17 Horrifying Aerial Photos of Environmental Devastation

Sometimes, the extent of environmental damage from factory farming, oil spills, deforestation and mining can’t be seen unless you can zoom out. We can’t do that when we’re on the ground, or simply looking at close-up photos. Aerial photography gives us a shocking viewpoint of the devastation human beings are capable of all over the world, ranging from construction in once-pristine areas to the impacts of global warming.

The Effect of Factory Farming on the American Landscape

Factory farming has had a devastating effect on the American landscape, as evidenced by these apocalyptic-looking aerial photographs compiled by British artist Mishka Henner (taken from open-source satellite imagery.) They’re full of massive waste lagoons holding all sorts of toxic substances.

The B.P. Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico

Even these disturbing shots of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico don’t come anywhere near conveying the breadth and seriousness of the disaster. Captured soon after the Deepwater Horizon wellhead began leaking, on May 6th, 2010, the images show the oil stretching across the sea and hitting the coast.

Air Pollution in China Seen from Space

Beijing’s air pollution is so bad, it can be seen from space. These satellite images from NASA show what Beijing looks like with and without its shroud of smog.

Deforestation in the Amazon

The Xingu River in the Brazilian Amazon is seen strewn with the wreckage of the rainforest as trees are cleared to make room for the Belo Monte Dam project. The dam is set to be the world’s largest and will displace 16,000 people. Environmentalists warn that the impacts of the dam will include deforestation, methane emissions, and irreparable changes to the river ecosystem.

Mountaintop Removal Mining in Appalachia

Nothing makes a beautiful nature scene look more like a hellscape than mountaintop removal mining, a process that literally slices the tops off mountains to access various minerals, ore and fossil fuels found within. Massive machines push rocks and dirt into nearby streams and valleys, suffocating waterways and often filling them with toxic substances.

Melting Ice in the Arctic

Climate change has accelerated the rate of ice melt throughout the Arctic region, causing serious damage to the ecosystem that can have an effect on sea levels and weather patterns all over the world. These images from the National Snow and Ice Data Center are just a few illustrating the speed at which ice in the Arctic has been melting.

Exxon-Valdez Oil Spill

Still perhaps the best-known environmental disaster in America, the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in September 1989 flooded Alaska’s beaches with oil. Booms had to be set up around the tanker in an attempt to control the spread of the oil, as well as around sensitive nearby salmon streams.

Amazon Gold Mining

These shocking photos depict the extent of environmental damage from gold mining in the Amazon. Small illegal mining operations in the Madre de Dios region of Peru are causing mercury contamination to flow downstream and pollute the water sources that indigenous people depend on to survive.

The Citarum, World’s Most Polluted River

Thought to be the world’s most polluted river, the Citarum in Indonesia is so covered in debris that its surface can barely be seen. The 186-mile river located about forty miles east of Jakarta is an important resource, supporting industries like fishing and agriculture, but it’s also treated as a waste dump.

TVA Coal Ash Spill, Tennessee

On December 22nd, 2008, a coal ash dike in Kingston, Tennessee ruptured, releasing 1.1 billion gallons of toxic coal ash slurry into the Clinch River and across the surrounding land. The spill caused extensive environmental damage, destroying homes and polluting other nearby waterways.


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