Been There, Smelled That explores the aromas of places around the world. Travel writer Maggie Downs investigates some of the world’s most potent smells, looks at how odor cultivates a connection to place, and presents how humans engage with smells, from scents that have endured generations to the latest innovations in aroma-making.

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My dad always said he could smell a storm coming.

When I was little, I thought this was just some folksy midwestern thing, similar to how my uncle would split a persimmon seed with a pocketknife to forecast the upcoming winter.

Now I know my dad’s saying to be true—in part because I do it too, flinging open the front door and sniffing the air to see what kind of weather is coming. But also because that’s how aromas work. Shifts in temperature, air currents, humidity, and barometric pressure all encourage odor molecules to circulate.

On a larger scale, those shifts mean that climate change alters what we smell. Like snow, for instance.

Snowflakes absorb various impurities, like pollution from engine exhaust or other contaminants that have been pulled into the air, and a warmer atmosphere intensifies those scents. This varies by area—smell researcher Johan Lundstrom told the Washington Post that snow in the city has an odor of rubber and exhaust, while the snow at his cabin near the Arctic Circle smells “extremely clean.” But it also shifts with time, giving us a snapshot of what’s in our environment at the moment. So, if you’ve ever thought snow doesn’t smell the same now as when you were a kid, you’re right.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. What scents do we lose in a rapidly changing world? What is the fragrance of a climate in flux? Which smells are already gone?

It’s not just snow; many familiar aromas are already endangered. For instance, the French town of Grasse—known as the perfume capital of the world for its bountiful fields of lavender, jasmine, tuberose, and May rose, which provide the scents for luxury brands like Chanel and Dior—has struggled with extreme weather fluctuations, from drought to excessive rainfall.

Then there’s Australian sandalwood, valued for its earthy, fragrant oil. These trees are now facing extinction in the wild due to unsustainable harvesting and a lack of regeneration. Not only did sandalwood trees lose their seed dispersers when the burrowing bettongs (small, rat-like marsupials) went extinct on the mainland, but they’re also victims of drought. Sandalwood seeds only germinate and survive if they get three consecutive years of rainfall, which is increasingly rare. Australian Geographic reported that virtually no new trees have emerged in most sandalwood populations for sixty to one hundred years.

But there are lesser-known smells disappearing, which is what lured me to the wetlands of Louisiana recently. I figured if there’s any place that would reveal the shifting scentscape of climate change, it would be here, a state that has been losing about twenty-five square miles of land per year from rising seas and human activities.

This environment is almost the exact opposite of where I live in the Mojave Desert. On Louisiana’s marshy paths, cypress roots knuckle from the earth, and stately trees are draped with curtains of moss. Water is abundant, and the trails are wooden planks. I had forgotten how soft light could be when it’s filtered through leaves.

Before setting foot in this place, I anticipated the bayous and swamps would offer an olfactory wallop of “organic sleaze,” as Tom Robbins called it in Jitterbug Perfume. “Honeysuckle, swamp flowers, magnolia, and the mystery smell of the river scented the atmosphere… It was aphrodisiac and repressive, soft, and violent at the same time.”

In reality, it’s far from the French Quarter’s mélange of odors, where clouds of brewed coffee and candy store pralines duke it out with stale piss and spilled daiquiris, but there are unusual smells just the same. The tinge to the air is somewhat industrial, more chemical than organic.

I spoke to a plant biologist who said it’s not necessarily that scents have disappeared throughout the wetlands. You still have plant life: the cattails and water lilies, bullwhip and irises, duckweed floating on the water’s surface like split green lentils. There’s still a richness to the sediment, a muskiness that lingers like a haunting. But there’s also the thriving fossil fuel and petrochemical industry that operates from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, an eighty-five-mile stretch nicknamed Cancer Alley, ushering in layers of smells that weren’t there before. They obscure the scents that once were.

The disappearance of scent is a quiet kind of loss, not as easily recognizable as the broken heart of a downed forest or a churning island of garbage in the ocean. But it’s happening. With the disappearance of biodiversity, cultural heritage, and cherished landscapes, we’re also losing the aromas associated with them.

It’s the kind of ending recognized in retrospect—like when I look at my almost ten-year-old son and realize one day I put him down and never carried him in my arms again. It evokes a specific kind of longing in me that I can’t quite name.