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Vernal Equinox Day

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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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In early April, in an attempt to accelerate the transition of military responsibility to the Afghan government, the US agreed to hand control of special operations missions to Afghan forces, including night raids, relegating American troops to a supporting role. This deal cleared the way for the two countries to move ahead with an agreement that would establish the shape of American support to Afghanistan after the 2014 troop withdrawal deadline. Domestic support for the war (in the US) has dropped sharply. We look back at March in the troubled country. -- Paula Nelson (37 photos total)
Young Afghan women use an umbrella to shield themselves from the sun in Kabul, April 5, 2012. The position of women in Afghanistan has improved dramatically since the fall of the Taliban, with the number of girls in education soaring. But as the Americans and the Afghan government have pursued peace efforts with the Taliban, women are increasingly concerned that gains in their rights may be compromised in a bid to end the costly and deadly war. (Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)

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Seemingly strange weather patterns continue to break high and low temperature records. The same patterns spawned an early tornado season in the midwestern United States and brought late season snowstorms to the west. Record snow falls and frigid temperatures characterized a particularly difficult winter across Europe with many deaths attributed to the conditions. Signs of Spring for the Northern Hemisphere (which began officially with the Vernal Equinox - March 20 - when the hours of day are approximately equal to the hours of night) like trees blossoming and flowers blooming, the shedding of winter coats and the desire of anyone -who has spent an all too long winter season indoors - to venture outside to soak up the sun. -- Paula Nelson (45 photos total)
Cherry blossoms of the Japanese Yoshino variety bloom along the Tidal Basin, March 19, 2012, in Washington, DC, with the Jefferson Memorial to the rear. This season celebrates the 100-year anniversary of the gift of the cherry trees from Japan to Washington, DC. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

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Today is the vernal equinox, the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It also marks the end of "the winter that wasn't," as the past several months in North America have been dubbed. It was the fourth-warmest winter in the United States since record-keeping began 117 years ago. In accord with the unusual weather, this turn of the season brings us snow in Arizona and Saudi Arabia, while conditions remain sunny and warm in America's Northeast and Western Europe. Collected here are scenes from around the world as a strange winter gives way to spring. [40 photos]

The sun sets behind cherry blossoms which have come into full bloom due to the early warm weather in Washington, D.C., on March 19, 2012. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

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