Awesome Animals – WIF Supreheroes

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Superheroes

of the

Animal Kingdom

Superpowers may be the stuff of science fiction, but certain animal species possess superpowers–or at least engage in activities that we might attributeto superheroes or, sometimes, supervillains. From starting fires, strategically bleeding from the eyes, protecting other species at sea, living as a snake that gets airborne, and being a walking incendiary weapon, here are some freaks, special operators, and rogues of the living world that will certainly expand our view of critter “can-do.”

10. The Firebird Hunters

Winged and feathered pyromaniacs hunt by fire, according to some rather hot theories put forward based on Australian ornithological observation. While further hard scientific investigation is warranted, it appears that certain raptors such as kites will pick up small smoldering or flaming sticks and then drop them in strategic areas to advance grass fires in their favor. Work published in the Journal of Ethnobiology describes the account of a firefighter who witnessed a Whistling Kite in Australia restarting and spreading fire by picking up burning sticks.

What does the apparent advantage of spreading fires appear to be? Fires flush out or burn prey, allowing easy capture or scavenging of dead remains. Animals fleeing the advancing face of a fire have nowhere to go but away from the bank of flames, which would allow birds taking advantage of this apparently planned situation a relatively easy meal. Birds of many species are naturally adept at gathering small sticks to build well-engineered nests, suggesting that this same stick gathering aptitude may be harnessed by select birds of prey and applied for more… shall we say… high stakes and extreme purposes. It’s already known that birds feed along the face of fires, while many species drop shells strategically to break them open. Using fire to create a hunting opportunity presents a profound twist of ornithology deserving further investigation.

9. The Whale Guardians of The Perilous Sea

Whales may be enormous, but true whales tend to be gentle giants, with the majority of species concentrating their feeding efforts on plankton and small fish. In contrast, Orca–or Killer Whales–are actually giant, hyper-intelligent predatory dolphins that hunt almost anything in the ocean, depending on the type of Orca in question. Transient Orca populations are known as ravenous eaters of whales larger than themselves, while all Orca are apex predators.

And where that danger to other sea life posed by Orca hunting behavior exists, a surprising phenomenon of apparent protection of intended prey–including species as random and diverse as sunfish, seals, and other the young of another whale species–has been to be carried out by “guardian” Humpback Whales. Apparently perceiving the carnage of Orca hunts in a negative light, these determined Humpback “Citizens on Patrol” have been acting as oceanic bodyguards to species finding themselves on the menu for Orca dinners. In one case, a seal was sheltered from a predatory Orca attack, while in another instance, Humpback Whale adults gave up a favorite food that they were themselves targeting (a swarm of shrimp-like krill) to focus instead on defending a Grey Whale calf from a hungry Orca pod.

8. The Bleeding Lizards

Crocodile tears may be a physiological reality, but a number of species belonging to a group of smaller reptiles, the diminutive and dragon-like horned lizards native to North America, take things a step further. Predators might want a mouthful of lizard meat, but apparently a mouthful of squirted blood, or a mess of blood on a would-be hunter’s face, is a fair deterrent. The bizarre superpower of squirting blood from the eyes in an act of strange self-defense is held by eight or more horned lizard species, thanks to special blood filled sinus cavities located around the reptile’s eye sockets.

Upon perceiving a threat such as a coyote or bobcat wanting the lizard as a meal, horned lizard species squirt distasteful blood from the eye sockets with great force, discouraging the meal. Specialized muscles tighten to concentrate blood flow from large veins into thin membrane-bearing ocular sinuses. With sufficient force, the membrane will burst, launching sprays of blood to a distance of up to four feet. Resembling a tiny triceratops dinosaur with its horny adornments behind the eyes and armored body, horned lizards with blood squirting capabilities enjoy excellent compensatory defense considering their small size. Interestingly, the vein flow to the sinuses can be controlled to flush debris away from the desert dwelling animal’s eyes, swelling the membranes.

7. The Flying Snakes

Dragons may be creatures of legend, but something that makes even the thought of pigs flying seem possible exists and thrives after millennia of evolution in rain forests extending from India to Indonesia. Flying snakes spread out the skin on their body by extending their ribs, allowing them to glide magically from one tree to another in pursuit of food and to avoid larger hunters. (Oh, and also to feed your nightmares.) There are five species of flying snakes that exist, all having the ability to slither through the air at high speeds in a beautiful glide.

Ranging between two and four feet in length, flying snakes are venomous predators but pose little threat to humans, as their fangs are positioned toward the back of their jaws and cannot easily deliver an effective bite. Flying snakes prepare to get airborne by hanging suspended in the shape of the letter “J” at a strategic point on a tree branch. Next, the snake uses its rear muscles to “spring” from the tree, moving its body into the shape of the letter “S” once in the air. The snake then forms a concave shape with the cross-section of its body while stretching laterally to twice its original width. The resulting aerodynamic shape traps air under the snake’s body as it glides through the air. Researchers think the precise purpose of this flying ability is either for easy travel between trees in the forest canopy, predator avoidance, or to catch up with prey.

6. Hairy Frog

A frog with sharp claws might seem scary, but even more horrible but remarkable is the way in which the Hairy Frog, named for its weird body bristles, shall we say… procures its weapons for self-defense. The grotesque looking Hairy Frog, native to Central African regions including the country of Cameroon, actually has specialized musculoskeletal adaptations in its hind feet which allow sharp bone pieces to protrude through the frog’s flesh as sharp spikes once released.

Scientists from the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, who were studying the frog’s disconcerting adaptation, reached the conclusion that the behavior was a strange form of self-defense. Specialized muscle contractions in the frog’s hind feet allow a razor sharp fragment to detach from the main toe bone section by breaking bone-joining collagen tissue, subsequently slicing right through the frog’s skin, creating dangerous claws while avoiding any catastrophic blood loss. While injury and pain would seem to be inherent in the action, the balance of risk and harm seems to be in favor of the frog, and against the predators. Essentially, this frog is the Wolverine (the character, not the actual animal) of the animal kingdom. The Hairy Frog is a formidable predator in its own right, having sharp teeth and a habit of seizing a variety of small animals as prey.

5. Bombardier Beetle

Molten lava comes from the Earth, while chemical weapons are seen as the domain of certain mad scientists or military plotters not concerned about facing the consequences of violating international law. Yet among the incredible variety of insect species found on this planet, formidable chemical weapons are unleashed in a burning, acrid furnace of directed attack by a different group of species that belongs to the uniquely diverse and familiar taxonomic group: beetles. Over 500 species of bombardier beetles go about their daily business on all continents (save for Antarctica), appearing like a normal insect. Hidden inside their hard abdomen are two separate compartments of highly reactive chemicals, consisting of hydrogen peroxide in one section and hydroquinone in the other.

Already well protected by a highly developed exoskeleton, bombardier beetles react to provocation and potential predatory attacks by shooting out the two chemical components in streams that mix and react furiously in a boiling mixture of acrid horror that may reach 212 degrees Fahrenheit, burning with both heat and chemical causticity. Burns to everything from the faces of predatory insects to human skin may result if the beetle is approached too closely. In one research project, over 40% of bombardier beetles swallowed by toads were vomited out alive after successfully “going off” inside the toads, calmly struggling back to their feet and walking off as a survivor of the attack by the amphibious predator. Some survivors had been inside the stomach of a toad for over an hour.

4. The Sand Striker

Worms may be thought of as soft, or a lowly form of life. However, it might come as a disturbing surprise that giant, carnivorous, horrendous worms lie submerged below the waves and buried in the sand, with only their formidable slicing jaws protruding. Known as the Sand Striker or Bobbit Worm, Eunice aphroditois occurs in warmer oceanic waters around the globe. The predatory worms are known to reach 10-feet in length, far larger than the popular imagination of a worm. And these jaws are razor sharp, bone-hard fangs with dentition that snap and simply chop prey in half upon the launch of a surprise attack.

The fangs inject a venomous concoction allowing disproportionately large prey to be digested. Equipped with sensory systems that allow passing prey to be detected with ease, the worms lie motionless in deep burrows only to burst forth when their prey “sensor” system is triggered by a creature that happens to stray to close. Lacking brains, these worms make up for their lack of intelligence by A) having the bone-like fangs which cut prey with surgical precision and incredible force and B) their size. Additionally, they can inflict an awful bite on humans should one accidentally put a finger or hand in the vicinity of their strike.

3. Climbing Perch

Perch are generally seen as the classic lake-dwelling fish, but one family of air breathing relatives of the famed Betta, or Siamese fighting fish, is named after typical perch but actually can move about effectively on land. Not perches proper, but simply forming a family of fish in the order Perciformes, which includes true perches, the various species of climbing perch (also known as climbing gouramis) are handsome little fish with a compact, rounded build and innocent appearance. Climbing perch measure between four inches and one foot in length, depending on the species and use their terrestrial locomotion abilities to find new water when their home pools dry up.

Native to tropical regions of Asia, including parts of China, the fish actually hoist themselves out of the water and proceed to “climb” using their gill covers as resting points. With the gill covers providing a point of leverage, the fish then propel themselves forward with the locomotive power of their tail fin. The typical fish requirement of water in order to breathe is bypassed by the air-breathing organ known as a labyrinth that climbing perch possess. While claims have been made that the fish can climb into vegetation such as trees, such a degree of adaptation allowing a transition from terrestrial to arboreal activity has not been proven.

2. Hoatzin

A bird with clawed hands might seem to be the very definition of prehistorically-themed science fiction, but that is exactly what the hoatzin juvenile represents. When young, this species uses clawed “hands” protruding from its wings to climb trees in swampy areas. Native to extensive northern regions of the South American continent and significantly established in the Amazon River Basin and Orinoco River Basins, the Hoatzin looks somewhat like a pheasant or certain mythical depictions of a phoenix with its peculiar hues of color, as well as its crest, elongated body, and stout bill.

Unlike most birds, the Hoatzin can digest leaves, which form a significant portion of its diet along with fruits and flowers. In order to effectively digest leaves, the Hoatzin possesses an enormously large crop which limits its flying abilities but allows the bird to ruminate in a manner akin to cattle. When a predator attacks a group of Hoatzins, the fluffy-looking young birds will drop into the water below their mangrove or riparian forest home and then scramble back up into the canopy using their wing claws (each wing has two) once the threat has abated. The only species in its order, the primitive bird remains a strange tangent of avian evolution with superpowers of juvenile survival.

1. Mantis Shrimp

Shrimp might be a synonym for a small or simply weak animal. Yet the bizarre and dangerous crustaceans known as mantis shrimp are seemingly normal looking, albeit colorful, marine crustaceans that can combine the hardness of their exoskeleton with a “karate punch” of unbelievable speed and force. And what is the function of this ability to hit with unimaginable strength? To crack open the nearly rock hard shells of clams and other shellfish that the mantis shrimp wants to devour.  Striking with a force exceeding 330 pounds at more than 23 meters per second (or 50 miles per hour) using specially adapted club-like appendages, mantis shrimp can shatter almost any protective armor to take down prey. A locking mechanism and spring allow incredible energy releases.

Unfortunately for aquarists or researchers, a mantis shrimp blow could also destroy a glass aquarium or a finger bone on impact. The blow is powerful enough to produce cavitation bubbles as well as sonoluminescence, which consists of light flashes generated by bubble collapse. The shockwave alone associated with a blow can cause prey to die even if the mantis shrimp does not make physical contact. Other varieties of mantis shrimp use spearing appendages to capture prey instead of blunt force. While not technically falling into the category of decapod shrimp (which includes the type served commonly for dinner), mantis shrimp have a shrimp-like appearance and impression, hence their name. More than 400 species of mantis shrimp occur globally, mostly in tropical waters. Most commonly mantis shrimp grow to just under four inches in length, though a massive 18 inches has been attained.


Awesome Animals –

WIF Supreheroes

Mars on Earth – Planetary Mashup

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Mars-Like

Places

on Earth

Will humans ever be able to live on Mars? That’s the big question that a lot of people wonder about. Nicknamed the Red Planet because of its bright rust color, it is the fourth planet from the sun and Earth’s neighbor.

Despite being much colder than Earth with an average temperature of around -80 degrees Fahrenheit, there are many other obstacles in the way of humans colonizing there right now, such as the fact that there isn’t any oxygen to breathe. Scientists, however, are searching for new ways to make it possible for humans to eventually move to Mars, such as potentially heating up the planet to create an atmosphere in which people can breathe in oxygen.

The progress that scientists are making is amazing and it may be very possible for humans to inhabit our planetary neighbor in the not-so-distant future. Having locations on Earth that are similar to the conditions on the Red Planet are extremely helpful for researchers… like these six Mars-like locations right here on our planet.

Lake Vostok, Antarctica

Lake Vostok, Antarctica is one of the biggest subglacial lakes on Earth. The lake, which is located near the South Pole in East Antarctica, is 143 miles long, 31 miles wide, and over 2,600 feet deep. It is buried beneath more than two miles of ice and is located close to Russia’s Vostok research station. It is estimated that the lake has been covered with ice for at least 15 million years, with no access to light, and is sealed from the atmosphere which makes it one of the most extreme environments on the planet.

A Russian geographer/pilot first noticed the buried lake in the 1960s when he spotted from the air a smooth patch of ice on top of it. In 1996, British and Russian researchers then confirmed that there was indeed a lake buried there. Despite the age of the lake being unknown, scientists believe it is only thousands of years old.

Although the location has an average temperature of around minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the lake itself is believed to be around 27 degrees Fahrenheit because of the huge weight of the ice on top. Scientists also believe that the freshwater lake could have creatures living in the darkness and the extreme cold. In fact, they did find that the lake contains microbes and multi-cellular organisms. And this gives hope that life can be found in the similarly extreme environment of Mars.

Dry Valleys, Antarctica

The Dry Valleys are a row of valleys located west of McMurdo Sound in Antarctica. The valleys, which are subjected to cold permafrost, are said to be the closest terrestrial environment similar to the very north of Mars. Researchers have found bacteria that live in freezing temperatures where the water has turned to ice and where nutrients are scarce. Oligotrophs are slow-growing organisms that live in environments where nutrients are hard to find and they could help scientists figure out how life could possibly exist on Mars.

Researchers believe that Mars’ polar north may have supported life at one time because it received a lot more sunlight millions of years ago, which means the possibility of water and, of course, life. So researchers began drilling at this location in Antarctica to decide which machinery would be best to use on the northern locations of Mars. Scientists have found a patch of soil covering a layer of ice at the polar north of the Red Planet, and the environment is very similar at Dry Valleys, so that’s why this drilling research is being conducted there.

Atacama Desert, Chile

The Atacama Desert in Chile is a plateau approximately 1,000 kilometers long and is so extremely dry that it’s one of the most Mars-like locations on the planet. In fact, it can take decades of time between rainfalls, which ranks it among the driest locations on Earth. That is why, in 2004, scientists that were NASA-funded spent four weeks in the desert doing research on how life could possibly survive on Mars. And what they found is definitely mind-blowing.

In the dry core of the desert, scientists have found microbial life. And if they can find it on an immensely dry location like the Atacama Desert, where many people believe that nothing is able to survive, there’s a very real possibility that they could also find life on Mars. A planetary scientist from Washington State University was quoted saying “If life can persist in Earth’s driest environment, there is a good chance it could be hanging in there on Mars in a similar fashion.”

Pico de Orizaba, Mexico

Pico de Orizaba is a volcano located in south-central Mexico. It rises on the south edge of the Mexican Plateau and is located about 60 miles east of Puebla. The volcano, which has been dormant since 1687, is the third highest peak in North America, registering at 18,406 feet tall.

One big question in regards to the possible colonization on Mars is how would humans make it habitable? That is why scientists are so interested in Pico de Orizaba. It has one of Earth’s highest tree line elevations at over 13,000 feet and researchers are using this location to try to figure out how they could begin life on Mars.

Scientists believe that if they could warm up the Red Planet by using heat-trapping gases, raising the air pressure, and beginning photosynthesis, that they could possibly create and maintain an atmosphere that would support humans and other life forms that need oxygen to breathe. If they could use these gases to heat Mars to 41 degrees Fahrenheit, that would equal the temperature of the tree line on the Pico de Orizaba volcano.

Death Valley, California

Scientists have done extensive research and testing for decades at Death Valley because of the location’s ancient rock layers. Even NASA’s Curiosity was tested there to see how it would handle to harsh terrain on Mars. Death Valley is located in the southeast of California and is the lowest, driest, and hottest part of North America. The valley is approximately 140 miles long by 5 to 15 miles wide. Although the valley is excessively hotter than Mars, the harsh rocky terrain is said to be quite similar.

Since 2012, Death Valley holds a yearly event called MarsFest where engineers and scientists discuss with the public the similar relationship between that location and Mars. People can visit Mars Hill, which is covered with volcanic rubble and rocks, as well as take a walk to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, the Ubehebe Crater volcanic field, and the Little Hebe Crater.

Devon Island

Devon Island is the largest uninhabited island on the planet. Of all the islands on Earth – habited and uninhabited – it is the 27th largest. It is part of an archipelago (a group of islands) called the Parry Islands in Nunavut, Canada. It is located in the Arctic Ocean, south of Ellesmere Island and west of Baffin Bay. Devon Island is approximately 320 miles long and 80-100 miles wide with an area of just over 21,000 square miles.

The island, which was discovered in 1616 by William Baffin, has a huge 14-mile wide crater called the “Haughton Crater.” It is estimated that the crater was created around 39 million years ago when a comet two kilometers in diameter hit the area. Described as a polar desert, the impact zone is cold, dry, windy and dusty which makes it quite similar to the many craters on Mars, especially with all the loose rock in this earthly crater. Although Devon Island has an average temperature of 1 degree Fahrenheit and Mars averages -76 degrees Fahrenheit weather, the island is one of the closest comparisons to our planetary neighbor.

Pascal Lee is a planetary scientist at the SETI Institute and is leading the NASA Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) where the Haughton Crater is being used for research of new technologies and strategies which will hopefully help prepare humans and robots for the exploration of the Red Planet. Every summer since 1997, Lee has led missions to the isolated island where they have tested many things that will help them for a trip to Mars, such as spacesuits and robots, as well as drills.


Mars on Earth –

Planetary Mashup

Caves and Water Beware! – WIF Geography

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Unearthly

Underwater

Cave Systems

Tourist Traps

Underwater caves are alluring, fascinating, and also a no-go zone for most explorers. While the subterranean zones known as caves capture our imagination, those that are underwater go a step further and significantly raise the danger factor. Not just flooded tunnels or inundated sea caves, many underwater cave systems extend for hundreds of miles, emerging in the middle of rain forest surrounded by land, but connecting to distant waterways. In this account, we discover the most spectacular and sometimes deadly subterranean aquascapes our world conceals.

10. Sac Actun Cave System

Mexico is known to harbor some of the most remarkable ruins, beaches and forests on the planet, but it is also a land of truly monumental Cuevas submarinas, underwater caves. Underwater cave systems in Mexico include watery labyrinths so large and extensive that they have yet to be fully explored. In one dramatic case, two cave systems were found to be an enourmous single system when a connetion was discovered.

Determined to be the largest cave system on the planet, the Sac Actun Cave System was discovered to be one giant cave system totaling 215 miles in passageway lengths when connections between a smaller existing cave system, the Dos Ojos and the larger Sac Actun system were discovered. The cave system known as a cenote is filled with large quantities of fresh water that flow and rise to the surface like a strange river below the surface. Such a vast and complex cave must be explored with extreme caution due to the difficulty in finding one’s way back to the entrance if disoriented.

9. Boesmansgat Sinkhole

One of the creepiest and most deadly underwater caves on Earth, a sinkhole in Africa turns a rugged farm landscape into a rather unexpected and out of place portal to a watery hell. Vertical in shape, about 889 feet deep and 328 feet across, the potentially lethal Boesmansgat Sinkhole is a greenish, eerie water filled cave that plunges straight down into the depths of eroded and dissolved dolomite rocks. Nested amongst craggy rocks, the entrance to the cave would appear just to be an awkwardly placed farm pond, but its moderate size holds horrific secrets.

Located on a farm in South Africa, the watery pit is often completely engulfed in pond plants, making its surface appear an alien green. The rocky sides of the sinkhole rise as cliffs well above the water line, standing out amongst the surrounding vegetation. And are some of the nutrients to grow the floating pod plants and algae provided by bodies remaining in the water? Possibly. Unfortunately, a number of grisly deaths have occurred as divers, some of them recognized as experts in the field, failed to return from the impossibly deep, stagnant water filled pit.

8. Ordinskaya Cave

Russia may be known as a land of taiga, icy roads and tundra, but the country is diverse and contains some remarkable underwater subterranean assets. And one of the most famous is characterized by not only crystal clear water, but actual crystal composition consisting of gypsum, together with an incredible underground extent. Located in Russia close to the Kungur River in the Perm region, Ordinskaya Cave is a popular cave diving destination and an All-Russia National Monument.

Stretching for over 3 miles, the mysterious, cold and dark cave is the most significant gypsum cave under the Earth, where water combines with tunnels of the Calcium Sulfate Di-hydrate crystals known as gypsum. In this cave, the waters are clear to the point where explorers can see up to 150 feet ahead. Enlarged by the eroding action of the water, the soft gypsum is fragile but mysterious and extraordinarily dramatic in appearance. Eroded chunks in crystalline shapes form blocks, pyramids and spires, coupled with the cold water, which may reach minus 9 degrees Fahrenheit at water depths of over 50 feet.

7. Bahamas Caves

The Bahamas may be seen as an idyllic getaway destination, but the Bahamas Caves actually represent one of the most dangerous submerged cave networks on the planet. Filled with sharp hazards, dark and disorienting and contaminated with toxic natural chemical deposits, the site demands great care. Sharp mineral deposits could deliver a puncturing injury, while hydrogen sulfide accumulations require a wary approach. Known as inland blue holes, the Bahamas Caves are hydro-geologically connected to the ocean.

Yet, tidal flow is sharply reduced, causing saltwater in the cave to be covered with a thin layer of freshwater. Tropical environments, combined with a lack of air circulation, accumulation of organic material and a highly limited level of water inflow and outflow creates the “perfect storm” of underwater, subterranean biochemical noxious hazards. In this stagnant and oxygen deprived environment, anaerobic activity causes the proliferation of bacteria. And these bacteria release the hydrogen sulfide that frequently sickens explorers of the caves and could kill a diver. Symptoms of disorientation from even moderate levels of exposure certainly go a long way to increasing the risk of getting lost in the underwater passages and drowning.

6. Plura

Norway is known for its breathtaking fjords, but a deadly, dramatic and strange underwater cave and waterway system that is lesser known but cold and convoluted also presents great intrigue in this Nordic country. In the centrally located Plurdalen Valley, a bizarre pond is located, known as the Plura. But it is actually not a normal pond, but the sudden exit of an underwater river. Diving into the pool takes you into a 1,640 foot passage that exits into a long cave with a water floor and airy ceiling.

After this point, a passage known as a sump, which is also considered to be the deepest sump cave on the planet appears in the cave, descending in a sharp U-shape until it is 443 feet below the surface. The sump rises up into Steinugleflaget cave, and then above Steinugleflaget, an exit is located in a cracked hillside 295 feet above the cave. Unfortunately, deaths have occurred due to the treacherous nature of the cold and lonely passages. In one case, a death sparked a highly dangerous yet ultimately successful body recovery effort in the most challenging sections of the cave system.

5. Eagle’s Nest Spring

Florida is a land known for the Everglades, but the area contains much more than swampy surrounds stocked with prowling alligators. Florida is also a land that conceals water filled tunnels, naturally occurring and snaking their way below the surface of the Earth. Located in Florida, the caves of Eagle’s Nest Spring descend around 300 feet below the Earth’s surface, twisting into scarily narrow and dark passageways entirely filled with water. Despite its appeal, the exotic cave system has claimed lives due to its treacherous nature that still appeals to intrepid explorers willing to take the ultimate risk.

Since 1981, the snakelike maze that defines the layout of the underwater cave system of Eagle’s Nest has taken 10 lives to a watery grave. The sinkhole derived cave system has the shape of a kitchen sink pipe, descending down and up in a U-pattern. Alluring, the underwater cave system is concealed at its entrance by a deceptively normal looking pond, surrounded by dreamy looking trees, and a water body through which the cave must be accessed. However, the ability of the cave to disorient and entrap makes it a genuinely risky adventure, even to experienced divers.

4. Grotto Azzurra

While many of the most notorious caves described in this account are dungeon-like and known to be potential death traps, certain caves are less akin to demonic legends and more strongly associated with angelic accounts of folklore. An iconic sea cave, the Grotto Azzurra of Italy in the Capri area is beautiful, almost perfectly hidden yet absolutely spectacular once accessed.

The Grotto Azzurra is entered through a mere 3.2 foot entrance that is reached directly from the sea. Upon entry, the cave extends with an arcing roof and spectacular blue water, giving the cavern the appealing name. So spectacular is this location, which remained known to local fisherman but unknown to the rest of the world for centuries, that it served as a shrine to a sea nymph in Roman times. The cave system has been formed through focusing of the forces of erosion over time, giving rise to a mysterious yet iconic form that mixes the subterranean with the oceanic in its composition.

3. Chaudanne Spring Cave

Switzerland might be most famous for its towering mountains, but it is also a land of subterranean lakes and underwater cave systems. In Switzerland, a cave system plunges far below the ground into portions of the Earth’s crust in a lesser known valley. Located in the “Vaudoise” Alps, the Chaudanne Spring Cave is located close to the town of Rossinière and was first explored in 1960. The depth of the system has so far been measured to a depth of 525 feet.

Known to be the deepest cave in the entire country of Switzerland, the spring-fed waters of the cave conceal mysterious passageways that have been explored in some daring attempts making use of rather makeshift means. Homemade equipment was used by pioneering explorers, including Michael Walz, to dive to 160 meters in 2006, while an exploration group dedicated to further mapping and documentation of the cave is active and well organized to plumb new depths as the exploration of the system advances.

2. Caves of Nanumanga

Polynesia is not only a place of islands, but a location where noteworthy underwater cave systems exist to capture the imagination of explorers. Among the most mysterious caves on Earth are underwater labyrinths that combine history and Earth science into a mysterious fusion of archaeological intrigue with and ancient geological events defined by more than a small degree of oddity. Descending 121 and 151 feet below sea level, the Caves of Nanumanga are remote underwater caves located in Nanumanga in Tuvalu, western Polynesia.

While newly known, the history of the caves is some of the most ancient and puzzling. Recently discovered by divers exploring the area in which they are located in the year 1986, the caves may have been used by ancient inhabitants at a different time, as indicated by what looked like burn marks. While exceedingly unusual as an underwater discovery, the burn marks from ancient combustion in what are now submerged geological formations clearly indicate dramatic events, such as apparent sea level changes that now leaves the caves below the surface.

1. Daxing Spring

Karst is not unique to Germany, though the limestone forms of spectacular height and oddity define the Karst region, China is a world center of excellence when it comes to stunning Karst environments. Located in Du’an county, Guanxi Province, People’s Republic of China, the caves of Daxing Spring are formed out of the subterranean portions of the spectacular and exceptionally exotic Karst landscapes of eroded limestone that constitute the unusual geography of the region.

Amongst the eroded and pitted structures are caves descending under the Earth, many of them carved and expanded by flowing water. Water movement erodes limestone by pressure but also dissolves limestone chemically, increasing the size, length and depth of cave systems over time. Due to the amount of water in the porous subterranean landscapes, many of the caves are flooded, forming aquatic tunnels that can only be reached by divers. Diving in this spectacular, but potentially hazardous and geologically complex area requires careful safety measures include ample decompression due to the depths of the winding and watery cave system.


Caves and Water Beware! –

WIF Geography

The NULL Solution = Episode 94

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The NULL Solution = Episode 94

…There was supposed to be a small colony on Mars, not a freaking skyscraper…

‘I want to see what Tycho looks like after all these years,” Sam suggests. 

As soon as they can sync the viewer with the geographical location of the Plain of Xanthe, it is clear that the neighborhood has changed. Not only are there clouds and oceans and vegetation, there is a towering structure dwarfing the tiny lander that once called Space Colony 1 its home base.

Sampson McKinney, formerly of Earth, Mars and now Eridanus, is as confused as his the Null next to him, “I thought you told me this planet was barren.”

“It was when I left,” he claims. He has to wonder why Celeste did not leave a clue about her hyperphysical trip back. Surely Crip would have mentioned a little thing like a colony on Mars. A friendly heads-up would have been nice.

Sure as Mars soil is red, a mile-high colossus rises up on the spot where humans once tread.

“Something like that would take centuries for Earth to build. There was supposed to be a small colony on Mars, not a freaking skyscraper. I wonder if the Chinese are responsible, they have always had money to burn?” He contemplates possible explanations.

Just as they get close enough to magnify their view, something strange, yet familiar pops into the scene.

“0” Skaldic has seen it before and so has Sampson, if only for seconds at a time.

Reliably so, it gives off a reflection.

“Harmonia,” reads Sampson.

#Harmonia# reads Skaldic in the Olde Language.

Twice read, once gone.

“Why doesn’t that surprise me? I saw that thing over Selljunk way.”

“I saw it out by our olde home world,” to each his own.

The recent visitors to the vicinity have stopped watching where they were going. The planned descent to the surface is met with a blinding rebuke.

The next thing you know, they are found back in Eridanus orbit; SNAP!

“Holy crap!” After recovering from unconsciousness, Sampson has his say.

Skaldic points to the same viewscreen that recently held pixels of the New Mars. It reads instead:

The Null runs the riddle past a comprehensive Eridanian database. It does not compute.

The Earthling utilizes an Earthly version, with the same results.

Nothing about the last few moments seems to add up.

Fuzzy math or bad Dr. Seuss,” Sam summarizes, “We are a full 180° off course, emptyhanded and confused.”

“That is not all Sampson McKinney.”

“Please Skaldy, I can’t take anymore.”

“The TSF drive is unavailable.”

“Swell. You can add going nowhere fast to the list.”

All in a ½ day’s work.


The NULL Solution =

Painting by MICHELE Z FARRIER

Episode 94


page 95

Cold Hard Facts About the Ice Age – WIF Current Events

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 Stone Cold Facts

About

the Ice Age

Even though it’s hard to see it, our planet is in a continuous state of change. Continents constantly shift and clash with each other. Volcanoes erupt, glaciers expand and recede, and life has to keep up with all of it. Throughout its existence, Earth has at various times been covered by miles-high polar ice sheets and alpine glaciers, in periods that lasted for millions of years. Generally characterized by a long-term cold climate and ice as far as the eye can see, these Ice Ages will be the topic of discussion in today’s list.

10. What is an Ice Age?

 

Believe it or not, defining an Ice Age is not as straightforward as some may think. Sure, we can characterize it as a period in which global temperatures were much lower than they are today, and where both hemispheres are covered in huge sheets of ice that extend for thousands of miles towards the Equator. The problem with this definition, however, is that it analyzes any given Ice Age from today’s perspective, and doesn’t actually take the entire planetary history into account. Who’s to say, then, that we’re not actually living in a cooler period than the overall average? In which case, we would actually be in an Ice Age right now. Well, some scientists, who’ve dedicated their lives to the study of these sorts of phenomena,can say. And yes, we’re actually living in an Ice Age, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

A better description of an ice age would be that it’s a long stretch of time in which both the atmosphere and the planet’s surface have a low temperature, resulting in the presence of polar ice sheets and mountainous glaciers. These can last for several million years, during which time there are also periods of glaciation, characterized by ice sheet and glacier expansion over the face of the planet, and interglacial periods, where we would have an interval of several thousand years of warmer temperatures and receding ice. So, in other words, what we know as “the last Ice Age” is, in fact, one such glaciation stage, part of the larger Pleistocene Ice Age, and we’re currently in an interglacial period known as the Holocene, which began some 11,700 years ago.

9. What causes an Ice Age?

 

At first glance, an Ice Age would seem to be like some sort of global warming in reverse. But while this is true to a certain extent, there are several other factors that can initiate and contribute to one. It’s important to note that the study of Ice Ages is not that old, nor is our understanding complete. Nevertheless, there is some scientific consensus on several factors that do contribute to the onset of an Ice Age. One obvious element is the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. There is consistent evidence that the concentration of these gases in the air rises and falls with the retreat and advance of ice sheets. But some argue that these gases don’t necessarily kick start every Ice Age, and only influence their severity.

Another key factor that plays a part here are tectonic plates. Geological records point to a correlation between the position of the continents and the onset of an Ice Age. This means that, in certain positions, continents can obstruct the so-called Oceanic Conveyor Belt, a global-scale system of currents that bring cold water from the poles down to the Equator and vice versa. Continents can also sit right on top of a pole, as Antarctica does today, or can make a polar body of water become completely or semi-landlocked, similar to the Arctic Ocean. Both of these favor ice formation. Continents can also bulk up around the Equator, blocking the oceanic current – leading to an Ice Age. This happened during the Cryogenian period when the supercontinent Rodinia covered most of the Equator. Some specialists go even as far as saying that the Himalayas played a major role in the the current Ice Age. They say that after these mountains began forming some 70 million years ago, they increased the amount of global rainfall, which in turn led to a steady decrease of CO2 from the air.

Lastly, we have the Earth’s orbits. These also partially account for the glacial and interglacial periods within any given Ice Age. Known as the Milankovitch Cycles, the Earth experiences a series of periodic changes while circumnavigating the Sun. The first of these cycles is Earth’s eccentricity, which is characterized by the shape of our planet’s orbit around the Sun. Every 100,000 years or so, Earth’s orbit becomes more or less elliptical, meaning that it will receive more or less of the Sun’s rays. The second of these cycles is the axial tilt of the planet, which changes by several degrees every 41,000 years, on average. This tilt accounts for the Earth’s seasons and the difference in solar radiation between the poles and the equator. Thirdly, we have Earth’s precession, which translates to a wobble as Earth spins on its axis. This happens roughly every 23,000 years, and will cause winter in the Northern Hemisphere to happen when Earth is farthest away from the Sun, and summer when it’s closest. When this happens, the difference in severity between seasons will be greater than it is today. Besides these major factors, we also have the occasional lack of solar spots, large meteor impacts, huge volcanic eruptions, or nuclear wars, among other things, that can potentially lead to an Ice Age.

8. Why do they last so long?

 

We know that Ice Ages usually last for millions of years at a time. The reasons behind this can be explained through a phenomenon known as albedo. This is the reflectivity of the Earth’s surface when it comes to the Sun’s shortwave radiation. In other words, the more our planet is covered in white ice and snow, the more of the Sun’s radiation is reflected back into space, and the colder it gets. This leads to more ice and more reflectivity – in a positive feedback cycle that lasts for millions of years. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important for Greenland’s ice to remain where it is. Because if it doesn’t, the island’s reflectivity will decrease, adding to the overall global temperature increase.

Nevertheless, Ice Ages do eventually come to an end, and so do their glacial periods. As the air becomes colder, it can no longer hold as much moisture as it did before, leading, in turn, to less snowfall and the eventual impossibility for the ice to expand or even replenish itself. This starts a negative feedback cycle that marks the beginning of an interglacial period. By this logic, a theory was proposed back in 1956 which hypothesized that an ice-free Arctic Ocean would actually cause more snowfall at higher latitudes, above and below the Arctic Circle. This snow may eventually be in such great quantities that it will not melt during the summer months, increasing Earth’s albedo and reducing the overall temperature. In time, this will allow ice to form at lower altitudes and mid-latitudes – kick starting a glaciation event in the process.

7. But how do we really know Ice Ages even exist?

 

The reason people began thinking about Ice Ages in the first place was because of some large boulders located seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and with no explanation as to how they got there. The study of glaciation started during the mid-18th century, when Swiss engineer and geographer Pierre Martel began documenting the erratic dispersal of rock formations inside an Alpine valley, and downhill from a glacier. The locals told to him that those huge boulders were pushed there by the glacier that once extended much farther down the mountain. Over the decades, many other similar features were documented around the world, forming the basis for the theory of Ice Ages. Since then, other forms of evidence have been taken into account. The geological features, among which are the previously mentioned rock formations, also contain moraines, carved valleys such as fjords, glacial lakes, and various other forms of land scarring. The problem with these, however, is that they’re extremely hard to date, and successive glaciations can distort, or even completely erase the previous geological formations.

6. The Big Ice Ages

 

At the moment, scientists are confident that there were five major Ice Ages throughout Earth’s long history. The first of them, known as the Huronian glaciation, happened roughly 2.4 billion years ago and lasted for about 300 million years, and is considered the longest. The Cryogenian Ice Age happened around 720 million years ago, and lasted until 630 million years ago. This one is considered to be the most severe. The third massive glaciation took place about 450 million years ago and lasted some 30 million years. It’s known as the Andean-Saharan Ice Age, and caused the second largest mass extinction in Earth’s history, after the so-called Great Dying. Lasting for 100 million years, the Karoo Ice Age happened between 360 and 260 million years ago, and was caused by the appearance of land plants, whose remains we now use as fossil fuels.

Lastly, we have the Pleistocene Ice Age, also known as the Pliocene-Quaternary glaciation. It began roughly 2.58 million years ago and has since gone through several glacial and interglacial periods, roughly 40,000 to 100,000 years apart. Over the past 250,000 years, however, the climate changed more frequently and abruptly, with the previous interglacial period being interrupted by numerous cold spells that lasted for several centuries at a time. The current interglacial that began roughly 11,000 years ago is atypical because of the relatively stable climate it has had up until this point. It’s somewhat safe to say that humans may have not been able to discover agriculture and develop its current level of civilization if it wasn’t for this unusual period of temperature stability.

5. Witchcraft

“Wait, what?” We know that’s what you’re thinking when you see that header in this list. But let us explain…

For a period of several centuries, beginning sometime around 1300 and ending around 1850, the world went through a period known as the Little Ice Age. Several factors worked together to lower the overall temperature, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere, allowing many alpine glaciers to expand, rivers to freeze over, and crops to fail. Several villages in Switzerland were completely destroyed by the encroaching glaciers during the mid-17th century, and in 1622, even the southern section of the Bosporus Strait, around Istanbul, had completely frozen over. Things got worse in 1645 and lasted for the following 75 years, in a period known to scientists today as the Maunder Minimum.

During that time, the Sun was going through a period with little to no sunspots. These sunspots are regions on the surface of the Sun that are much lower in temperature. They are caused by concentrations in our star’s magnetic field flux. By themselves, these spots would probably be able of lower Earth’s temperature, but they’re also surrounded by some intensely-bright regions, known as faculae. These have a significantly higher radiation output that far outweighs the reduction caused by sunspots. So, a spot-free Sun actually has a lower radiation output than usual. During the 17th century, it’s estimated that the Sun dimmed by 0.2 percent – something which partially accounted for this Little Ice Age. Over 17 volcanic eruptions took place across the world during that time, dimming the sun’s rays even further.

Economic adversity brought on by this several-century-long cold spell had an incredible psychological impact on people. Frequent crop failures and firewood shortages led many from Salem, Massachusetts to suffer from a severe case of mass hysteria. In the winter of 1692, twenty people – fourteen of which were women – were hung on accusations that they were witches and to blame for everyone’s hardships. Five other people – two children included – later died in prison for the same thing. Because of unfavorable weather, some people in places like Africa occasionally accuse each other of being witches, even to this day. In other places, however, gay people are the scapegoats for the effects of global warming.

4. Snowball Earth

Earth’s first Ice Age was also its longest. As we mentioned earlier, it lasted a whopping 300 million years. Known as the Huronian Glaciation, this incredibly long and freezing epoch happened some 2.4 billion years ago, in a time when only single-celled organisms roamed the Earth. The landscape would have looked completely different than today, even before the ice took over. A series of events, however, happened that would eventually lead to an apocalyptic event of global proportions, engulfing much of the planet in a thick sheet of ice. Life prior to the Huronian Glaciation was dominated by anaerobic organisms that didn’t require oxygen to live. Oxygen was, in fact, poisonous to them, and extremely rare in the air at the time, making up just 0.02% of the atmospheric composition. But at some point, a different form of life evolved – the Cyanobacteria.

This tiny bacterium was the first being to ever make use of photosynthesis as a means of generating its food. A byproduct of this process is oxygen. As these tiny creatures thrived in the world’s oceans, they pumped millions upon millions of tons of oxygen, raising its concentration in the atmosphere to 21%, and almost driving the entire anaerobic life into extinction. This event is known as The Great Oxygenation Event. The air was also full of methane, and in contact with oxygen it turns into CO2 and water. Methane, however, is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, meaning that this transformation led to a drop in overall temperatures – which, in turn, began the Huronian Glaciation and the first mass extinction on Earth. The occasional volcano added further CO2 into the air, resulting in periodic interglacials.

3. Baked Alaska

 

If its name wasn’t clear enough, the Cryogenian Ice Age was the coldest period in Earth’s long history. It’s also the subject of much scientific controversy today. One topic of debate is whether the Earth was completely covered in ice, or a band of open water still remained around the equator – a Snowball, or Slushball Earth, as some call the two scenarios. The Cryogenian lasted from roughly 720 to 635 million years ago, and can be divided into two major glaciation events known as theSturtian (720 to 680 Ma) and the Marinoan (approximately 650 to 635 Ma). It’s important to note that there were no forms of multi-cellular life at that point, and some speculate that one such Snowball or Slushball Earth scenario was an early catalyst for their evolution during the so-called Cambrian explosion.

A particularly interesting study was published back in 2009, focusing on the Marinoan glaciation in particular. According to the analysis, Earth’s atmosphere was relatively warm, while its surface was covered in a thick layer of ice. This can only be possible if the planet was entirely, or almost entirely, covered in ice. They compared the phenomenon to a Baked Alaska dessert – where the ice cream doesn’t immediately melt when it’s placed in the oven. It turns out that the atmosphere had plenty of greenhouse gases in its composition, but that didn’t stop or mediate the Ice Age as we would expect. These gasses were present in such great quantities because of increased volcanic activity due to the breakup of the Rodinia supercontinent. This long volcanism is also thought to have helped start the Ice Age.

The science team warned us, however, that something similar could happen again if the atmosphere reflected too much of the Sun’s rays back into space. One such process could be triggered by a massive volcanic eruption, nuclear war, or our future attempts at mitigating the effects of global warming by spraying the atmosphere with too many sulphate aerosols.

2. Flood Myths

 

When the glacial ice began to melt some 14,500 years ago, the water didn’t flow to the ocean in a uniform pattern across the globe. In some places like North America, a huge proglacial lake began to form. These lakes are a result of damming, either by a moraine or an ice wall. In 1,600 years’ time, Lake Agassizcovered an estimated area of 170,000 sq. miles – larger than any lake currently in existence. It formed over parts of North Dakota, Minnesota, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Ontario. When the dam finally gave in, fresh water flooded into the Arctic Ocean via the Mackenzie River Valley. This great influx of fresh water weakened the oceanic current by up to 30%, plunging the planet into a 1,200-year-long period of glaciation known as the Younger Dryas. This unfortunate turn of events is suspected to have killed off the Clovis culture and the North American megafauna. Records also show that this cold spell came to an abrupt end some 11,500 years ago, with temperatures in Greenland rising by 18 degrees F in a mere decade.

During the Younger Dryas, the glacial ice replenished itself, and when the planet began to warm up again, Lake Agassiz also reappeared. This time, however, it joined with an equally large lake, known as Ojibway. Shortly after their merger, a new drainage took place, but this time in the Hudson Bay. Another cold spell happened 8,200 years ago, known as the 8.2 kiloyear event. Though cold temperatures lasted for only 150 years, this incident was able to raise sea levels by 13 feet. Interestingly, historians were able to link the origins of many flood myths from around the world to this exact time period. This sudden rise in sea levels also caused the Mediterranean to punch its way through the Bosporus Strait and flood the Black Sea, which at the time was only a freshwater lake.

1. Martian Ice Age

Influenced by forces beyond our control, Ice Ages are naturally occurring events that aren’t confined to Earth alone. Like our own planet, Mars also goes through periodical changes in its orbit and axial tilt. But unlike Earth, where an Ice Age implies polar ice caps growing in size, Mars experiences a different process. Because its axial tilt is more pronounced than Earth’s, and the poles receive more sunlight, a Martian Ice Age means that polar ice caps actually recede, while glaciers at the mid-latitude expand. This process is reversed during interglacial periods.

For the past 370,000 years, Mars has been slowly coming out of its own ice age and entering an interglacial period. Scientists estimate that roughly 20,900 cubic miles of ice has been accumulating at the poles since, most of it being in the Northern Hemisphere. Computer models have also shown that Mars has the capacity of being totally enveloped in ice during a glaciation event. This research is in its early stages, however, and given the fact that we’re still a long way away from fully understanding Earth’s own Ice Ages, we can’t logically expect to know everything that’s happening on Mars. Nevertheless, this research can prove useful, given our future plans for the Red Planet. It also helps us a great deal here on Earth. “Mars serves as a simplified laboratory for testing climate models and scenarios, without oceans and biology, which we can then use to better understand Earth systems,” said planetary scientist Isaac Smith.


Cold Hard Facts About the Ice Age

– WIF Current Events

Desert Oddities – WIF Geography

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Strange Things

Found

in the Desert

Deserts are nature’s perfect hiding places for strange things. The climate can be so hostile to traverse that few people will risk dying after a few hours exposure in the hopes of finding something worthwhile. The lack of even basic of life forms, like bacteria in some deserts, mean that bizarre and mysterious objects can be preserved much longer and more often than normal.

 The extreme environment is also good for creating all sorts of novel flora and fauna. For unsavory types, the desert is perfect for doing nefarious deeds, where they imagine there wouldn’t be prying eyes to worry about. So let’s search the sands, seeking something strange.

10. Chinese Desert Patterns

In 2011, Google Earth users found objects in Gobi Desert areas of China’s Xinjiang and Gansu provinces that made the supposedly paranormal crop circles look downright quaint. While a few large buildings were quickly identified, the more intriguing and seemingly haphazardly designed collections of white lines carved into the ground defied any immediate explanation and came off as especially suspicious for having been made in remote areas. These were not small objects, either.

The Guardian reported that some stretched out for as much as roughly half a mile to 1.15 miles.

The answer turned out to be a little ingenious but relatively benign. They’re used by the Chinese government to orient their spy satellites and calibrate their lenses. Knowing the relative distances and angles for different portions of the pattern allows the satellite operators to know if they’re reading certain distances properly or how well the focus is working. These, it should be noted, are not secret satellites, and it’s not a practice that’s unique to China, either. There’s one in Casa Grande, Arizona that serves the same purpose and which dates back to the 1960s.

9. Ancient Egyptian Burial Boat

For ancient Egyptians, it was fairly common practice to include a vehicle of some kind in the tomb. The famous tomb of King Tut had six chariots in it. Others favored putting boats in theirs, and this was hardly restricted to the elites. Even the peasant class would put cheap but affordable reed boats in their graves with them. But one that was discovered in the Saharan desert after 4,500 years in the sands of the Abusir Necropolis was quite baffling.

This vessel, unearthed in 2016, was sixty feet in length, only about six feet shorter than a warship of the time. It was made of especially high-quality wood, hence it still being relatively intact when it was excavated. What was odd was that it wasn’t buried in the grave of a noble, or a general, or anyone like that. Instead, the person entombed with it was a commoner. How could a peasant have afforded such a boat? How could the family have possibly afforded to pay to have the equivalent of a destroyer buried with him, or even have it transported inland? The answer for people curious about the true nature of the past is frustratingly lost to the sand swirls history.

8. Desert Graveyard for Sea Mammals

Speaking of graveyards, the mystery boat is hardly alone in terms of finding surprising burial sites in the sands. In the Atacama Desert in Chile, there’s a hill called Cerro Ballena (“Whale Hill”) forty meters above sea level that, during roadwork in 2010, was found to contain fossils of forty whales along with a collection of other marine mammals such as dolphins and seals, not to mention some fish related to swordfish. It initially seemed like an amazing case of mass fossilization: How could dozens of animals of various species have all died at once, and in so many cases have been preserved?

The most accepted explanation is that the numerous mammals and fish were deposited over time, and that the hill in question happened to be a place where the bodies were washed up, only to have nature preserved them for six to nine million years. The rather worrying suspect of the deaths that left them to washed up on land was a spontaneous algae infection. True or not, it certainly left an unusual resting place for quite a menagerie.

7. Sudden Tunisian Desert Lake


Desert Oddities

– WIF Geography

Incredible Maps – WIF Geography

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Cool Maps

of the Modern World

(and Beyond)

Mapping things is an incredibly useful tool for humanity. By analyzing a given situation or development and then putting the results on a map, scientists and researchers can better understand and predict future trends around the world. And more detailed that map is, the more accurate the predictions are. Now, maps don’t even need to be about something in particular to be cool or entertaining, but the more they are about something, the better… right? So with that being said, let’s take a look at some of the maps out there and see what we can learn from them about the world we live in… and beyond.

 10. Lights On Lights Out

With so many satellites orbiting our planet these days, it’s almost impossible for a person with access to the internet not to see the occasional photo of the Earth at night. But to their benefit, these maps are downright amazing and cool in their own right. And knowing how big the planet actually is by comparison to humans living on it, it does kinda make it look like we’re a bunch of bacteria that have just recently evolved to glow in the dark, right? Well, keeping in the spirit of mapping out the changes happening on Earth, cartographer John Nelson has made a map showing the changes in man-made light intensity around the world. He called it the ‘Lights On Lights Out’Map. He overlapped NASA’s 2012 Earth at Night map with the one from 2016. And in doing so, he was able to show the world what regions of the planet have been lit up more, while others dimmed over the course of four years. To mark the changes, he used the color purple to highlight the regions that become darker, while cyan stands for an increase in illumination.

Now, the map doesn’t explain the reasons for the changes in light intensity, but we can deduce them in some places, at least. The first region of the world that catches our eye is India. Without a shadow of a doubt, India has brightened over the past four years. The reason for this is the Indian government’s project to bring electricity to its rural areas and investing heavily in renewable sources of energy. Syria, on the other hand, has become dimmer. This might not come as a surprise, given the conflict happening there. Surprisingly enough, Puerto Rico is also dimming, but the reason is their fight to curb light pollution. In the United States, North Dakota has developed a huge bright spot – which is the result of the boom in the fracking industry there. Other regions’ change in light intensity is harder to explain. For instance, while Georgia is getting dimmer, the two Carolinas are brightening up. One explanation for this could be that these states have taken a different approach in regards to street lighting infrastructure.

9. The Gini Coefficient Map

Source: https://assets.weforum.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/1511B11-global-inequality-work-map-GINI.png

According to the World Bank, the Gini coefficient “measures the extent to which the distribution of income among individuals or households within an economy deviates from a perfectly equal distribution.” In other words, it highlights the difference in wealth and income between citizens of any given country, while at the same time taking into account other various factors such as taxation or social assistance. The figures range from zero – which represents perfect income equality among all citizens – to 100 – which expresses complete income inequality where only one person holds the entire wealth of that country while the rest have nothing. Both 0 and 100 are hypothetical scenarios, mind you, with no country being in either situation, but ranging somewhere in between. According to the CIA database, the countries with the highest Gini coefficient are Lesotho and South Africa, with 63.2 and 62.5 respectively, while on the other end of the spectrum we have Finland with an index of 21.5, and the Faroe Islands with 22.7.

Now, in and of itself, the Gini index doesn’t tell us all that much about the state of an economy or the general well-being of the citizens. A relatively poor country like Romania, for instance, has a coefficient of 27.3, whereas the United States is at 45. This index is often used as a frame of reference, and in combination with other statistics, in order to better understand what a country is doing right or wrong. For example, poorer countries as a whole have a higher crime rate than richer ones. But by combining this information with the Gini coefficient, it turns out that the crime rate usually drops the lower their respective coefficient is. There are, of course, other factors at play here, like the quality of education, but the trend is there. The same thing applies to richer countries as well.

Similarly, by combining the Gini index with the Human Development coefficient we can deduce which countries have or don’t have a broad middle class – the backbone of every thriving economy. Super wealthy people tend to hoard their earnings in bank accounts, never to see the light of day again. They might buy a yacht or a mansion (and even a mansion they’ll likely see as an investment as much as a dwelling) now and then, but most of their money will never return to the economy. The middle class, on the other hand, has enough saved for retirement while at the same time is able to invest in both business and pleasure – which in turn generates more business, an even wealthier and broader middle class, and a stronger economy in the process.

8. The Greening Earth

Source: https://i2.wp.com/gypsy.ninja/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/image-20160422-17390-1nsul4k-1.jpg?ssl=1

Over the past three decades, the planet has become greener and greener. This might seem a bit counterintuitive given the high levels of deforestation, and other such man-made activities, but believe it or not, this increase in vegetation is also because of indirect human involvement. Like with all carbon-based life forms on Earth, plants need carbon to grow. And with more CO2 in the air these days, it’s no wonder that plants have seen rapid growth in some areas. This phenomenon is known as CO2 fertilization.

“We were able to tie the greening largely to the fertilizing effect of rising atmospheric CO2 concentration by tasking several computer models to mimic plant growth observed in the satellite data,” says Prof. Ranga Myneni of the Department of Earth and Environment at Boston University. And this increase in leafy growth is not marginal, either. According to the study, the Earth has experienced a total of over 7 million square miles of greening since 1982. That area equals twice the size of mainland USA. This might seem as good news, given that more plants means less CO2 in the air, but this development may have some unforeseen side effects as well.

For starters, much of this greening has happened in areas previously unsuited for it – places like semi-deserts or arctic regions. Furthermore, the extra foliage in these areas can have unknown effects on the water and carbon cycles in nature that can negatively impact other regions in unexpected ways. It’s also important to note that plants can and will acclimatize to these rising CO2 levels and the effect of this fertilization will diminish over time. This trend has been observed in various experiments, as well as the fossil record from when the Earth had high levels of CO2 in the air.

7. Livestock Density

As we’ve said before, mapping things out can have a wide range of unexpected uses. By gathering information about something and then placing it on the map, researchers can determine with greater accuracy certain patterns or future events. And mapping out the density of livestock around the world is no different. In fact, the International Livestock Research Institute, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Environmental Research Group of Oxford, and the Université Libre de Bruxelles have all come together for this one. They’ve mapped out the overall density for cattle, pigs, chickens, and ducks for the entire world. And while it’s definitely interesting to see that neither Africa nor South America have any interest in raising ducks, and not surprising that Muslim countries have a general dislike for pork and India is full of cows, it’s also fascinating to see that Europe has a somewhat even distribution of all types of livestock over its entire surface, unlike most other places on Earth – except maybe China. But while these are more cultural factors than anything else, there are other reasons for the creation of these maps as well.

One such reason is acid rain. Acid rain forms when there are large quantities of ammonia in the air, and livestock are responsible for 68% of all ammonia in the atmosphere. This means that areas with high concentrations of livestock are more prone to this phenomenon. Large numbers of cattle are also responsible for land degradation in the form of trampling, which can cause a change in the natural water cycle. A high density area of livestock also produces large quantities of waste that ends up polluting rivers and lakes. And we should not forget the risk of disease. Domesticated animals have always played an important role when it comes to disease. Various strains of influenza, like the infamous swine and avian flues can and have jumped to humans. By knowing where the high risk areas are, scientists and governments can better prepare in case of a possible outbreak.

6. Fukushima and the Pacific

Source: https://i0.wp.com/ta1.universaltelegra.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/fukushima.jpg

On March 11, 2011, Japan was hit by the fourth most powerful earthquake in the world since record-keeping began in back 1900. The undersea megathrust earthquake occurred some 43 miles off the coast, registering a whopping 9.1 on the Richter scale. The Japanese Prime Minister called it “the most difficult crisis for Japan since WWII.” Almost 16,000 people lost their lives, another 2,500 went missing, and more than 1.1 million buildings were either partially or completely destroyed. Tsunamis reached 6.6 feet high as far away as Chile, some 11,000 miles away, while in some parts of Japan, particularly in Miyako city, the waves were almost unimaginable – 128 feet high. The tsunamis also severely damaged the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, damaging six reactors and leading them to release their radiation into the air and the ocean. Now, despite the Japanese’s best efforts at containing the problem, the power plant is still leaking, six years after the event.

This map shows how much of that radiation has spread throughout the Pacific Ocean ever since. But Ken Buesseler from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution tells us that the map, though accurate in the spread of radioactive material, can be misleading. He and his team have been studying the radiation leak ever since it started back in 2011. He went on to say that the rate of radionuclides release has slowed down significantly since the first month of the disaster, and it would take another 5,000 years before the plant will release the same amount of radioactive isotopes that it did during the first month after the meltdown. Most of the isotopes released have a short half-life of decay, spanning from a few days to a few months. Only cesium-134 has a half-life of 30 years, but as it spreads over the ocean, its radioactive power dissipates. The highest levels of cesium found in the ocean were some 1,500 miles north of Hawaii, but even if someone were to swim in these waters every day, the dose of radiation would be 1,000 times smaller than a single dental x-ray. He also goes on to say that we shouldn’t disregard additional sources of radiation in the ocean above the natural sources, but even the waters surrounding Japan are safe to swim in and there is no threat to marine life.

5. Beyond the Sea

Source: https://i0.wp.com/andywoodruff.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/australia.jpg

Almost anyone who has ever gone to the beach has, at least once, wondered what piece of land or country lies over the horizon. To answer that question, the people at the Washington Post have come up with a series of maps that put different countries on different continents on the same latitude across the oceans. But cartographer Andy Woodruff wanted to go a step further. He argued that coastlines aren’t actually straight lines – they bend and curve in all directions. So, depending on where you are on the coast, and assuming that you’re perpendicular to the ocean, you could actually be facing faraway places, uninterrupted by other landmasses. For instance, if you were to stand on a piece of coast in Southern Australia, depending on your angle, you could be looking straight at the East Coast of the United States. Incredible, right?

Well, yes and no. Our constant exposure to the world map that we’re all familiar with makes it kinda difficult to come to terms with this, but it is true. The Earth, as we all know, or should, is a sphere, and the shortest way between two points on the planet is actually a great circle arc, not an actual straight line drawn on the map. Another misconception that comes from looking at flat, rectangular maps is that Earth doesn’t really have any edges, or ups and downs for that matter. The continents are also skewed in size and shape, depending on how far away they are from the equator. So, the next time you see Antarctica covering the entire bottom of the map, know that its actual size is close to Brazil’s. With that in mind, if you were on the coast in Newfoundland, you could look all along the Atlantic, around Antarctica and onto Australia’s southern coast.

4. Large Mammals With or Without Humans

Source: https://i0.wp.com/gypsy.ninja/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/413.jpg?ssl=1

It does seem kinda strange that Africa is the only continent in the world today that has large mammals, right? Okay, there are still bears and tigers on other continents, yes, but where are Europe’s equivalent to giraffes, or North America’s hippos, or Australia’s own type of rhino? The short answer is that they’re all gone. Now, of course these continents never had those species of animals in the first place, but there were once giant wombats, giant kangaroos, and large birds at least until humans made it to Australia. In Asia and Europe, cave bears, Irish elks, cave hyenas, and woolly rhinos were roaming the lands up until the end of the last ice age some 12,000 years ago. And let’s not forget America’s own giant sloths, car-sized armored herbivores, and the famed Saber-toothed tigers. What happened to them? Well, the answer is kinda obvious, isn’t it?

In case it’s not, let’s discuss it a bit. One reason could be climate change. After all, the planet was emerging from an ice age, and there were changes happening that could have affected some of the animals. But as Yadvinder Malhi, professor of ecosystem science at Oxford University said:

Creatures like megatherium, the giant sloth, and the glyptodon, a car-sized species of armadillo, disappeared in North and South America about 10,000 years ago, when there were major changes to climates – which some scientists believe triggered their extinctions. However, it is also the case that tribes of modern humans were moving into these creatures’ territories at these times – and many of us believe it is too much of a coincidence that this happened just as these animals vanished. These creatures had endured millions of years of climate change before then, after all. However, this was the first time they had encountered humans.”

These maps show the current distribution of large mammals around the globe and their possible distribution if humans didn’t exist.

3. Ideological America

Source: https://i0.wp.com/gypsy.ninja/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/upinarms-map-large.jpg?ssl=1

“The country has been arguing about a lot of fundamental things lately including state roles and individual liberty. In order to have any productive conversation on these issues you need to know where you come from. Once you know where you are coming from it will help move the conversation forward,” says Colin Woodard, an award winning journalist, who also conducted the research for this map. Illustrator Brian Stauffer is responsible for the creation of the actual map. Based on their research into ideology, Stauffer divided North America into 11 distinct nations.

One of them is Yankeedom and is comprised of the Northeast and the Great Lakes region. According to Woodard, the region put a “great emphasis on perfecting earthly civilization through social engineering, denial of self for the common good, and assimilation of outsiders.” Then there’s New Netherland, made up of the lands surrounding New York City. They are “materialistic, with a profound tolerance for ethnic and religious diversity and an unflinching commitment to the freedom of inquiry and conscience… It emerged as a center of publishing, trade, and finance, a magnet for immigrants, and a refuge for those persecuted by other regional culture.” Tidewater is made out of part of North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware. They started off as a feudal land that embraced slavery.

The Midlands are described by Woodard as “America’s Great Swing Region.” It’s an ethnic mosaic tied together by the “inherent goodness” of the Quakers. South of The Midlands we have Greater Appalachia. During the Revolutionary War, they shifted their alliances depending on who“appeared to be the greatest threat to their freedom.” The Deep South was made by slave lords from Barbados who styled their society based on the West Indies. New France has two separate areas. One is centered in New Orleans and the other is in Southeastern Canada (so, centered in French Quebec, obviously). These are quite liberal, and are a “blend of ancient régime northern French peasantry with the traditions and values of the aboriginal people.”

The region of El Norte is characterized as “a place apart” and heavily influenced by Hispanics. They value independence, hard work, and self-sufficiency. The Left Coast is a sort of combination of Yankeedom and Greater Appalachia. The Far West region is by far the largest, and was influenced mostly by the harsh environment, rather than by the ideology of the first settlers there. And lastly, the First Nation is inhabited by Native Americans that never truly relinquished their lands or old ways of life. Located so far north, it’s also the most sparsely populated.

2. Our Fair Share of Arctic Ice

Source: https://i1.wp.com/gypsy.ninja/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/sea_ice_web.jpg?ssl=1

It’s no surprise that the Arctic Ice is melting at an alarming rate. And it’s no surprise either that we’re all to blame for it. Now, when talking about air pollution, people are quick to point the finger at China – and with good cause, too. It’s the world’s leading polluter, after all. But there’s more to the story than that. China is also the leading producer of renewable sources of energy, particularly when it comes to solar panels. To date, China is spewing roughly twice as much CO2 into the air as the United States, but its population is more than four times as large. This means that on average, each US citizen is responsible for two times as much CO2 than an average person from China. But this doesn’t make the average American the most pollutant person, either. By looking at the CO2 emission per capita in every country, we see that China is at 6.52 tons of CO2 per person, while the US is at 17.62. Saudi Arabia and Australia are at 19.65 and 18.02 respectively. In India, every citizen is responsible for just 1.45 tons.

Now, what this map shows is the amount of arctic ice melt every person in the world is responsible for, based on the CO2 per capita in their respective country. Dirk Notz, a climate scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Germany has made the calculations to see how much carbon is needed in the air to melt the ice. And as it turns out, each ton of CO2 emissions translates to about 3 square meters, or about 32 square feet. Based on data from 2013, each US resident led to the melting of about 49 square meters (527 sq. feet) of ice in the Arctic. This map and these numbers shouldn’t be taken as a means to pass blame on others, but rather as a way to look at ourselves and what we can do to lower our own CO2 emissions. Air pollution, after all, doesn’t keep track of national borders, so we’re all in this together.

1. The Geological Map of Mars

Now, we can’t go through an entire list of maps about the modern world without addressing the Red Planet. Mars is, or will soon be part of the modern world, so we need to have it in here.People have been studying Mars and have been trying to guess its geology for the past 400 years. But it was only during the 1970s with the Mariner 9 and Viking programs that we were able to take a closer look. In more recent years, however, with the advent of high resolution cameras and sensors, astronomers were able to pinpoint with even greater accuracy the entire geology of the planet. An interesting feature visible even for those who have no idea at what they’re actually looking at is the fact that the Northern Hemisphere is basically one large depression – seen on the map in green. The crustal thickness here is approximated at a maximum of about 20 miles, whereas the southern part of the planet is at 36 miles.

Close to the equator on the Western Hemisphere, we can also see some of the most striking features the Red Planet has to offer. On the one hand, we have Olympus Mons, the tallest mountain in the entire solar system. It’s actually three times the size of Mount Everest, and covers an area roughly the size of Arizona. Close to it rise another three huge mountains, and all of them are shield volcanoes. This means that every time there’s an eruption, there’s no volcanic explosion, and the lava gently slides along their sides. We still don’t know whether these volcanoes are active or not. That’s probably for the future colonists to find out. Hope they have fun with that!

Another equally striking feature is the Valles Marineris. This is the largest canyon in the entire solar system and sits there like a huge scar on Mars’ face. To understand its immenseness, know that it stretches for 1,900 miles, is 500 miles wide, and 5 miles deep. The Grand Canyon, on the other hand, is 500 miles long, 18 miles wide, and one mile deep. Its creation still remains a mystery, but some speculate that it initially formed as a crack that got wider and wider as the planet cooled. Now, if you think that geological maps of Earth are important, you can only imagine how important this one will be for the people who will hopefully call Mars home one day.


Incredible Maps

– WIF Geography