Extreme weather is sweeping the world, with devastating floods and wildfires on 3 continents at once

Photos showing flooding in Germany, fire in the US, fire in Russia, and flooding in China.
Photos showing flooding in Germany, fire in the US, fire in Russia, and flooding in China.

  • The past week has seen extreme weather strike around the world.
  • China and Europe are fighting flooding while the US, Canada, and Russia have huge fires.
  • Worsening extreme weather is a consequence of the climate crisis, experts say.
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Extreme weather is striking all over the world, illustrating how vulnerable swathes of humanity are natural disasters.

Some events – like wildfires sweeping the western US – are seasonal, while others came as a total surprise.

China and Western Europe were both hit by devastating floods in the past week, with a death toll beyond 100. In wooded eareas of Canada, the US, and Russia, vast swathes of land are ablaze.

Lethal flooding hit China

At least 16 people were dead in extreme flooding in the city of Zhengzhou, Reuters reported Wednesday.

Vehicles are stranded in floodwater near Zhengzhou Railway Station, July 20, 2021.
Vehicles are stranded in floodwater near Zhengzhou Railway Station, July 20, 2021.

Video showed people trapped in a flooded subway car, and Reuters reported a flooded subway line was where 12 of those people died. Photos also show roads completely flooded.

Western Europe flooded

At the same time, Germany, Belgium, and Austria were dealing with the aftermath of devastating flooding that collapsed houses and turned roads into rivers.

The death toll as of Wednesday was more than 200 following flooding more severe than any to hit for decades.

Multiple cars and rubble in front of a building
A woman walks past cars and rubble piled up in a street after the floods caused major damage in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, western Germany, on July 16, 2021.

The UK and Ireland are also experiencing heatwaves. In the UK, the weather office issued its first-ever extreme heat warning.

Oregon is battling a huge fire

Oregon is battling a fire so big that it can be seen from space and is creating its own weather.

NOAA satellite images show the Bootleg Fire in Oregon.
NOAA satellite images show the Bootleg Fire in Oregon.

The Bootleg Fire in the south of the state is the US’s biggest wildfire so far this year, and has burned more than 340,000 acres, The New York Times reported.

Canada fighting fire too

Nearly 300 fires were burning across the province of British Columbia on Tuesday, and evacuation orders affected around 5,700 people, CBC reported.

There were also fires in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario, according to Global News. Canada recently had its hottest-ever day, in a heatwave so severe it caused hundreds of deaths and boiled shellfish in their shells.

Siberia is also ablaze

Forest fires have burned through 3.7 million acres of land in the north-east of Siberia, Russia, The Guardian reported.

Smoke has covered cities and towns, and forced the airport to close.

One person living in an affected village told The Guardian: “Emergency workers have come and villagers are also fighting the fires but they can’t put them out, they can’t stop them. Everything is on fire.”

A firefighter battles a burning tree
A specialist of the local forest protection service works to extinguish a forest fire near the village of Magaras in the region of Yakutia, Russia July 17, 2021.

It is difficult to directly attribute individual weather events to the climate crisis. But experts are clear that longterm shifts in cliamte, caused by human activity, are making such events more frequent and severe .

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A Russian passenger plane that disappeared in Siberia has been located with all 19 people aboard still alive

An Antonov An-28 aircraft
An Antonov An-28 plane, the same type of plane that made a hard landing in Siberia.

  • An Antonov-28 plane, operated by regional airline SiLA, has been found after making an emergency landing in Siberia.
  • All 19 passengers on board are alive and are being evacuated.
  • A source told Interfax that the flight “stopped communicating” mid-flight and had disappeared off radar.
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A Russian plane that disappeared off radar near the Tomsk region of Siberia has been located – and all 19 passengers on board are alive, local officials told Sky News.

The Antonov-28 plane, operated by regional airline SiLA, had made an emergency landing after an engine failed, officials said.

The plane was flying from the town of Kedrovy in the Tomsk region to the city of Tomsk when it made the landing, RIA Novosti reported.

A source told Interfax that the flight “stopped communicating” mid-flight and an emergency beacon was later recorded.

The regional branch of the Russian Emergencies Ministry told Sky News that two helicopters were dispatched to locate the plane, and all 19 passengers are now being evacuated.

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3 species of human ancestors may have mixed and mingled in one Siberian cave 45,000 years ago – altering our evolution

denisova cave
The Denisova cave in Russia’s Anui River Valley.

Denisova Cave, high in the mountains of Siberia, was a happening place for our ancestors 300,000 years ago. Anthropologists have known that for a while: Scientists have excavated bones and teeth there from our Neanderthal and Denisovan cousins – and one of their hybrid children – over the last two decades. They’ve also found stone tools and jewelry.

But according to a recent study in the journal Nature, modern humans appear to have joined the party, too.

An analysis of ancient DNA culled from sediment on the cave floor suggests that these Homo sapiens occupied the cave starting around 45,000 years ago. So they may have overlapped with Neanderthals and Denisovans.

“We now have the first direct evidence for the presence of ancient modern humans at the site,” Elena Zavala, an evolutionary anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute in Germany and a co-author of the study, told Insider.

Neanderthal Evolution
An exhibit shows the life of a Neanderthal family at the Neanderthal Museum in the town of Krapina, Croatia, February 25, 2010.

The findings offer further insight into how our human ancestors interacted and interbred – exchanging genes and tool-making technology that altered the course of our species’ evolution.

“I cannot think of another site where three human species lived through time,” Katerina Douka, an archaeologist who was not involved in the study, told Science.

Ancient DNA tells a 300,000-year story

Zavala’s team collected more than 700 soil samples between 300,000 and 20,000 years old from across the cave’s three chambers.

One-quarter of those samples contained hominin DNA from microscopic bits of human skin, hair, and poop that got mixed into the sediment. The researchers also found DNA from ancient dogs, bears, hyenas, and horses.

denisovan mtDNA lab work
A scientist analyzes ancient DNA in a laboratory at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

From their extensive DNA analysis, they were able to piece together a timeline of the cave’s occupants. Starting about 250,000 years ago, during a period of global warming, Denisovans started using the cave. Then roughly 60,000 years later, as the climate shifted and temperatures started to drop, Neanderthals arrived on scene.

The two hominins shared the cave for another 60,000 years before traces of the Denisovans disappeared from the fossil record.

For 30,000 years, Neanderthals were the cave’s sole occupants. After that, the new study reveals, a second population of Denisovans emerged. That happened about 100,000 years ago, at the start of the last global ice age. DNA evidence suggests both these Denisovans and their Neanderthal cave-mates survived for up to 78,000 years more.

That’s an important part of the timeline, according to the study, because it suggests those two hominin groups were still thriving in Denisova Cave when the first Homo sapiens showed up 45,000 years ago.

denisova cave
Layers of sediment on the walls of the Denisova Cave.

The team found DNA from all three species in a layer of soil that’s between 45,000 and 22,000 years old – which suggests they all overlapped.

A meeting point for hominins

A portrait of a young female Denisovan based on a skeletal profile reconstructed from ancient DNA.

The fact that three hominin species all chose the same cave got Zavala thinking: What made this spot so special?

“It’s interesting that Denisovans and Neanderthals kept returning to the cave because it is located at the edge of what is thought to be each of their geographical ranges,” she said. (Neanderthals were predominantly from Europe, and Denisovans from Asia.)

Most likely, according to Zavala, it sat along a migration route between Europe and Asia.

“This cave was repeatedly meeting point between these two regions,” she said.

But to verify this idea, anthropologists would need to find more sites along this potential migratory path.

denisova cave
A view from the Denisova Cave in Russia.

Zavala thinks excavators will continue to find more traces of hominin and animal occupants in Denisova Cave.

Previously, anthropologists had to rely on fossils to assess which ancient species were present in an area. But pulling DNA straight from the soil has increased the amount of evidence scientists have to work with, thereby making findings like Zavala’s possible.

“We are not limited by the rare discovery of skeletal materials,” she said.

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The carcass of a young woolly rhinoceros that died thousands of years ago was found almost perfectly preserved in the Siberia permafrost. Researchers even found the animal’s horn.

woolly rhino siberia
Researchers discovered a frozen woolly rhinoceros carcass in the permafrost of Yakutia, Siberia.

  • A local resident from Yakutia, Siberia found the ancient carcass of a juvenile woolly rhino in melting permafrost.
  • Researchers said the carcass is between 20,000 and 50,000 years old, and the most complete young woolly rhino ever found.
  • Most of the rhino’s fur coat, hooves, and internal organs are intact — researchers even found the animal’s horn nearby.
  • One expert thinks the rhino drowned when it was three or four years old.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Alexei Savvin stumbled upon an unprecedented find walking near the Tirekhtyakh River in Yakutia, Siberia last August: an almost perfectly-preserved woolly rhino carcass.

Most of the rhino’s hooves, teeth, and internal organs were still intact. The animal still had some of its thick, fur coat, and researchers even found its horn, which had broken off but lay nearby.

After analyzing the carcass, Siberian scientists announced on Tuesday that the rhino likely lived between 20,000 and 50,000 years ago. 

It is one of the most intact ancient rhinos ever found.

“The young rhino was between three and four years old and lived separately from its mother when it died, most likely by drowning,” Valery Plotnikov, a paleontologist from the Russian Academy of Sciences, told the Siberian Times.

“The rhino has a very thick short underfur, very likely it died in summer,” Plotnikov added.

woolly rhino siberia
A local resident of Yakutia, Siberia found a frozen woolly rhino in August. The carcass still had intact fur.

The rhino used its horn to forage for food

Siberian scientists hope to take the carcass to a laboratory for radiocarbon dating next month in order to get a better sense of how many thousands of years ago the animal died. There, they aim to also discover what gender the rhino was.

For now, they’re waiting for roads to open up between where Savvin found the rhino and the nearby city of Yakutsk.

woolly rhino siberia
A scientist holds up a tooth from a frozen woolly rhino discovered in Yakutia, Siberia in August 2020.

According to Plotnikov, finding the rhino’s small horn was a stroke of luck.

“This is a rarity, since it decomposes rather quickly,” Plotnikov told local outlet Yakutia 24 TV. The researchers found traces of wear on the horn, which suggests the rhino used it to gather food, Reuters reported.

woolly rhino siberia
Researchers found the woolly rhino’s tusk near its frozen carcass in Siberia.

Woolly rhinos lived throughout Europe and northern Asia until they went extinct about 14,000 years ago near the end of the last Ice Age. The creatures had two horns – one small horn between its eyes and another large one that protruded upward – and were covered in a thick, fur coat.

These herbivores munched on grasses; adults could reach lengths of 13 feet and weigh up to 2.2 tons (4,400 pounds).

Not the first find of its kind

woolly rhino siberia
A woolly rhinoceros replica on display in the Weston Park Museum in Sheffield, UK.

Discoveries like this one are likely to become more common as Earth’s temperatures continue to rise.

As the planet warms, the permafrost – ground in the Northern Hemisphere that remains frozen all year – is beginning to thaw. As it melts, ice-age creatures like this woolly rhino that were entombed for tens of thousands of years are starting to be unearthed.

In 2014, scientists found a baby woolly rhino carcass – nicknamed Sasha – in the same region of Siberia that this new rhino was found.

Sasha lived 34,000 years ago and was covered in strawberry blond-colored fur, according to the Siberian Times.

The baby rhino died at the age of seven months and had two little horns. 

Yakutia yielded another find in 2019: scientists discovered a 40,000-year-old severed wolf’s head, complete with fur, teeth, brain, and facial tissue on the banks of a river.

A severed wolf’s head dating back to the Ice Age was found in Russia

In a similar finding this past September, Siberian researchers announced they’d found a perfectly preserved adult cave bear – with its nose, teeth, and internal organs still intact. Scientists think the bear died 22,000 to 39,500 years ago. Its species, Ursus spelaeus, lived during the last ice age and then went extinct 15,000 years ago.

The Lyakhovsky Islands, where the bear was found, are also replete with remains of woolly mammoths from the last ice age.

ice age bears siberia
A carcass of an Ice Age cave bear found on Great Lyakhovsky Island between the Laptev Sea and the East Siberian Sea in northern Russia.

The Siberian permafrost has also revealed two perfectly preserved extinct cave-lion cubs, as well as an ancient baby horse that died in a mud pit 42,000 years ago. The foal’s hair, skin, tail, and hooves were all intact.

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