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The Gap Year Blog

5 Unbelievable Natural Phenomena

19 Sep 2017 17:10 PM

The world is full to bursting with cool goings on. Such a richly diverse planet is loaded with things to marvel at and scratch our heads over. We humans have a strange misconception that we know a lot as well and the natural world is one of those topics we’re convinced we’ve got covered. That’s not always the case though, like in the case of these natural phenomena…

1. Dirty Thunderstorms

It can be called volcano lightening or a thunder volcano or any other sort of fantasy fiction demon-esq name you like. Dirty Thunderstorms are a phenomenon that is essentially a thunderstorm and a volcanic eruption combined. Yes, it does sound mental and it truly is (just look at the image below). So rare are these events that few photographs exist of them and very little is known about how they come about. One such of these photographs that is truly biblical only received third place in a photo competition in 2016, go figure. Anyway, only a few volcanoes around the world have ever been proven to produce Dirty Thunderstorms which include Italy’s Mount Etna, Alaska’s Mount Augustine and Iceland’s Mount Eyjafjallajökull (if that’s how you spell it!). The main theory for how these awe inspiring sights come to pass is that during an eruption, rock fragments in the exploding dust clouds collide with ice particles and produce a static charge. In the same way that ice particles collide in a normal thunderstorm, except this one is rock and ice. The point remains though that no-one really knows how they happen so while the scientists ponder that, let’s just look at that crazy picture.

Photo Credit: Flickr | Unknown

2. Sailing Stones

From Volcanoes and thunderstorms to solid rocks that move across the ground all on their own. No human or animal intervention, no downward slope and gravity. There’s another cause for this bizarre and hard-to-believe phenomenon. Most famously found in Death Valley in the states, Sailing stones are caused by rocks that are stationed on ice that breaks up during the warmer months. Then, sitting on top of these ice panels the rocks are driven by wind to gauge out huge score marks in the earth’s surface. So prolific can these be that some documented accounts of sailing stones have recorded the rocks moving at five metres a minute! As if all this wasn’t strange enough, the stones even change direction and veer in dramatically different directions now and then. This is one of those second take phenomenon, glancing back unsure that you really did see that stone creeping up on you. Well, does happen!

Photo Credit: Wikipedia | Jon Sullivan

3. Maelstraum

Any pirates among you? Well, history would suggest that the real pirates of the Caribbean from way back in the day feared a Maelstraum a lot more than krakens or Davy Jones. Maelstraum comes from the Norwegian word ‘Moskstraumen’, an area in the far north that experiences extreme tidal flow. In English, they’re Whirlpools. Fascinated and terrified seafairers for centuries, a Whirlpool is a combination of extreme currents and tidal flow that clash to form a downward spiralling watery channel. You can see the effect in its basic form in your own sink or bathtub. However, magnify that up manifold and you have a phenomenon that would easily drown someone. The ancient myths and legends of great monsters and Maelstraum that could sink an entire fleet don’t really exist, but those that do are certainly a threat to unwary swimmers in various rivers and coastlines the world over. The Caribbean and Florida coastlines are fairly famous for them, hence the dread caused to ancient trading vessels going that way. Just another mythical story to add to the list of others that the ocean has in tow.

Photo Credit: Flickr | Alister Coyne

4. Lake Natron

This phenomenon of the natural world looks like it’s been taken straight out of a ‘Chronicles of Riddick’ film. Located in the East African country of Tanzania, not far from the Great Lakes of Africa region itself, is a lake that is completely the wrong colour to the untrained eye. While all lakes in that area sport a Bluish/Green hue, Lake Natron is a vivid Red or blushing Pink. It shares this colour with that most famous of pink creatures, the flamingo, but few realise the entrenched biological link between the glamorous bird and this lake. The lake is fed by hot springs from deep beneath the earth that shoot all manner of different minerals into the water from below, giving it the pink tinge. This is then exhibited in the Flamingos as well, which feed and roost in the area and get the minerals in their system too, specifically carotene. The flamingos are filter feeders that chow down on the small insects found on the late and in doing so ingest these minerals that show themselves in the bright plumage of the birds. Viewed from above, summer in the savannah is deep green and gold of lush vegetation from horizon to horizon, except where the bright pink lake sits.

Photo Credit: Flickr | Finn Propp

5. Frost Flowers

We’ve all seen those glorious images of the polar regions with frost, snow, wind (I know you can’t SEE wind but you know what I mean) and ice as far as the eye can see. Well some areas of the world combine the barren landscape with the lush growing landscape with frost flowers. Not strictly flowers, these are ice crystals forming in very calm, cold conditions. Beautiful to behold and extremely rare, this phenomenon wouldn’t look out of place decorating the Snow Queen’s palace in Narnia. This can’t happen with ice forming just anywhere however, the chemical and mineral composition of the freezing water has to be just right or the ice will simply freeze over rather than grow out of the surface into these astounding formations. With ice and snow disappearing from the polar regions due to global warming, we could be seeing more of this occurrence. Maybe it’s the polar way of saying farewell to ice and snow the year round.

Photo Credit: Flickr | Niemand Weiß Es

This is yet another of our lists that was impossible to narrow down. In addition to pink lakes, whirlpool and ice crystals, we could have added such things as lightening that springs from the ground, clouds that cover a continent, rainbows that form a halo in the sky or oceans that glow in the dark. Those ones we’ll leave to you to discover for yourself as there are plenty of natural phenomena we’ve yet to discover or understand.

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By Guy Bezant - Online Content Editor