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Where are the bodies buried? Climate change is showing us

The discoveries of two sets of human remains in Nevada's Lake Mead are just the latest instances of climate change's impact as the bodies were exposed amid low water levels.
Image: Boats float near a 'bathtub ring' of mineral deposits left by higher water levels along drought-stricken Lake Mead on May 9, 2022 in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada.
Boats float near a "bathtub ring" of mineral deposits left by higher water levels along drought-stricken Lake Mead on Monday in Nevada.Mario Tama / Getty Images

The shoreline of Nevada’s Lake Mead receding has led to the discoveries of two sets of human remains and cracked open the mystery of the nation's largest reservoir's watery depths and what may be hidden below.

Even more bodies are likely to come to light, police say, as water levels continue to drop and drought grips the area, further exposing secrets long obscured in the underwater grave.

This isn't the first time an environmental crisis — which has seen temperatures rise, water levels dip, drought persist and wildfires rage across different areas of the nation — has unmasked strange sights.

Climate change has unearthed human remains, plane crash debris and missing vehicles in depleting bodies of water, as well as frozen corpses on thawing mountain peaks.

Here's a look at some of the grim discoveries.

Two bodies pulled from shrinking Lake Mead

Boaters enjoying the spring day at Lake Mead made a jarring discovery May 1: a metal barrel that appeared to contain skeletal remains.

“We believe this is a homicide as a result of a gunshot wound,” Lt. Ray Spencer with the Las Vegas police said.

Efforts are underway to identify the victim, who investigators believe was killed between the mid-1970s and the early 1980s, based on clothing and footwear, Las Vegas police said.

The remains likely emerged because the reservoir has hit historic lows and is down to about 30 percent capacity. Last month, water levels reached below an intake valve that began supplying Nevada customers in 1971. 

Just six days after the barrel discovery, another set of skeletal remains was found at Callville Bay within Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the National Park Service said. However, in this case, Las Vegas police said there was no evidence to suggest foul play.

While more bodies may be found there, the dwindling water levels and ongoing drought is a crisis officials are racing to tackle. Lake Mead, created by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, is a major lifeline providing water for about 40 million people across seven Southwestern states.

Frozen 'mummies' found on melting mountaintops

The perilous journey to scale Mount Everest is a notoriously dangerous trek that Reuters reported has claimed around 300 lives, according to a Himalayan database. Victims are sometimes left on the peak, as it is too dangerous to transport them out. Long buried under snow and ice, some of those bodies have surfaced due to rising temperatures.

"Because of global warming, the ice sheet and glaciers are fast melting and the dead bodies that remained buried all these years are now becoming exposed," Ang Tshering Sherpa, former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, told the BBC in 2019.

“We have brought down dead bodies of some mountaineers who died in recent years, but the old ones that remained buried are now coming out,” he added.

Similarly, in the Swiss Alps in 2017, the frozen bodies of a couple who went missing 75 years prior were found due to melting ice.

Image: The mummified remains of a Swiss Couple who went missing 75 years ago and who were found in a glacier in the Diablerets mountains, in southern Switzerland, in a photo made available on on July 18, 2017.
The mummified remains of a Swiss couple who went missing and were found in a glacier in the Diablerets mountains, in southern Switzerland, in a photo made available July 18, 2017.Glacier 3000 / via AFP - Getty Images

Marcelin and Francine Dumoulin, the parents of seven children, had gone to milk their cows in a meadow above Chandolin in the Valais canton on August 15, 1942, but never returned, Reuters reported.

Their bodies were found remarkably preserved in a glacier, and their belongings were intact, witnesses said at the time.

It was believed that they fell into a crevasse.

“As the glacier receded, it gave up their bodies,” Bernhard Tschannen, then-director of ski lift company Glacier 3000, told the newspaper Tribune de Geneve, Reuters reported at the time.

In 2014, the mummified bodies of two Austrian soldiers from World War I emerged due to glacier melt around the small Italian ski resort of Peio. The soldiers, who had gunshot wounds, had reportedly died in a battle between Austro Hungarian troops and the Italian army.

Receding California lake reveals decades-old plane crash mystery

Last summer, a drought in California lowered water levels of Folsom Lake to the point that sonar technology detected the remains of a nearly intact plane at the bottom of the reservoir.

The plane was detected under 160 feet of water at the lake, located in the Sierra Nevada foothills, the Placer County Sheriff's Office said then.

At first it was believed to be from a 1965 New Year's Day crash that killed four people. The sheriff’s office said it was determined that the aircraft was from a 1986 case where the plane went down with no fatalities reported.

Body found in Lake Powell because of lowering water levels

Dropping water levels at Utah's Lake Powell led police to discover a body in a vehicle in the water on Aug. 16.

Garfield County Sheriff's Office  extricated a body from this vehicle that fell 600 feet off a ledge into Lake Powell near Hite Marina on Aug. 16, 2021, which was possibly missing since September 2020.
The Garfield County Sheriff's Office said officials extricated a body on Aug. 16 from a vehicle that fell 600 feet off a ledge into Lake Powell.Garfield County Sheriff's Office via Facebook

The vehicle was believed to have been possibly missing since September 2020, the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement in August, noting it was found "due to the receding waters at Lake Powell."

Officials believed it fell 600 feet off a ledge into the lake near Hite Marina.