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Another year has come and gone and with it hundreds of thousands of images have recorded the world's evolving history; moments in individual lives; the weather and it's affects on the planet; acts of humanity and tragedies brought by man and by nature. The following is a compilation - not meant to be comprehensive in any way - of images from the first 4 months of 2012. Parts II and III to follow this week. -- Paula Nelson ( 64 photos total)
Fireworks light up the skyline and Big Ben just after midnight, January 1, 2012 in London, England. Thousands of people lined the banks of the River Thames in central London to ring in the New Year with a spectacular fireworks display. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

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2011 was a year of global tumult, marked by widespread social and political uprisings, economic crises, and a great deal more. We saw the fall of multiple dictators, welcomed a new country (South Sudan), witnessed our planet's population grow to 7 billion, and watched in horror as Japan was struck by a devastating earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear disaster. From the Arab Spring to Los Indignados to Occupy Wall Street, citizens around the world took to the streets in massive numbers, protesting against governments and financial institutions, risking arrest, injury, and in some cases their lives. Collected here is Part 1 of a three-part photo summary of the last year, covering 2011's first several months. Be sure to also see Part 2, and Part 3 of the series - totaling 120 images in all. [40 photos + 1 more]

A wave approaches Miyako City from the Heigawa estuary in Iwate Prefecture after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck the area March 11, 2011. The earthquake, the most powerful ever known to have hit Japan, combined with the massive tsunami, claimed more than 15,800 lives, devastated many eastern coastline communities, and triggered a nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station. (Reuters/Mainichi Shimbun)

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Billy Stinson (L) comforts his daughter Erin Stinson as they sit on the steps where their cottage once stood August 28, 2011 in Nags Head, North Carolina. The cottage, built in 1903 and destroyed yesterday by Hurricane Irene, was one of the first vacation cottages built on Albemarle Sound in Nags Head. Stinson has owned the home, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, since 1963. “We were pretending, just for a moment, that the cottage was still behind us and we were just sitting there watching the sunset,” said Erin afterward.

Hurricane Irene moved along the east coast causing heavy flooding damage as far north as Vermont and shutting down the entire New York mass transit system.

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