking water. “With equal access to resources and knowledge, female farmers, who account for the majority of all subsistence farmers, could produce enough additional food to reduce the number of the world’s hungry by 150 million,” the report says. Investing in water and sanitation actually helps improve equality, which helps stimulate the economy—every dollar invested yields between $5-28, the UN estimates.

Give better water to the world

A new report from WaterAid America found that one in five babies born in the developing world dies during its first month of life because of a lack of clean water. And 35% of facilities in middle- and lower-income countries didn’t have water and soap for hand-washing, another report from the World Health Organization found.

John Green, author of The Fault In Our Stars, recently teamed up with Bill Gates to raise money for clean, safe water in Ethiopia. You can donate to water.org here.

TIME Environment

The World’s Water Supply Could Dip Sharply in 15 Years

A warning ahead of World Water Day

Global water resources may soon meet only 60% of the world’s water demands, the United Nations warned in a dire new report.

The World Water Development Report, issued ahead of World Water Day on Sunday, says demand for water around the world will increase by 55% over the next 15 years. With current supplies, that means only 60% of the world’s water needs will be met in 2030.

The reason for the shortfall include climate change, which causes irregular rainfall and dwindling underwater reserves. The results of the shortage could be devastating to agriculture, ecosystems and economies. With less water, health could also be compromised.

New policies that focus on water conservation, and more optimal treatment of wastewater, could alleviate some of the shortfall.

“Unless the balance between demand and finite supplies is restored, the world will face an increasingly severe global water deficit,” the report says.

TIME Environment

Burmese Pythons Are Taking Over the Everglades

Biologists Track Northern African Pythons In Florida's Everglades
Joe Raedle—Getty Images Edward Mercer, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission non-native Wildlife Technician, holds a Burmese Python during a press conference in the Florida Everglades about the non-native species on January 29, 2015 in Miami.

Burmese pythons aren't your normal predators

True to their name, Burmese pythons are native to the tropics of southern and southeastern Asia, where the gigantic snakes—they can grow as long as 19 ft.—have carved out a comfortable niche for themselves, squeezing their prey to death. But sometime over the past few decades, Burmese pythons began appearing in Everglades National Park in south Florida. The snakes were most likely either pets that had been released into the wild or their descendants, and, like countless tourists before them, they took very well to the tropical heat and lush greenery of Florida.

Too well, as it turns out. A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B confirms what scientists have feared: predation from the Burmese pythons is already changing the delicate balance of the national park’s food chain. Scientists from the University of Florida, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released 26 marsh rabbits fitted with tracking devices into the park. The aim was to find out what effect the pythons would have on the rabbits, which are native to the Everglades but have all but vanished over the past decade—the same period of time when sightings of Burmese pythons became more frequent.

In the fall and winter, the marsh rabbits thrived, reproducing rapidly. But when the weather began to warm—which would have made the temperature-sensitive pythons more active—the marsh rabbits began to disappear. Where? Into the bellies of the Burmese pythons. The snakes hunted the rabbits ruthlessly—the researchers found that 77% of the tracked rabbits were eaten by Burmese pythons, a fact scientists knew because the trackers led them to the digested bodies of the rabbits inside the stomachs of the snakes. (At a control area outside the park, by contrast, no rabbits were killed by pythons, and most that died were eaten by native mammals like bobcats.) So voracious were the Burmese pythons that they essentially hunted the marsh rabbits to the point of extinction.

And that’s what worries scientists so much. Earlier research had linked a drastic decrease in the population of small mammals to the presence of the Burmese pythons, but those findings had been indirect—other factors, like environmental change, could have been behind the decline. The new study makes it much clearer that Burmese pythons are indeed changing the ecological balance of the Everglades for the worst—and perhaps singlehandedly.

That’s incredibly unusual—when it comes to invasive species, only human beings have managed to do so much damage on a continental mammal community. (There are frequent examples of invasive species, including snakes, eliminating species on small islands, but not in a large territory like the Everglades.) As study co-author Bob Reed of the U.S. Geological Society told CBS News:

All of us were shocked by the results. Rabbit populations are supposed to be regulated by factors other than predation, like drought, disease. They are so fecund. They are supposed to be hugely resilient to predation. You don’t expect a population to be wiped out by predation.

But Burmese pythons aren’t your normal predators, as I discovered for myself when I visited the Everglades for a cover story on invasive species. They can disappear at will, go months without eating and they’re afraid of absolutely nothing. The only way to save the Everglades may be to find and remove the snakes—but as this video above shows, that’s far from easy.

MORE: Invasive Species, Coming Soon to a Habitat Near You

TIME Environment

UN Report Warns of Serious Water Shortages Within 15 Years

INDIA-UN-ENVIRONMENT-WATER
Manjunath Kiran—AFP/Getty Images Residents in Bangalore wait to collect drinking water in plastic pots for their households on March 18, 2015.

If we continue on our current trajectory, warns the report, we'll only have 60% of the water we need in 2030

The world will only have 60% of the water it needs by 2030 without significant global policy change, according to a new report from the U.N.

While countries like India are rapidly depleting their groundwater, rainfall patterns around the world are becoming more unpredictable due to global warming, meaning there will be less water in reserves. Meanwhile, as the population increases, so does demand for potable water, snowballing to a massive problem for our waterways in 15 years’ time.

The report suggests several changes of course that nations can take, from increasing water prices to finding new ways of recycling waste water.

TIME Environment

Arctic Sea Ice Levels Are at the Lowest Ever Recorded

Ship among icebergs
M. Santini—De Agostini/Getty Images Ship among the icebergs that have broken off the Sermeq Kujalleq ice sheet, Ilulissat, Qaasuitsup, Greenland.

Ice levels also began to retreat early this year

Arctic sea ice levels last winter recorded their lowest peak since satellite monitoring began in 1979, U.S. scientists said Thursday.

According to the University of Colorado’s Snow and Ice Data Center, Arctic ice levels crowned on Feb. 25 with a maximum extent of 14.54 million sq. km — 130,000 sq. km less than the previous record low set in 2011, and 1.1 million sq. km lower than the 1981-2010 recorded average.

The drop was also widespread, with below-average ice levels recorded everywhere except for the Labrador Sea between Greenland and Canada and the Davis Strait slightly further north.

The data center did say that a late season surge in ice growth is still conceivable, but unlikely to match the winter’s high-point. Meaning this year’s Feb. 25 peak date was two weeks earlier than the average. The earliest ice-level maximum was in 1996, reaching its ceiling only one day earlier on Feb. 24.

Recent weather patterns were partly to blame for the melting ice, with an unusual jet stream bringing unseasonably warm temperatures to the Pacific side of the Arctic.

 

TIME Environment

California Announces $1 Billion Emergency Drought Relief Package

California Drought-Field Poll
Rich Pedroncelli—AP Houseboats sit in the drought lowered waters of Oroville Lake, near Oroville, Calif. in 2014.

The move comes days after new rules cracking down on lawn watering and tap water at restaurants

As if Californians needed another reminder that their state is dangerously hot and dry, they got it on March 15 when more than 30 runners at the Los Angeles marathon were hospitalized due to record high temperatures. The late winter heat wave — the mercury climbed above 90 in the city and surrounding areas — offered stark notice that, four years into a severe drought, the Golden State remains desperately parched with little relief in sight.

Gov. Jerry Brown and a bipartisan group of state lawmakers attempted to deliver some form of it Thursday when they announced a $1 billion plan to provide immediate relief and stave off future problems.

“This is a struggle,” Brown reportedly said during a press conference announcing the package. “Something we’re going to have to live with. For how long, we’re not sure.”

While the legislation includes millions of dollars in emergency aid, it also earmarks $660 million for flood prevention. Brown explained that flood control and drought relief were of a piece, according to the Los Angeles Times, describing them as “extreme weather events” related to climate change.

The new measures come two days after state officials voted March 17 to enact some of the broadest and strictest statewide water limits in California history. Outdoor lawn and landscape watering, which accounts for about half of all consumption in urban areas, will be limited to two days per week.

“It’s the number one thing that could be done and it’s easy,” says Jay Famiglietti, the senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

The water board regulations will also ban residents from irrigating during rainstorms and for two days afterward. And restaurants will be permitted to offer tap water to patrons only upon request.

Given how little the new water regulations ask of residents, it’s easy to wonder why they weren’t enacted earlier. With surface water at dangerously low levels and non-renewable groundwater being depleted at a rapid pace, Famiglietti warned in a recent Los Angeles Times op-ed that the state must immediately ration water before California’s supply is gone completely.

“Because of the severity of the situation, I do think the public is ready for it,” Famiglietti says.

Several polls appear to back him up. An October 2014 survey found that Californians are just as worried about the drought as they are about the economy. Ninety-four percent of state residents polled in February said they consider the drought to be “serious.” Still, Californians seem unwilling to voluntarily curb their water consumption as much as officials would like. In January 2014, Brown urged Californians to reduce their water use by 20 percent. Statewide usage this past in January was just 9 percent less than the same month in 2013.

“Even though it was historically dry, it was still raining,” says Sarah Rose, CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters. “People see the rain and think they can go back to their old habits. We’re going to have to create new habits.”

While experts call the new water board rules a step in the right direction, they worry that more drastic, but necessary, measures like rationing and water price increases still haven’t been proposed.

“No one wants to be responsible for delivering the hard news that people have to significantly change their behavior,” says Charles Stringer, chair of the regional water board in Southern California. “We’re trying to get where we need to go without too much pain and sacrifice. But what the water experts and policy makers are saying with increasing urgency is that’s not possible.”

New regulations come with their own problems of how to enforce them. “There’s not going to be the manpower to do it,” says Famiglietti. A recent investigation by the Associated Press found that after California authorized emergency drought measures last summer to allow local communities to issue $500 fines for excessive water use, few residents actually got tickets.

In the meantime, officials are hoping public information campaigns might be more effective. One water district in Northern California has adopted “Brown is the New Green” as a new motto, encouraging residents to let their lawns die to conserve water. “People should feel really proud of having a brown lawn,” says Famiglietti.

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