The world’s rivers are drying up in drought and heat. Here’s how 6 look from space


A painful lack of rain and relentless heat waves are drying up rivers in the US, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Many shrink in length and width. Pieces of riverbed protruding above the water are a common sight. Some rivers have dried up so much that they have become virtually impassable.

The man-made climate crisis is driving extreme weather around the world, affecting not only rivers but also the people who depend on them. Most people on Earth depend in one way or another on rivers, be it for drinking water, for irrigating food, for energy or for transporting goods.

See what six of them look like from space.

The Colorado River is drying up on its banks and thinning as a historic drought in the western US shows little sign of abating. The river is critically maintained by two of the country’s largest reservoirs, and to protect the basin, the government has implemented mandatory water cuts and asked states to come up with additional action plans.
One such reservoir, Lake Mead, shrinks in size as the water level drops toward “dead pool” — the point at which the reservoir will not be high enough to drain water downstream through a dam. The water level has been on a downward trend since 2000, but has fallen more sharply since 2020. The lake has sunk so low in the past year that wild discoveries have been made, including human remains in a barrel – a suspected murder victim from decades ago. And the impact of the Colorado River crisis is huge: About 40 million people in seven states and Mexico rely on the river’s water for drinking, agriculture and electricity.

The Yangtze River

The Yangtze River in Asia is drying up on its banks and in some areas its bed is emerging. But it is the tributaries of the Yangtze that are already intensely parched. China has issued a nationwide drought warning for the first time in nine years and the heat wave is the longest in six decades.
The impact of the drying Yangtze has been enormous. In Sichuan, a province of 84 million inhabitants, hydropower makes up about 80% of electricity capacity. Much of it comes from the Yangtze River, and as its flow slows, power generation has declined, forcing authorities there to shut down all factories there for six days. According to the state news agency Xinhua, the province gets about half the rain it usually does and some reservoirs have dried up completely.

The Rhine

The Rhine starts in the Swiss Alps, flows through Germany and the Netherlands and then flows all the way to the North Sea. It’s a crucial channel for European shipping, but right now it’s a nightmare to navigate.

Parts of the riverbed have risen above the water’s surface, meaning the ships trying to pass it have to weave around a series of obstacles, slowing down the whole process.

The Rhine has many different gauges along the way, including at Kaub, just west of Frankfurt, Germany, where the water level has dropped to 32 centimeters (12.6 in). Shipping companies generally find anything less than 40 cm on the Rhine too low to worry about, and in Kaub less than 75 cm usually means a container ship has to reduce its cargo to about 30%, according to economists at Deutsche Bank. Low water levels also mean businesses pay higher levees to pass, and all of these factors make shipping more expensive, a cost usually passed on to consumers.

the river Po

The River Po cuts right through the top of Italy and flows east into the Adriatic Sea. Fed by winter snow in the Alps and heavy rainfall in the spring, it has a steep drop that involves a rapid flow. Usually, devastating floods are more of a problem around this river.
But now the Po looks very different. Winter has been dry in northern Italy, so snow has provided little water, and spring and summer have also been dry, sending the region into its worst drought in seven decades. It has dried up so much that a World War II bomb was recently found amid the dwindling waters.

A major problem is that millions of people depend on the Po for their livelihood, mainly through agriculture. About 30% of Italy’s food is produced along the Po, and some of the country’s most famous exports, such as Parmesan cheese, are made here.

The Loire River

The Loire in France is home to a valley of vineyards that produce some of the world’s most famous wines. Stretching for approximately 600 miles, the river is considered France’s last wild river, supporting biodiverse ecosystems in the valley, much of which is protected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Parts of the river are already quite shallow, but the level and current can change quickly with the weather and if the snow melts at the source. Some parts are so parched from the lack of rain and extreme heat that people can cross on foot.

Satellite images of the French city of Saumur show more riverbed than visible water in the Loire. The patches of land around it in the valley are mostly brown and withered – a year ago they were lush and green. Authorities are running water from dams into the river, mainly to ensure there is enough to cool four nuclear power plants that line it.

The Danube

The Danube is the longest river in Western Europe and a crucial navigation channel that runs through 10 countries. In Romania, Serbia and Bulgaria, workers are dredging the river to ensure the ships can still navigate through it.

The situation is not as bad as some other rivers in Europe, but countries like Hungary are so dependent on the Danube for tourism that the effects are already being felt. Some cruise ships have not been able to pass parts of the river to even reach Hungary. Those who are still running can’t stop on their normal routes because so many stations had to close as water levels dropped on riverbanks. According to the country’s tourist board, an average 1,600-ton ship can now only sail the Hungarian route without cargo.

CNN’s Julia Buckley, Laura He, Angela Fritz and Rachel Ramirez, as well as journalist Barbie Nadeau, contributed to this report.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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