Every river carries billions of grains of sand and silt that eventually reach the coasts—but nowadays, almost everywhere on the planet, the sediments get trapped in reservoirs. The huge man-made structures are running full over the course of decades, but not with water. This has devastating global effects: Electric turbines are threatening to halt, freshwater reserves are shrinking, and coastal towns are being taken over by the ever-advancing oceans.
Science has shown how to overcome, or at least mitigate, this threat, but companies and governments have ignored the findings. Taking action would hurt their profits. Meanwhile, the threat progresses invisibly—until now.
Using instruments developed by the University of New South Wales, Australia, 40 years of NASA-Landsat and ESA-Sentinel satellite imagery can reveal the coastal retreat that endangers millions of people—caused by sediments that no longer reach the deltas—in startling quality. These data tell stories of a man-made, advancing global catastrophe.
In collaboration with Süddeutsche Zeitung, the data are integrated with on-the-ground investigations in Brazil, Spain, and Southeast Asia to show how human shortsightedness in managing reservoirs threatens nature, agriculture, culture, and the livelihoods of people across the planet. Data, stories, and AI-powered predictions are used to confront powerful corporations and responsible governments and hold them accountable for a looming disaster that has remained hidden for far too long.