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.

Courtesy of Macy's

Brantley and his snowman

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"Would you like to build a snowman?" If you asked five-year-old Brantley from Texas this question, the answer would be a resounding "Yes!" While it may sound like a simple dream, since Texas doesn't usually see much snow, it seemed like a lofty one for him, even more so because Brantley has a congenital heart disease.

On Dec. 11, 2019, however, the real Macy's Santa and his two elves teamed up with Make-A-Wish to surprise Brantley and his family on his way to Colorado where there was plenty of snow for him to build his very own snowman, fulfilling his wish as part of the Macy's Believe campaign. After a joy-filled plane ride where every passenger got gift bags from Macy's, the family arrived in Breckenridge, Colorado where Santa and his elves helped Brantley build a snowman.

Brantley, Brantley's mom, and Santa marveling at their snowmanAll photos courtesy of Macy's

Brantley, who according to his mom had never actually seen snow, was blown away by the experience.

"Well, I had to build a snowman because snowmen are my favorite," Brantley said in an interview with Summit Daily. "All of it was my favorite part."

This is just one example of the more than 330,000 wishes the nonprofit Make-A-Wish have fulfilled to bring joy to children fighting critical illnesses since its founding 40 years ago. Even though many of the children that Make-A-Wish grants wishes for manage or overcome their illnesses, they often face months, if not years of doctor's visits, hospital stays and uncomfortable treatments. The nonprofit helps these children and their families replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy and anxiety with hope.

It's hardly an outlandish notion — research shows that a wish come true can help increase these children's resiliency and improve their quality of life. Brantley is a prime example.

"This couldn't have come at a better time because we see all the hardships that we went through last year," Brantley's mom Brandi told Summit Daily.

Brantley playing with snowballs

Now more than ever, kids with critical illnesses need hope. Since they're particularly vulnerable to disease, they and their families have had to isolate even more during the pandemic and avoid the people they love most and many of the activities that recharge them. That's why Make-A-Wish is doing everything it can to fulfill wishes in spite of the unprecedented obstacles.

That's where you come in. Macy's has raised over $132 million for Make-A-Wish, and helped grant more than 15,500 wishes since their partnership began in 2003, but they couldn't have done that without the support of everyday people. The crux of that support comes from Macy's Believe Campaign — the longstanding holiday fundraising effort where for every letter to Santa that's written online at Macys.com or dropped off safely at the red Believe mailbox at their stores, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. New this year, National Believe Day will be expanded to National Believe Week and will provide customers the opportunity to double their donations ($2 per letter, up to an additional $1 million) for a full week from Sunday, Nov. 29 through Saturday, Dec. 5.

There are more ways to support Make-A-Wish besides letter-writing too. If you purchase a $4 Believe bracelet, $2 of each bracelet will be donated to Make-A-Wish through Dec. 31. And for families who are all about the holiday PJs, on Giving Tuesday (Dec. 1), 20 percent of the purchase price of select family pajamas will benefit Make-A-Wish.

Elizabeth living out her wish of being a fashion designer

Additionally, this year's campaign features 6-year-old Elizabeth, a Make-A-Wish child diagnosed with leukemia, whose wish to design a dress recently came true. Thanks to the style experts at Macy's Fashion Office and I.N.C. International Concepts, only at Macy's, Elizabeth had the opportunity to design a colorful floral maxi dress. Elizabeth's exclusive design is now available online at Macys.com and in select Macy's stores. In the spirit of giving back this holiday season, 20 percent of the purchase price of Elizabeth's dress (through Dec. 31) will benefit Make-A-Wish.You can also donate directly to Make-A-Wish via Macy's website.

This holiday season may be a tough one this year, but you can bring joy to children fighting critical illnesses by delivering hope for their wishes to come true.

With vaccine rollouts for the novel coronavirus on the horizon, humanity is getting its first ray of hope for a return to normalcy in 2021. That normalcy, however, will depend on enough people's willingness to get the vaccine to achieve some level of herd immunity. While some people are ready to jump in line immediately for the vaccine, others are reticent to get the shots.

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Amazon is Delivering Smiles this holiday season by donating essential items and fulfilling AmazonSmile Charity Lists for organizations, like Covenant House, that have been impacted this year more than ever. Visit AmazonSmile Charity Lists to donate directly to a charity of your choice or simply shop smile.amazon.com and Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price of eligible products to your selected charity.

Anne Owens and Luke Redito / Wikimedia Commons
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