Powerful Aerial Photos Show the Consequences of Drought on the Colorado River

Delta by Paul Nicklen

Conservation photographer Paul Nicklen is a leader in using his art to promote change. His new series Delta is no different. At first glance, these spectacular aerial photos simply highlight the beauty of our planet. But upon closer examination, they also demonstrate climatic issues caused by humans.

The reality is that these photographs actually show the straggling remains of the Colorado River as it peters out before reaching the Sea of Cortez, which was once its final destination. The freshwater river flowed freely for millions of years, all the way to Baja, Mexico. Now, due to droughts and 14 dams that block the river, it dries up well before reaching the sea. What Nicklen has photographed is the dying remains of the delta, a place that used to nourish millions of birds that would migrate and feed on its lush green forest. All that is left behind is a salt marsh.

“The tides now, instead of going through old grassy fields, are going through salt and silt and carving their way through the sediment,” Nicklen tells My Modern Met. “They're showing that this is the hearts and the lungs and the trees of our planet, sort of carving and etching and reminding us of what once was in this beautiful delta.”

In these powerful images, taken from a two-seater plane, we see the spidering remains of the freshwater river. As it makes its way into this delta, rivulets appear as trees or lungs etched into the earth. For Nicklen, who often uses images of wildlife to illustrate stories of conservation, the decision to show the delta was easy.

“I want people to walk away and say, drought is not something that’s just happening in Africa or in Australia,” he shares. “It’s happening right here in our backyard, in the United States and Canada. Climate change is here, it’s real, and it’s affecting all of us.”

Paul Nicklen's series Delta is a powerful look at the effects of drought in the United States.

Aerial Photography by Paul Nicklen

Environmental Photography by Paul Nicklen

These aerial photos show the dried-up remains of the Colorado River, which once stretched to the Sea of Cortez.

Delta by Paul Nicklen

The freshwater river now dries up hundreds of miles before its destination, leaving behind a barren salt marsh.

Environmental Photography by Paul Nicklen

The area was once a lush green forest that nourished millions of migrating birds.

Aerial Photography by Paul Nicklen

Paul Nicklen: Website | Facebook | Instagram

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Paul Nicklen.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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