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As the climate debate rages worldwide, nature photography has become increasingly multifaceted in 2015. Ironically, the global struggle for the preservation of our most threatened assets has helped us all better appreciate the wonders photographers have been able to capture this past year. Aided by GoPro and its impressive ability to re-inspire the masses with a sense of adventure, this year’s nature photography has both celebrated what makes humans so extraordinary and reminded us that the environments we love exploring may not be around tomorrow, and are worthy of appreciation today.

Here are our picks for the most impactful nature photographs of 2015.

Credit: Michael AW

Schools of fish have long been fodder for many an underwater photographer, but Michael AW captured one of the most dramatic images of the year with them. It’s a delicate balance between the massive and the insignificantly small that makes us wonder who’s actually larger. His photo is positively filled with texture and a wonderful use of highlights and shadows.

Credit: Saeed Barikani

Credit: Saeed Barikani

Titled “Old Shepherd” and taken in Gilan, Iran’s countryside, this image by Saeed Barikani reminds us that traditional animal husbandry is still a vital part of many cultures. With a simple color pallet of whites, browns and blacks, the old shepherd blends in with his animals as he takes the journey with them.

Credit: Daniel Kaniko

Credit: Daniel Kaniko

Say hello to the first alien ever photographed! Just kidding. It’s the head of a weevil taken by an electron microscope. The head may be just millimeters across, but Daniel Kaniko has been able to capture incredible detail and create a completely surreal image that looks like it belongs on another planet instead of in your backyard. In a year where aerial photography has (literally) taken off with the wide adoption of drones, it’s nice to see such a powerful image of a micro subject.

Credit: Justin Sullivan

Credit: Justin Sullivan

The California drought and its accompanying wildfires made international headlines this year. This image by Justin Sullivan captures the helplessness of man as the fires raged. Thousands of people lost their homes this year as a result of these fires, and the isolation felt by those displaced has been perfectly archived here.

Credit: Benjags via Imgur

Credit: Benjags via Imgur

Just in case you needed a reminder that we’re at the mercy of our own planet, the Calbuco volcano in Chile decided to put on quite the show earlier this year with a spectacular eruption. Incredible images of the eruption spread quickly on the Internet, with amateurs delivering some of the most impressive.

Credit: Hilary O'Leary

Credit: Hilary O’Leary

Winning first place in the conservation category in the Big Picture Photography Competition this year, this image by Hilary O’Leary depicts a black rhino among the ranks of anti-poaching scouts at the Malilangwe Reserve. Climate change and poaching threaten many of Earth’s most delicate species, and this photograph personifies our responsibility to protect our planet’s diversity.

Credit: Jean-Francois Chaubard

Jean-Francois Chaubard’s “Ice Cave Dream” is a stunning study in texture, color and composition. Taken in Iceland (of course), this photo from January 2015 helps us appreciate the delicacy of these remote ecosystems. As the world climate debate rages, it’s hard to not look at these images and wonder how many more we’ll get.

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