Narrow sandstone pillars, some over 650 feet high, pierce Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in Hunan Province, China. This gas crater in Darvaza, located in Turkmenistan's Karakum desert, has been burning for decades. A fallen tree creates a natural bridge for a hiker in Washington State's Olympic National Park. On a lake near the spa town of Altaussee in the Austrian Alps, a boathouse is the launching point for colorful crafts.
Colombia's lush Cocora Valley, part of Los Nevados National Park, is the principal home for the country's national tree, the palma de cera, or wax palm.
Regal in size, operatic in feeling, the ornate Libreria El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore is housed in a former theater in Buenos Aires. A gardener works on a giant carpet of begonias at the Grand-Place, the central square in Brussels, Belgium.
Discover the story behind this 2016 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year entry. Find out why the capital of Georgia is one of the most strikingly original travel destinations in Eastern Europe, if not the world. Check out this photographer's latest stops in Congaree National Park and Shenandoah National Park.
Tour the well-preserved Inca ruins in this gallery of photos submitted by National Geographic readers. As technology improves, scientists are able to detect more pollutants, and at smaller concentrations, in Earth’s freshwater bodies.
Every day 2 million tons (1.8 billion kilograms) of human waste are disposed of in waterways around the world. Sandra is a leading authority on international freshwater issues and is spearheading our global freshwater efforts. For more than 15 years, Osvel Hinojosa Huerta has been resurrecting Mexico's Colorado River Delta wetlands. Check out this infographic and learn how you can conserve water and save the Colorado River, as well as other freshwater ecosystems. Verdant trees reflect in the morning waters of Five Flower Lake, colored by mineral deposits and aquatic plant life.
Found at the site of an ancient Chinese city, the 1,500-year-old statuesa€”some life-sizea€”may have been buried by temple officials. On March 20 Chinese archaeologists stand at the edge of a pit where thousands of ancient Buddha statues were unearthed in January.
Statues like this onea€”of young figure in a cross-legged pose common in Buddhist arta€”were common in fifth-century China. A rugby team from Uruguay faces stark choices when the plane carrying them to a match in Chile crashed on October 13, 1972. In the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, pictured here, a stream carves a canyon through rock formed during the 1912 eruption of nearby Novarupta Volcano.
Containing traces of contaminants ranging from birth control pills and sunscreen to pesticides and petroleum, our planet's lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater are often a chemical cocktail.Beyond synthetic pollution, freshwater is also the end point for biological waste, in the form of human sewage, animal excrement, and rainwater runoff flavored by nutrient-rich fertilizers from yards and farms. For every pledge, Change the Course will restore 1,000 gallons back to the Colorado River. The statues range from about 8 inches (20 centimeters) long to life-size.While rare, such finds are not unheard of, Tsiang said.
But archaeologists are increasingly confronted with demands to let past generations rest in peace.

These nutrients find their way through river systems into seas, sometimes creating coastal ocean zones void of oxygen—and therefore aquatic life—and making the connection between land and sea painfully obvious.
In the 1950s, for example, archaeologists found more than 2,000 fragments from broken marble Buddha statues at the site of a temple in Dingxian in China's Hebei Province."Many sculptures from these sites are similar in style to those found recently at Ye," Tsiang said.
Then we turn to the screen of a laptop connected to a laser scanner, and the Hong Meigui Chamber reveals itself. When you dump paint down the drain, it often ends up in the ocean, via freshwater systems.In the developed world, regulation has restricted industry and agricultural operations from pouring pollutants into lakes, streams, and rivers. We float up to its roof, which forms a cathedral arch 950 feet above the cracked mud where we are crouched to avoid the scannera€™s beam.
Technology has also offered a solution in the form of expensive filtration and treatment plants that make our drinking water safe to consume. Some cities are even promoting "green" infrastructure, such as green roofs and rain gardens, as a way to naturally filter out pollutants.
But you may find a different picture in parts of the developing world, where there is less infrastructure—politically, economically, and technically—to deal with the barrage of pollution threats facing freshwater and all of the species that rely on it.Fast FactsIn developing countries, 70 percent of industrial wastes are dumped untreated into waters, polluting the usable water supply. On average, 99 million pounds (45 million kilograms) of fertilizers and chemicals are used each year.Portland, Oregon, is actively pursing “green roofs” and “green streets” to prevent sewer overflows into the Willamette River. And by the fifth and sixth centuries, there was quite a lot of trade across the Silk Road into China from Central Asia."So [Buddhist] monks from India were coming in, and Chinese monks were traveling and learning. Chicago, Illinois, now has more than 517,000 acres (209,222 hectares) of vegetated roofs—more than any other U.S.
In a big chamber, even with modern LED headlamps many times brighter than the old carbide ones, you can see 150 or so feet ahead or above, and not much more.
Ita€™s natural to want to see more.Wanting to see more is what drew Andy Eavis to southern China more than 30 years ago.
Here in the still cloistered country was the planeta€™s greatest concentration of the otherworldly topography known as karst: sinkholes, stone towers, forested spires, and disappearing rivers that form over centuries as rainwater dissolves a soluble bedrock, usually limestone. And hidden inside and underneath this green mountainscapea€”the same iconic scenery found in traditional Chinese paintingsa€”was the planeta€™s greatest concentration of undocumented caves.Thata€™s also why Eavis has come yet again to China, this time toting well-worn caving bags overloaded with new laptops, batteries, and a rented 3-D laser scanner worth more than $100,000. His plan is to spend a month in at least three of the biggest chambers in the world, turn on the scannera€”and measure them precisely for the first time.A white-haired plug of an Englishman in his late 60s, who made a fortune in plastics manufacturing, Eavis is often said to have discovered more miles of territory than anyone alive. The visit to its karst capital, Guilin, in the humid far southeast of the country, was a quick stop on his way back home from an expedition in Indonesia. The peak-ringed city and surrounding Guangxi region were then a different place: bicycles but few cars, peasants in blue work suits, escorts for foreigners.
Eavis and his partner skipped much of the tourist program to meet with officials at the Institute of Karst Geology, the beginning of a relationship that would bring British and Chinese cavers into the limestone for the next three decades. The pace of discoveries would be nearly as rapid and stunning as Chinaa€™s own transformation during those same years.Eavis is in Guilin this time with a team of ten international cavers. When we arrive, we are met by a buzz of taxis and scooters in a city swollen to roughly a million people. The new Chinaa€”freeways, luxury supermalls, peaks turned into quarries to feed the booma€”is astonishing, especially to two team members. Richard Walters and Peter Smart were with Eavis in Guilin in 1985 and a€™86, the first of two dozen expeditions that would make up the pioneering China Caves Project. China's Underground Kingdom Southern China holds the world's largest concentration of the eroded topography called karst. For more than 600 million years, this region was covered by a sea and accumulated miles-thick layers of sediments, including limestone. Smart, a noted karst scientist who retired from the University of Bristol in 2009, has a professorial beard and perpetually crooked glasses.

He had to be persuaded to use a modern descender, a device to control his slide down a caving ropea€”his old one was just fine, thank you. But he is excited by the innovation that is laser scanning, also known as lidar, because otherwise a€?caving is through a glass darkly.a€? For all of Chinaa€™s change, we find that as we continue west from Guilin toward the biggest cave chambers, Smarta€™s expert description of the landscape still fits. Early visitors gave the formations names like a€?rhinoceros admiring the moona€? and a€?stone singing praises of plums.a€?Grabbing the rock high above a bend in the Getu He river, Matt Segal scales the Great Arch of Chuanzhang Cave. Tourist boats often ply the river below, providing a less challenging view of Ziyun Getu He Chuandong National Park.Wright balances atop a spire in the Stone Forest. Deposited in a shallow sea 270 million years ago, the limestone here was eroded by heavy tropical rains. By area, Hong Meigui Chamber, the first we plan to scan, is thought to be roughly the size of nine football fields.
It is number eight on a 2012 list that cavers have been passing around of the worlda€™s largest known cave rooms, behind contenders in Malaysia, Spain, Oman, Belize, and elsewhere in Chinaa€”but where it ranks by volume is a question we hope to start answering in 3-D. Our base for this early part of the expedition is not a subterranean camp but an aging, industrial-size hotel in the town of Leye, which had 5,000 people when first visited by the China Caves Project. Now it has many times that, and more than 160,000 tourists a year come to see the nearby Dashiwei Tiankeng, a 2,000-foot-wide, 2,000-foot-deep sinkhole first known to Karst Institute scientists in 1998 and explored by the China Caves Project two years later. A photo of Eavis is displayed in the local museum.To reach Hong Meigui each day, we drive to a parking lot not far from town, where we change into coveralls and don harnesses and helmets and headlamps, then walk for a minute or two to an unremarkable-looking opening in the forested mountainside. Past a concrete cistern farmers use to collect water dripping from an overhanging roof, the cave swiftly becomes colder and steeper and darker.
Soon enough, we are in another world.Two short rappelsa€”maybe 15 feet and 50 feeta€”have been rigged by the groupa€™s two ablest cavers, Tim Allen and Mark Richardson. For much of an hour on my first descent, I follow Tima€™s wife, Jane Allen, another expert caver, down a staircase of pools shimmering in our headlamps and into a tubelike passage where the surface looks likea€”and sometimes surely isa€”a river of mud.The sensation when we enter Hong Meigui Chamber itself is both dizzying and familiar. I can see that it is big simply because I cana€™t see much at all; no longer does my light bounce off a ceiling or walls. This semantic question will be constantly argued over by expedition members, for one of the eventual goals of 3-D scanninga€”a ranking of the worlda€™s largest chambers by volumea€”is impossible if cave explorers cana€™t agree on a definition.The largest known is Sarawak Chamber in Malaysia, which Eavis and two others discovered in 1980 and helped scan in 2011. Its estimated volume is 338 million cubic feeta€”more than three times the size of the new Dallas Cowboys stadium in Texas. My laymana€™s answer to the definition question is that we never argue over whether something is a full-blown hall or a hallway; you know it when you see it. None of the cavers find this answer satisfying in the least.When I catch up with the scanning team, they are in the cracked mud near the meteorite, not far from the edge of the lake and the sheer face of a limestone wall that leads to the hidden roof of the cave. This is one of 17 scanning stations in Hong Meiguia€”so many because a laser scanner can see no better around a corner or a boulder than a human can.
The scanner emits laser pulses and measures how long it takes for them to be reflected back. Our model is a Riegl VZ-400, used in architecture, engineering, and mining and now for the first time in caving.
Ita€™s a metal cylinder about the size of a human head and weighs 21 pounds, not including its two nine-pound batteries or the tripod or laptop and cables. When running, it sits at about eye level, spinning 360 degrees and taking up to 122,000 measurements per second of everything within a maximum 2,000-foot radius.

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