Environment

Human Bodies Keep Turning Up in Lake Mead, as Severe Drought Dries Reservoir


A third set of human remains were found in Nevada’s Lake Mead on 25 July as water levels have receded to historic lows during a drought fueled by climate change

The remains were spotted by a witness at Swim Beach on Lake Mead during the afternoon of 25 July, the National Park Service announced. Investigators retrieved the remains, the park service said.

 

They are at least the third set of remains found as the drought-stricken reservoir, which supplies water to 25 million people across the Southwest, has receded to unprecedented levels.

In May, boaters at the lake discovered the decades-old remains of a person who appeared to be shot in the head and put into a barrel in the lake. Less than a week later, two sisters paddle-boarding on the lake discovered another set of skeletal remains. 

Experts say these newly found remains are likely just the beginning. As human-caused climate change warms the planet and intensifies droughts, remnants of the past may continue being unearthed from receding waters.

“I would expect human remains of missing persons will probably be revealed over time, as the water level continues to recede,” Jennifer Byrnes, a forensic anthropologist that consults with the Clark County coroner’s office, told Insider in May.

Eric Bartelink, a forensic anthropologist at California State University’s Chico Human Identification Lab, told Insider the dropping water levels have uncovered cases that have been hiding beneath the surface for years.

“For us, it’s really just potentially more opportunities to find missing persons and more likelihood that certain cases are going to be discovered,” he said, adding, “It’s just going to reveal more things that were in water that you normally wouldn’t have access to very easily.”

 

Water levels at Lake Mead have dramatically dropped since 2000

Recent satellite imagery from NASA illustrated the dramatic drop in water levels, which have plummeted to their lowest point since the reservoir was filled in the 1930s. As of Wednesday, the water level was at 1,040 feet (317 meters). The lake has a maximum capacity of 1,220 feet (372 meters) in elevation, a level last approached in 1999.

Side-by-side images of Lake Mead in 2000, 2021, and 2022. (NASA)

“The largest reservoir in the United States supplies water to millions of people across seven states, tribal lands, and northern Mexico,” the space agency said in a news release earlier this month. “It now also provides a stark illustration of climate change and a long-term drought that may be the worst in the US West in 12 centuries.”

Wildfires, melting glaciers, and sea-level rise are also unearthing relics and remains

Melting glaciers due to warmer average global temperatures are also revealing previously hidden artifacts and human remains.

In the last decade, the Hawaii-based Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command has worked to recover the remains of 52 service members who died when their military transport plane crashed into an Alaska mountain in 1952.

 

“As the glacier melts and the glacier moves, more material comes up to the surface,” Gregory Berg, the forensic anthropologist who led the team that examined the remains that emerged from the retreating glaciers, told reporters at a 2013 news briefing.

More recently, in western Mongolia and Norway, melting ice has exposed fragile, previously frozen artifacts, including ancient tools, rope, spears, and arrows, according to William Taylor, an archaeologist at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Thanks to melting ice, scientists have a narrow window of time to secure these objects before they’re damaged or degraded by weather and exposure to the elements, Taylor wrote in The Conversation in 2021.

Swelling seas can also threaten sacred and culturally significant sites. Ancestral remains in Hawaii, which are traditionally buried along the shore, are being exposed by rising sea levels and beach erosion, Byrnes told Insider.

“Encroaching seas are eroding those burials out and human remains are going to continue to be exposed,” she said in May.

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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