Satel­lite images tell sto­ries of decade

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE -

There has been no short­age of big news over the last decade.

Span­ning the globe, some sto­ries were ex­pected while others caught the world off guard. Some were so mas­sive they were vis­i­ble from space, cap­tured through state-of-the-art imag­ing satel­lites be­long­ing to tech­nol­ogy com­pany and im­agery provider Maxar Tech­nolo­gies.

To­gether, The As­so­ci­ated Press and Maxar as­sem­bled a selec­tion of the most strik­ing images. •••


2017 was the year Amer­ica’s hur­ri­cane luck ran out.

For much of the decade that be­gan in 2010, hur­ri­canes with winds of 111 mph or more flirted with Florida and other parts the United States, but never made land­fall. In fact, not one ma­jor hur­ri­cane hit the U.S. be­tween 2006 and 2016. Colorado State Univer­sity hur­ri­cane sci­en­tist Phil Klotzbach called it “an amaz­ing streak of luck.”

Then came 2017. Three pow­er­ful hur­ri­canes — Har­vey, Irma and Maria — slammed into dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try, caus­ing $265 bil­lion dam­age in four weeks.

“We set an alarm­ing num­ber of hur­ri­cane records in 2017,” MIT hur­ri­cane sci­en­tist Kerry Emanuel said.

Har­vey parked it­self over Hous­ton and un­leashed a down­pour. It killed 68 peo­ple and set a U.S. record for amount of rain recorded from a storm: 60.58 inches. Har­vey’s $120 bil­lion in dam­ages ranks as the sec­ond-costli­est U.S. storm be­hind only Ka­t­rina in 2005.

Hur­ri­cane Irma came next and stayed at max­i­mum Cat­e­gory 5 strength for the long­est time ever recorded. Irma was the sec­ond-strong­est storm recorded in the At­lantic, and it dev­as­tated the Caribbean and plowed into Florida. Irma’s $50 bil­lion in dam­ages ranks fifth.

The most dev­as­tat­ing came last: Hur­ri­cane Maria lev­eled parts of Puerto Rico. Ex­perts still can’t agree on how many peo­ple died, with some es­ti­mates in the thou­sands. Maria was Amer­ica’s third-costli­est storm at $90 bil­lion.

BP oil spill

Amer­ica’s big­gest off­shore oil spill be­gan with an ex­plo­sion that killed 11 peo­ple. It hap­pened April 20, 2010, on the Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon drilling rig, which was ex­tract­ing oil for BP. The rig sank two days later on the 40th an­niver­sary of Earth Day. For 87 ex­cru­ci­at­ing days, oil gushed into the Gulf of Mex­ico as peo­ple in­clud­ing oil en­gi­neers, a No­bel win­ning sci­en­tist and ac­tor Kevin Cost­ner came up with plans to plug the leak that left a bath­tub-like ring of co­ag­u­lated oil on the seafloor.

A team of sci­en­tists cal­cu­lated that 172 mil­lion gal­lons spilled into the Gulf. BP said the num­ber was closer to 100 mil­lion gal­lons, and a fed­eral judge ruled that 134 mil­lion gal­lons

had spilled. The case lan­guished in court un­til April 2016, when a fed­eral judge ap­proved a $20 bil­lion set­tle­ment, rul­ing that BP had been “grossly neg­li­gent.”

By then, the sur­face of the Gulf of Mex­ico had no vis­i­ble scars. Beaches and marshes looked oil-free and back to nor­mal.

However, sci­en­tists no­ticed an in­crease in dol­phin deaths, which had av­er­aged 63 a year be­fore the spill. Af­ter the spill, they hit 335 in 2011 and av­er­aged 200 a year for five years. Bi­ol­o­gists also re­ported far fewer num­bers of en­dan­gered Kemp Ri­p­ley sea tur­tles for years af­ter.

Gla­cial melt­ing

Earth’s glaciers have shrunk by about 3,860 bil­lion tons (3,500 bil­lion met­ric tons) this decade, ac­cord­ing to re­search by Michael Zemp at the World Glacier Mon­i­tor­ing Ser­vice. That’s about 924 tril­lion gal­lons of melted ice and snow — enough to cover the United States in water 14 inches (35.6 cen­time­ters) deep.

Glaciers in Green­land, in­clud­ing the Peter­mann, started the decade los­ing about 54 bil­lion tons (51 bil­lion met­ric tons) of ice a year. It slowed to about 37 bil­lion tons (34 bil­lion met­ric tons) in 2018 be­fore speed­ing up again in 2019. Glaciers in the South­ern An­des lost about 37 bil­lion tons (34 bil­lion met­ric tons) a year in the early part of the decade, and by 2018 they were los­ing nearly 47 bil­lion tons (42.5 bil­lion met­ric tons) a year.

“The last decade has been dev­as­tat­ing for Earth’s glaciers and ice sheets, and un­like any­thing mod­ern hu­man­ity has seen be­fore,” ice sci­en­tist Twila Moon of the Na­tional Snow and Ice Data Cen­ter said in an email. “Com­mu­ni­ties have lost drink­ing, agri­cul­ture and hy­dropower re­sources as small glaciers have in some in­stances com­pletely dis­ap­peared. Sea level rise from ice loss across the globe has in­creased flood­ing, coastal ero­sion, and health and safety prob­lems, im­pact­ing peo­ple’s lives, com­mu­ni­ties, and economies.”

Ro­hingya ex­o­dus

In Au­gust 2017, Myan­mar’s mil­i­tary launched a bru­tal, sweep­ing crack­down against the coun­try’s Ro­hingya Mus­lim mi­nor­ity, burn­ing vil­lages, me­thod­i­cally rap­ing women and girls, and killing thou­sands, in­clud­ing chil­dren. Hu­man-rights groups have de­scribed the as­sault as a cal­cu­lated cam­paign of eth­nic cleans­ing and geno­cide de­signed to drive the Ro­hingya from the Bud­dhist­ma­jor­ity coun­try.

The blood­shed forced more than 700,000 Ro­hingya to flee to neigh­bor­ing Bangladesh, where trau­ma­tized sur­vivors crowded onto a stretch of low, rolling hills that would be trans­formed into the world’s largest refugee camp.

That is where they have lan­guished for more than two years in cramped, squalid con­di­tions amid a maze of bam­boo-and­tarp shel­ters that do lit­tle to pro­tect them from mon­soon rains and sti­fling heat. Along with fury and fear, a sense of fu­til­ity swept through the camps as the sur­vivors’ pleas for jus­tice went un­heeded de­spite an in­ter­na­tional out­cry over Myan­mar’s ac­tions.

In Novem­ber, the Ro­hingya were given rea­son to hope: Myan­mar was ac­cused of geno­cide at the United Na­tions’ high­est court. In De­cem­ber, Myan­mar leader Aung San Suu Kyi ap­peared be­fore the In­ter­na­tional Court of Jus­tice to de­fend her na­tion’s army from the al­le­ga­tions, ar­gu­ing that the Ro­hingya peo­ple’s ex­o­dus was the un­for­tu­nate re­sult of a bat­tle with in­sur­gents.

The African na­tion of Gam­bia brought the case against Myan­mar on be­half of the 57-coun­try Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Is­lamic Co­op­er­a­tion.


Look­ing down from space on Nov. 9, 2018, the out­skirts of Par­adise, Cal­i­for­nia, glowed like burn­ing coal. Hun­dreds of homes ap­peared as tiny em­bers. En­tire neigh­bor­hoods blazed like bon­fires.

The scope of the worst wild­fire in Cal­i­for­nia his­tory hits home when seen from 300 miles above Earth.

What hap­pened in Par­adise has be­come a cau­tion­ary tale about the kind of dev­as­ta­tion that is pos­si­ble when er­ratic winds carry sparks across a warm­ing planet.

Eighty-five peo­ple died. Some per­ished in cars on roads so choked by traf­fic they couldn’t out­run the flames. Roughly 19,000 homes, busi­nesses and other build­ings were de­stroyed.

The state’s largest util­ity, Pa­cific Gas & Elec­tric Co., was blamed for the fire — one of dozens of blazes its equip­ment has caused in re­cent years — and forced into bankruptcy. A grim new re­al­ity emerged: wide­spread pre­emp­tive black­outs to stop power lines from spark­ing new blazes. Law­mak­ers ap­proved hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars for firefighti­ng and ag­gres­sive brush clear­ing to pro­tect com­mu­ni­ties.

The fire has not led to lim­its on con­struc­tion in es­pe­cially fire-prone ru­ral and moun­tain­ous ter­rain, where homes are more af­ford­able. Dur­ing a se­vere state hous­ing short­age, a new Par­adise is ris­ing from the ashes.

Rise and fall of ISIS

The Is­lamic State group emerged in 2014 dur­ing chaotic con­flicts in Syria and Iraq. The mil­i­tants seized towns and cities, quickly gain­ing con­trol of one-third of both coun­tries. IS cre­ated what no other ex­trem­ist group had be­fore: a so-called Is­lamic caliphate, with the Syr­ian city of Raqqa as its cap­i­tal. Thou­sands of for­eign fight­ers con­verged there, and the mil­i­tants ruled over the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion with a mix of terror and re­wards. They levied taxes and ex­torted the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion. They smug­gled oil and col­lected ran­soms, mak­ing IS one of the rich­est mil­i­tant groups to ever ex­ist.

The group also plot­ted and ex­e­cuted at­tacks in the West. It pro­duced thou­sands of slick on­line pro­pa­ganda videos and re­cruited sup­port­ers around the world.

In re­sponse to the threat, a mil­i­tary cam­paign by a U.S.-led in­ter­na­tional coali­tion slowly chipped away at the group’s ter­ri­tory. The mil­i­tants made their last stand in March 2019 in a tiny Syr­ian vil­lage on the border with Iraq.

Even though IS has lost most of its ter­ri­tory, the group re­mains a threat in Iraq, Afghanista­n, Libya and be­yond. Its shad­owy leader, Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi, was killed in a U.S. airstrike on his hide­out in Syria in Oc­to­ber. But a suc­ces­sor was named, and pledges of al­le­giance came in from mil­i­tants in Asia and Africa. Thou­sands of IS sup­port­ers and fam­ily mem­bers from all over the world, in­clud­ing chil­dren, are im­pris­oned in Syria.

Arab Spring protests

A young Tu­nisian fruit ven­dor, frus­trated at what he said was a sys­tem that trapped him and others in dire poverty, set him­self on fire in De­cem­ber 2010. His death spurred calls for demon­stra­tions through­out the re­gion and started a move­ment that spread though so­cial me­dia and satel­lite TV.

Peo­ple took to the streets with vary­ing de­grees of suc­cess, and the months that fol­lowed be­came known as “The Arab Spring.” Protests reached fever pitch in Libya, Egypt, Syria and Ye­men.

Calls for ba­sic hu­man rights, the de­par­ture of au­to­cratic lead­ers and a way out of the poverty and un­em­ploy­ment for much of the re­gion’s youth were cen­tral to de­mon­stra­tors’ de­mands. But the move­ments were de­cen­tral­ized and lacked clear lead­er­ship. Still, they gen­er­ated enough mo­men­tum to top­ple long­time pres­i­dents Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tu­nisia.

In Libya, Su­dan and Ye­men, the up­ris­ings laid bare ex­ist­ing di­vi­sions in so­ci­ety that sparked civil wars that con­tinue to this day. In Egypt, pro-democ­racy de­mon­stra­tors saw their gains re­versed by a mil­i­tary-backed govern­ment that bru­tally sup­pressed dis­sent. In Syria, the govern­ment’s at­tempt to quash the protests led to years of civil war that dev­as­tated much of the coun­try, claimed hun­dreds of thou­sands of lives and up­rooted mil­lions. Tu­nisia re­mains the move­ment’s ten­ta­tive suc­cess story, with a peace­ful post-up­ris­ing tran­si­tion and demo­cratic elec­tions.

Al­most 10 years later, the re­gion is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a sec­ond wave of protests in coun­tries that missed out the first time around. Ear­lier this year, demon­stra­tions in Su­dan and Algeria pushed out pres­i­dents af­ter decades in power. In Iraq and Le­banon, pro­test­ers are calling for an over­haul of the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.

Copy­right 2019 The As­so­ci­ated Press. All rights re­served. This ma­te­rial may not be pub­lished, broad­cast, rewrit­ten or re­dis­tributed.

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