River piracy may be climate change's weirdest effect. It just happened in Canada.

Kluane Lake in Canada is supposed to look like this:

Image via Mandruss/Wikimedia Commons.

The lake is one of Yukon's largest, home to a handful of small communities, and its waters eventually feed into the mighty Yukon River.


So how the heck did it end up looking like this virtually overnight?

Image via Jim Best/University of Illinois.

It's supposed to be pristine and blue, not brown and full of weird, muddy goosebumps and dry, dusty mudflats.

This is a shocking case of what scientists call "river piracy." Something stole Kluane Lake's river.

The culprit wasn't a foul-mouthed, foul-smelling 17th-century sailor, though. The real culprit was — and is — much more creeping and insidious.

Kluane Lake used to get a big chunk of its water from the Slims River, which in turn was fed by the Kaskawulsh glacier. For years, the Slims River had been an ice-cold torrent of water up to 10 feet deep and too strong to wade through in some areas.

Over the course of four days in May 2016, though, river gauge data shows that all of that water just ... disappeared.

An aerial view of water being diverted from the Slims River. Image via Dan Shugar/University of Washington Tacoma.

Dan Shugar and Jim Best, scientists from the University of Washington and University of Illinois, went up to investigate in person. When they got there, they found a bare trickle of water where the river should have been.

"We were really surprised when we got there and there was basically no water in the river," Shugar said in an Associated Press report. "We could walk across it and we wouldn't get our shirts wet.”

They knew if something was stopping water from getting to the river, it must have happened uphill, likely at the mighty Kaskawulsh glacier that feeds the river.

When the scientists went to investigate, they found a massive 100-foot-tall ice canyon — a giant hole basically — inside the glacier's edge.

The ice-walled canyon. Image via Jim Best/University of Illinois.

It was the evidence they needed to identify the primary suspect behind the river's sudden vanishing act: climate change.

As the planet has gotten warmer, the Kaskawulsh glacier has been retreating and breaking up. For a long time, its meltwater had been going toward the Slims River.

When the river disappeared in May 2016, it was the result of the glacier having retreated enough that an ice wall collapsed, forming a canyon and diverting the meltwater down a different side of the mountain, away from the Slims River. Instead, the glacier's water rushed into the Alsek River, a phenomenon scientists call river piracy.

Satellite images taken one year apart show how much the river has fallen. Image via the European Space Agency.

River piracy hasn't been documented in modern times and certainly never this quickly. Shugar's team is more than 99% sure this wouldn't have happened without climate change.

Ever since, the Slims River has been a mere trickle and Kluane Lake has dropped more than 5 feet below average.

Shugar at Kluane Lake. Image via Jim Best/University of Illinois.

Kluane Lake is more than 45 miles long, so this isn’t a small amount of water we're talking about. The two communities on the lake will likely have to learn to deal with the water shortage because it’s virtually impossible that things will go back to the way they were.

Being witness to a case of river piracy is pretty incredible, but the speed at which it happened is a stark reminder that the effects of climate change can happen both slowly and all at once.

The Yukon is a pretty remote and sparsely populated area, but if a river disappeared in, say, the Andes or the Himalayas, it could affect the water supplies of millions of people, giving them little time to adapt to the change.

There are still plenty of things we can do to mollify the effects of climate change, but the first thing is to take it — and its causes — seriously and make sure the people in charge take it seriously too. Because if we don't, who knows where or when river piracy will strike again.

The team's findings were published in the scientific journal Nature Geoscience.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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It's one thing to see a little kid skateboarding. It's another to see a stereotype-defying little girl skateboarding. And it's entirely another to see Paige Tobin.

Paige is a 6-year-old skateboarding wonder from Australia. A recent video of her dropping into a 12-foot bowl on her has gone viral, both for the feat itself and for the style with which she does it. Decked out in a pink party dress, a leopard-print helmet, and rainbow socks, she looks nothing like you'd expect a skater dropping into a 12-foot bowl to look. And yet, here she is, blowing people's minds all over the place.

For those who may not fully appreciate the impressiveness of this feat, here's some perspective. My adrenaline junkie brother, who has been skateboarding since childhood and who races down rugged mountain faces on a bike for fun, shared this video and commented, "If I dropped in to a bowl twice as deep as my age it would be my first and last time doing so...this fearless kid has a bright future!"

It's scarier than it looks, and it looks pretty darn scary.

Paige doesn't always dress like a princess when she skates, not that it matters. Her talent and skill with the board are what gets people's attention. (The rainbow socks are kind of her signature, however.)

Her Instagram feed is filled with photos and videos of her skateboarding and surfing, and the body coordination she's gained at such a young age is truly something.

Here she was at three years old:

And here she is at age four:


So, if she dropped into a 6-foot bowl at age three and a 12-foot bowl at age six—is there such a thing as an 18-foot bowl for her to tackle when she's nine?

Paige clearly enjoys skating and has high ambitions in the skating world. "I want to go to the Olympics, and I want to be a pro skater," she told Power of Positivity when she was five. She already seems to be well on her way toward that goal.

How did she get so good? Well, Paige's mom gave her a skateboard when she wasn't even preschool age yet, and she loved it. Her mom got her lessons, and she's spent the past three years skating almost daily. She practices at local skate parks and competes in local competitions.

She also naturally has her fair share of spills, some of which you can see on her Instagram channel. Falling is part of the sport—you can't learn if you don't fall. Conquering the fear of falling is the key, and the thing that's hardest for most people to get over.

Perhaps Paige started too young to let fear override her desire to skate. Perhaps she's been taught to manage her fears, or maybe she's just naturally less afraid than other people. Or maybe there's something magical about the rainbow socks. Whatever it is, it's clear that this girl doesn't let fear get in the way of her doing what she wants to do. An admirable quality in anyone, but particularly striking to see in someone so young.

Way to go, Paige. Your perseverance and courage are inspiring, as is your unique fashion sense. Can't wait to see what you do next.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less