On Thursday, a spill during an acid mine cleanup effort sent a million gallons of wastewater seeping down the Animas River. Overnight, the popular waterway was abandoned as its colour quickly changed from blue to an acrid, neon orange.
The spill was an environmental disaster, but it was also weirdly beautiful. And it’s not the first time we’ve managed to turn a large body of water an eerie and surprisingly pretty toxic hue. Here are a few other striking instances in which pollution and industry have shown us their artistic side.
Potash Mine Near Moab, Utah
These electric blue brine ponds are only the most visible part of a complex underground potassium mining operation. They get their crazy colour from an artificial dye, added to the water to help it absorb heat and evaporate more quickly. Learn more about them here.
Image via NASA Earth Observatory
Image via Doc Searles / Flickr
Image via Nelson Minar / Flickr
Hong Kong Coastline
Hong Kong’s coastal waters are filled with pig shit, fertilizer and sewage. That sounds unappealing to humans, but it’s a feast for the bioluminescent algae Noctiluca scintillans, which occasionally lights up the coast in neon blue blooms.
Image via AP / Kim Cheung
Berkeley Pit, Butte, Montana
This former open-pit copper mine is now one of the few places in the world where you can actually pay to see toxic waste. Lurking within its acidic water are loads of heavy metals, including copper, iron, arsenic, cadmium, and zinc.
Image via Kris Taeleman/Getty Images
Image via Pit Watch
Yellow River, Lanzhou, China
China’s Yellow River is infamous for its pollution. In the Lanzhou province, the river is a bit of a chameleon, changing from neon hot pink to fire engine red depending on the sewage waste or artificial dye du jour.
Image via China Daily / AP
Image via China Daily
Lake Erie, Michigan
Toxic algae blooms have become a staple of summers at Lake Erie, and this year is no exception. Waves of green roll onshore as the algae bloom grows, fed by nitrogen and phosphorus rich runoff from farmlands in Ohio and Indiana. The algae produce a toxin called microcystin that can cause rashes, hives, and asthma-like symptoms if it comes in contact with your skin. Lovely.
South shore of Lake Erie on July 29th, 2015. Image via Washington Post via AP
On July 28, 2015, satellites captured these images of algal blooms around the Great Lakes. The bloom is visible as swirls of green in western Lake Erie (top) and in Lake St. Clair (bottom). Image via NASA Earth Observatory
Of course, there are also plenty of unearthly lakes and rivers around the world which get their strange colours from natural phenomena. Check out a roundup of the best over at io9.
Top image: People kayaking in the Animas River near Durango, Colorado on Thursday, via Jerry McBride/AP