Annals of the Former World
The threat to the natural world and humankind from climate change is now well-established. One of the amazing features of our world is the interconnectedness of everything, from land to sea, from the actions of man to the actions of clouds. This interconnectedness allows humankind to impact the atmosphere and thus the far-flung corners of the Earth, as the most powerful primal elements are subject to other forces given sufficient time.
Even if extreme action were taken now in the face of the climate crisis, many aspects of the natural world have already been or still will be irrevocably changed. Annals of the Former World is my testimony to the wonder of the natural world as we found it, and serves as my record of this world for my own daughter and future generations, both what we had and what we lost, an elegy for a world that will never be the same.
There is, however, still time to reduce the impact of climate change on human populations and the landscapes we hold dear. With Annals, I hope to increase awareness of what is at risk and to advocate for policies and actions on the part of governments as well as all citizens of the world to mitigate the threat as much as possible.
In this project, I have imagined a future history where photographers, inspired by the Great Surveys of the American West after the Civil War, conducted the Anthropocene Surveys to document what would soon be lost for the benefit of future generations. This future history culminates in a museum exhibition in the year 2124 (timeline here, portfolio cover here) that looks back to our current times to introduce museum visitors of the twenty-second century to the wonders of the early twenty-first century via photographs and captions, as seen in the examples below.
Svínafellsjökull, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland, 2018
Over five miles long in 2018, the Svínafellsjökull glacial tongue finished melting in 2101. A popular tourist destination last century, Svínafellsjökull became mostly inaccessible when the adjacent mountain, Svínafellsheiði, collapsed in 2024 due to large cracks formed due to retreating ice. Seven Swiss teenage tourists died in the collapse, leading the the Icelandic government to close the viewing location.
Painted Hills National Monument, Oregon, 2017
The Painted Hills reveal an intricate visual record of the climate change that occurred between 30 and 35 million years ago when the climate shifted from warmer, wetter conditions (the red bands of color) to cooler, drier conditions (the lighter bands). The Painted Hills have survived the current changing climate relatively intact (unlike the surrounding area), but detailed geological records such as these are less likely to be formed in the Anthropocene era.
Camden, Maine, 2018
Maine, even along the coast, was well-known in the early 21st Century for its snow-filled winters. Warming temperatures and changed Arctic weather patterns now mean that the greatly reduced snowfalls the region receives melt very quickly, so residents go inland to the mountains for winter sports.
Snæfellsnes, Iceland, 2018
Iceland’s Snæfellsnes peninsula once had scores of glacier-fed waterfalls during much of the 21st Century. Luckily for today’s visitors, heavy rains often bring these waterfalls back to life.
Rauðfelsdsgjá, Iceland, 2018
Iceland is surrounded by the Arctic, Antarctic, and polar waters, providing food-rich currents that makes the island a wonderful breeding ground for many fish-eating seabirds. Rising temperatures over the last century destroyed much of Iceland’s existing seabird population and, while other birds have replaced them, Atlantic puffins, arctic terns, and eighteen other iconic species are now rarely, if ever, found here.
Dettifoss, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland, 2018
In the early twenty-first century, about 11 billion tons of Iceland’s glacial ice melted per year, feeding spectacular waterfalls such as Dettifoss. This rate of melting increased for a few decades until dropping down as Iceland’s glaciers melted away, including the Vatnajökull glacier, the primary source of Dettifoss. At its peak, Dettifoss was the most powerful waterfall in Europe with flows up to 20,000 cubic feet of water per second.
Sólheimajökull, Iceland, 2018
Sólheimajökull was a glacial tongue of the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap until melting away last century. The partial melting of Mýrdalsjökull resulted in Katla, Europe’s most feared volcano, to increase activity, erupting six times in the 80 years, irrevocably changing the landscape of the island and killing thousands. As the glacier receded the pressure on the underlying rock decreased, allowing the dormant volcano underneath the glacier to burst forth.
Jökulsárlón, Iceland, 2018
Iceland’s famous diamond beach, near the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, was the result of chunks of ice calving off a melting glacier into the lagoon, drifting into the ocean, and then washing ashore on the black sand beach before they ultimately melted. Eventually all of Iceland’s glaciers retreated far enough that melting ice never reached the ocean, but for many years Jökulsárlón was one of Iceland’s premier tourist attractions.
Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado, 2018
Biodiversity in Great Sand Dunes National Park is significantly less than it was a century ago, as bird species failed to adapt quickly enough and the streams in the park dried up, effectively ending aquatic life in the park. Different bird species have now found the park, though, and bird biodiversity is beginning to increase again. The drier climate, of course, means that the streams and fish will not similarly recover.
Saguaro National Park, Arizona, 2015
Arizona suffered more than any other state as the Colorado River dried up by the end of the 21st Century because their legal rights to water sources were superseded by other states. The loss of this water source combined with higher temperatures, rampant wildfires and extensive, long-term droughts forced the mass exodus of population north from Arizona to other states in the Northern Rockies with sufficient water supplies and better conditions.
Damariscotta River, Maine, 2013
River herrings such as alewives once dominated many rivers in New England, returning en-masse each spring to navigate upstream to spawn in the lake of their birth. By 2015 the alewife population was only at 3% of this historical peak because of damming and other environmental factors, and the warming planet finished off the alewives by 2050.
Megunticook Lake, Maine, 2018
Many New Englanders have heard stories about how long lake ice used to last in the “old days” from their grandparents. Warmer temperatures over the past century led to later lake freezing and earlier ice-outs, and the resulting higher lake temperatures caused the eradication of cold-water fish such as salmon and trout in Maine’s lakes as the deep, cold water layers at the bottom of lake lost their oxygen and made the lakes inhospitable for those species.
Saguaro National Park, Arizona, 2015
With average temperatures being 12 °F higher than they were during the Anthropocene Surveys in the early 21st Century, the Saguaro National Park region (including the Tucson area) has become much less habitable for both humans and its namesake species. You can still find a few remnants of the iconic saguaro here, but scientists expect the saguaro to go extinct soon as they have not adapted quickly enough to the rapidly changing climate.
San Juan National Forest, Colorado, 2018
The shimmering yellow foliage of the aspen forests of the American West were one of the biggest drivers of tourism in that region in the 20th and early 21st centuries. The massive die-offs of the aspens that started accelerating in the 2050’s because of the hotter and drier conditions have dramatically lowered the aspen population throughout the Rocky Mountain region, but visitors can still find a few intact groves at higher altitudes.
Wonderland, Acadia National Park, Maine, 2017
Seas have risen about more on the coast of Maine (and other land bordering the Gulf of Maine) about ten feet over the last 100 years, more than the global average. What was once a sandy or gravel beach in Acadia is now buried under the rising sea except during extremely low tides, and visitors instead primarily enjoy Acadia’s iconic granite rocks as shoreline instead of the traditional beaches.
Snow Geese, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico, 2015
Snow goose populations have swung widely because of the loss, and sometimes gain, of breeding grounds and food sources as the climate has changed. When populations have boomed, the geese tend to devastate their breeding grounds, impacting many species. The snow geese also served as a temporary boost to the diet of polar bears in Canada’s Cape Churchill peninsula before the bears become extinct late last century.
Pacific Ocean, Garrapata State Park, California, 2016
Oceans absorb much of the heat from rising air temperatures, and warmer oceans led to species eradication and movement of species towards the poles, disrupting fisheries around the world. Increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere also resulted in increased acidification of the oceans, bringing massive changes to ocean ecosystems, such as the extinction of coral reef ecosystems.
Snæfellsjökull, Iceland, 2018
Iceland’s Snæfellsjökull glacier, first made famous by Jules Verne as the fictional entrance to the center of the earth, did not quite survive until the turn of the century, as the last vestiges of the glacier melted in the summer of 2099.