The most gorgeous and terrifying photos of the natural world captured in 2017

2017 was a year of destruction. Wildfires raged, volcanoes erupted and pollution swarmed entire cities in a fog of smoggy air.

But the beauty of the natural world didn’t escape unnoticed. Here are some of the most gorgeous photos of what happened to the Earth this year, as captured by Reuters photographers.

It was a record-setting year for climbers.

In the photo above, a solo climber journeys up a wall of ice in a northern pocket of the Czech Republic.

Other impressive accomplishments this year included a new record for the speediest climb: two men in Yosemite climbed 2,900 feet up “the Nose” in 2 hours and 19 minutes.

And daredevil free-solo climber Alex Honnold scrambled up “El Capitain” in the same park without any ropes or protective equipment, becoming the first person to complete the climb that way.

In Norway, a Czech climber finished the hardest single-rope-length climb in 20 exhilarating minutes, The Guardian reported.

In August, the sun, the moon, and the Earth all lined up for a rare celestial show.

People across the United States cheered and peered skyward as a total solar eclipse swept across the continent.

In September, charged particles from the sun hitting the Earth’s magnetic field produced quite a show in Finland.

The Northern Lights happen when high-energy particles shooting out from the sun come into contact with the Earth’s magnetic field and drift towards the poles.

Here’s the view from the “corner office” for summer workers in the marble-rich alps of Italy.

This bold Tecchiaiolo is examining the marble before excavation begins. He’ll use the black iron bar that hangs from his belt to poke at the walls and remove loose parts so they don’t fall onto workers below.

In Italy, they call the substance marmo. It fetches anywhere from $US50-150 per square foot in the US.

Further south, some Brazilians have been struggling through a five-year drought.

It’s the worst drought on record for this northeastern corner of Brazil, and residents told Reuters that their water is dirty, smelly, and undrinkable.

Elsewhere in the country, a dead humpback whale washed ashore in November.

People walking by the carcass in Rio de Janeiro said it was pretty smelly. The Guardian reported that ‘beachings’ can happen along the Brazilian coastline as whales move between feeding and breeding grounds, but this year there were more than usual.

In India, dust whipped around on the shores of the Ganges.

India’s holy river, “Mother Ganga” is turning into toxic sludge as the government’s $US3 cleanup effort drags behind schedule.

Smog circled New Delhi this fall. It got so thick in some spots the government said the city was like a ‘gas chamber.’

India is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants. Harvest season is also a time when farmers burn their fields, adding to the smoke in the air.

Pollution is becoming a globally fatal problem — it now kills 9 million people a year.

Pollution is more deadly than smoking, and kills nearly 15 times more people than all the world’s wars and violence combined. It’s three times as deadly as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis all put together. And it’s costing the world $US4.6 trillion every year.

Bali’s Mount Agung blew up in a string of volcanic eruptions in November, spewing ash 13,000 feet into the air.

Ash clouds as tall as 3.7 miles stranded 59,000 travellers as flights were grounded on the island. The volcano is still rumbling.

Bali wasn’t the only magma-spewer of 2017. Europe’s tallest volcano also poured hot lava out on Sicily in February.

After two dormant years, Mount Etna, which is over 10,900 feet high, sprung to life in February, and again in March. A film crew reportedly had to race down the mountain to avoid the flow.

“Running down a mountain pelted by rocks, dodging burning boulders and boiling steam – not an experience I ever ever want to repeat,” BBC global science correspondent¬†Rebecca Morelle wrote in a series of tweets about her escape from Mount Etna.

Spewing magma hit the snow and six people were reportedly hospitalized. But everyone made it out alright. In fact, the last time Etna killed anyone was in 1987 when an 8-year-old French tourist and his mother were killed.

In Sumatra, Mount Sinabung volcano had another very active year.

The eruption on August 2nd blasted ash more than two and a half miles into the air. No deaths were reported. After more than a century of quiet, the volcano has erupted several times in the past few years.

A major Atlantic storm, Ophelia, carried dust from the African desert all the way to this London tower.

European hurricanes are pretty rare, but that could change in the coming years. Higher ocean temperatures could mean more storms survive to hit the continent.

Meanwhile, wildfires continue ravaging the American west.

In California alone, 42 people were killed in October as wildfires ripped through wineries and destroyed entire neighbourhoods.

Firefighters battled blazes outside Los Angeles in December.

Wildfires in 2017 cost the federal government more than $US2.7 billion by the end of the fiscal year in October — ¬†the highest total on record.

In the photo above, golfers at the Beacon Rock Golf Course in North Bonneville, Washington watched the Eagle Creek fire rage in September.

Photojournalist Kristi McCluer, who was behind the lens for this shot, said she spotted the scene from the air while she was skydiving. When she came down, she headed out with her camera.

Despite the firescape in the background, the golfers weren’t in any real danger, she said.

“When I was done taking pictures, I walked over to them and we talked about how crazy and surreal and horrifying this event is,” McCluer told Fortune.

As the year draws to a close, Lahti, Finland says goodbye from beneath a blanket of dark days.

On the shortest day of the year, December 21, people there will have just over five and a half hours of sun.

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