Melting glaciers, lakes drying up, rivers running at record low levels, widespread drought – the effects of climate change and rising heat levels are making headlines around the world on a daily basis. Alongside the inevitable disruption and concern these events are creating, there has been an unexpected side effect – the revelation of things long hidden from our collective eyes and attentions.
Swathes of Europe are experiencing record temperatures and the worst droughts in more than a century. This has led to some of the lowest water levels ever recorded in its second longest river, the Danube and with it the resurfacing of 20 explosives-filled World War II warships along the Serbian area near Prahovo.
Part of the Nazi Black Sea Fleet, the 20 ships are thought to be carrying more than 10,000 pieces of explosive ordnance, many of them unexploded, posing a serious risk to passing ships, fishermen and even the water supply. The ships were sunk in 1944 by the retreating German Army to stop them falling into the hands of the Soviets. More are expected to surface over the coming weeks with the Serbian government estimating a £30million (around $35million) clean up bill.
Military experts were also called upon in Italy to defuse and carry out a controlled explosion on a thousand-pound WWII bomb that emerged from the River Po as it reached its lowest levels in 70 years. Meanwhile in the Tiber River in Rome, the foundations of a 2,000-year-old bridge rose from the dropping waters.
In the Swiss Alps, melting glaciers have revealed two sets of human remains long frozen in the ice. In late July, two hikers discovered a ‘mummified and slightly damaged but almost complete’ body near a ski resort in the Stockji glacier wearing neon-colored clothing ‘in the style of the 80s’. In early August French climbers discovered the skeletal remains of a single person in the canton of Valais in Switzerland, thought to have died in the 1970s or 1980s. Both sets of remains have been removed for identification.
At much the same time the Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland also offered up the wreckage of a plane – a Piper Cherokee that crashed on June 30, 1968 near the Jungfrau and Mönch mountain peaks with a teacher, a chief medical officer and his son, all from Zurich, on board. While the bodies were recovered at the time, technical limitations meant the wreckage wasn’t.
In Spain, a monument known as the Dolmen of Guadalperal, often likened to England’s Stonehenge and dated to between 2,000 and 3,000 BCE, has appeared in the heavily depleted Valdecañas reservoir west of Madrid. Equally as interesting are the emergence of what are known as ‘hunger stones’ along rivers across the continent. The stones were engraved in previous years of drought by locals to indicate the water levels and warn of poor harvests the following year. A famous example appeared in the Elbe River close to the town of Děčín in the Czech Republic with a chilling inscription from 1616: “If you see me, weep.”
It’s not just Europe that has seen such extraordinary and gruesome revelations. Formed by the Hoover Dam around 20 miles outside Las Vegas, Lake Mead has made regular and tragic headlines over recent months as its waters have delivered four sets of human remains. While one set found in May has been identified as Thomas Erndt who dived from a boat into the lake on 2 August 2002 and never emerged, investigations into the identity of other remains ongoing with at least one ruled a homicide after it was discovered in a barrel with a gunshot wound to the head.
Reaching back a little farther in time, the Dinosaur Valley State Park in Texas this week announced that severe drought conditions had dried up a river and revealed dinosaur tracks from approximately 113 million years ago. The deep, clear tracks are thought to belong to Acrocanthosaurus, a carnivore not dissimilar to the T-Rex that grew to 15 feet and could weigh up to seven tons. It was thought to prey on the significantly larger herbivore Sauroposeidon (Greek for Lizard Poseidon), whose tracks are also found in the area, and which could grow to about 60 feet tall and weigh about 44 tons as an adult, making it the tallest known dinosaur.