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The world’s water crisis is disturbingly beautiful when you look down on it from above

A series of photos taken from hovering drones shows melting glaciers, radioactive ponds, and sinking cities.

Standing near a glacial stream in Iceland, you’ll see a reflection of the sky in the mirror-like water, interrupted by a few patches of black volcanic sand. But from the perspective of a drone hovering above the stream and looking straight down, the tangled, complex pattern of the landscape looks almost unrecognizable.

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[Photo: © Milan Radisics/water.shapes.earth]
On a website called Water.Shapes.Earth, Hungarian photographer Milan Radisics documents water from above, revealing unexpected views of both wilderness and landscapes changed by humans–like the strange beauty of a bright green radioactive pond that stores industrial waste in southern Spain. In France, he photographed abandoned oyster farms. In Iceland, he photographed the broken fragments of the shrinking Hoffellsjökull glacier.

Even in places like Venice, where 20 million people visit each year, the aerial view of a nearby lagoon looks unfamiliar. “Ordinary things, shown from the new angle, in the new light, and in the new composition, provide huge stopping power, and make people rethink their habitual statements,” he says. Radisics is a National Geographic contributor with a long career, but only began taking aerial photos, with the help of a drone, in the last year.

Venice, Italy. [Photo: © Milan Radisics/water.shapes.earth]
The images show both how water has shaped human life, and how humans have transformed water. Orange trees planted in hillside terraces in Spain use limited water from irrigation channels. Massive salt ponds were used, centuries ago, to hold stockpiles of salt to preserve food for explorers to take on ships. In Germany, a pond holds by-products next to a recycling center. A photo of the Danube River–which shrunk to record low water levels this summer–shows one impact of drought driven by climate change.

Radisics believes that the photos can make people more aware of the challenges faced by the world’s freshwater supply. “I am not a guy who wants to fight by demonstrations on the streets,” he says. “I believe in the power of aesthetics.” He wants the landscapes, which look like abstract paintings, to inspire people, not scare them.

The project was exhibited in October at the GDT-European Nature Photography Festival, and more exhibits will follow. Radisics also plans to begin traveling outside of Europe, including India and parts of Africa, to continue taking aerial photos of water. The “water crisis is present everywhere,” he says.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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