Incredible Maps – WIF Geography


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


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


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


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


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


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


“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


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

Man-made Islands – WIF Travel

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The gradual formation of the Earth has given us some impressive islands, which are home to some of humankind’s biggest cities and even countries. While humans can’t make islands as impressive as mother nature, we’ve certainly have made some very cool ones. These are 10 of the most amazing artificial islands from all around the globe.

 10. Notre Dame Island (Canada)

In order to get ready for the 1967 International and Universal Exposition, the city of Montreal, Quebec, needed to build a metro system. In order to build one, they needed to dig out 15 million tons of rock, and they came up with an ingenious way to use it – they built Notre Dame Island in the Saint Lawrence River.

Today, the island is home to several tourist attractions, including the Jacques Villeneuve Circuit, which is where the Canadian Grand Prix is held, and it’s also where the Montreal Casino is located.

9. Wilhelmstein (Germany)

Wilhemstein is found on Lake Steinhude, which is the largest lake in northwestern Germany. Its construction was ordered by William, Count of Schaumburg-Lippe, and it was built between 1765 and 1767. Fisherman would take rocks over in their boats and then drop them in the water until the island was formed.

The island is 134,548 square feet and was originally designed to be a fortified hideaway for the Count. Today it is a museum and a tourist attraction.

8. Treasure Island (USA)

The artificial island with the best name started off as a sandy shoal off the coast of San Francisco. The city decided the shoal was a hazard for boats, so construction on the island started in 1936, overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 25 million cubic yards were taken from all over the bay to make the island, which is a mile by a mile-and-half. It was completed in 1939, just in time for the Golden Gate International Exposition. After the exposition came to an end in September 1940, the Navy took it over and it became Naval Station Treasure Island. It was closed in September 1997 for civilian use.

Today, the island is best known for its flea market and annual music festival called Treasure Island Music Fest, because if you’re holding a concert at a place like Treasure Island, you don’t really need a clever name.

It also has a restricted area of abandoned houses because the soil is contaminated with radioactive waste. The Navy never explained why there was radioactive waste, but there are two theories. The first is that they repaired ships there that may have been exposed to nuclear radiation during nuclear bomb testing in the Pacific. Another theory is that they purposefully covered a ship in radiation to train servicemen to wash off the radiation.

For decades, the Navy hid the fact that the island was contaminated with radioactive waste and then refused to investigate it when it was made

public. It was only in 2010 that they started to clean up the area.

Last year, after 20 years of planning, it was announced that 8,000 homes, a hotel, and parks are to be built on the island, which will cost $5 billion.

7. Hulhumalé (Maldives)

Found in the Indian Ocean, Maldives is a tropical country and home to a 0.7 square mile man-made island called Hulhumalé. People first moved onto the reclaimed island in 2004, and as of 2016, it is home to 40,000 people.

When developing the island, there was a focus on sustainability and the island was designed to be climate change resilient. It’s also the only smart city in Maldives; there is a smart grid built into the city and it has a state of the art traffic light system.

On the island, you can find hotels and restaurants, but the main attraction is the beautiful beach, which has water that is full of marine life. Water sports, like snorkeling, are available and boat trips are quite popular.

6. THUMS Islands (USA)

The THUMS Islands were constructed in 1965 in Long Beach, California. They’re a set of four artificial islands, and the name is an acronym for the five companies who had it constructed – Texaco, Humble (now Exxon), Union Oil, Mobil, and Shell. From the companies who built it, you’ve probably gathered that there aren’t any homes on the island, and you’d be totally correct. Instead, the islands are oil drilling facilities.

The problem facing the developers when constructing the islands is that oil drilling facilities aren’t exactly the prettiest structures and the area where they planned to build the facility was full of million dollar beach front properties. So to make it less of an eye sore, they hired architect Joseph Linesch, who was known for his work on theme parks like Disneyland. The final product is what The Los Angeles Times calls “…part Disney, part Jetsons, part Swiss Family Robinson.”

 The island is still used for oil drilling and as of 2015, there were about 1,550 active drills.

5. The World (United Arab Emirates)

The United Arab Emirates’ biggest and most populous city, Dubai, has several impressive man-made islands and one of the most interesting projects is the World Islands. Construction started on the islands in 2003, but momentum on the project came to a halt because of the 2008 financial crisis. Since then, the 300 islands that make up the seven continents have started to sink into the Persian Gulf.

In 2014, the project came back to life and construction restarted on the islands. The developers said that it will have lavish hotels and restaurants, along with half-submerged, half-skylit floating homes that are called seahorses. They cost $2.8 million each and 70 percent have already been sold.

4. Amwaj Islands (Bahrain)

Bahrain is a small country in the Persian Gulf and it is home to a group of beautiful artificial islands called the Amwaj Islands.

Construction on the islands started in 2002 and from the beginning it was designed to be a smart city. Cisco and Oracle were given contracts to develop fiber optic networks for all the homes and businesses on the islands.

The islands have different sections and one of the most impressive areas is Al Marsa, also known as the Floating City. The houses are surrounded by deep canals, which allows home owners to park their boats in front of their homes, making it look like a very modern version of Venice, Italy.

Another impressive area of the islands is the Central Lagoon, which is the commercial area of the islands. In the Central Lagoon, there is nearly 600,000 square feet of commercial space including open-air markets and two dozen restaurants.

3. IJburg (Netherlands)

In cities where there are housing shortages, governments and real estate developers have to get a little creative when it comes to building new homes. One city that is having a particularly difficult time with a lack of housing is Amsterdam. One of their solutions is a series of artificial islands called IJurb.

Construction on the islands started in 1996 in IJmeer, which is a lake east of the city. There are three islands: Steigereiland, Haveneiland, and Rieteilanden, and they are connected to each other and the mainland by bridges.

As of 2015, there were 20,000 residents living in IJurb, but once construction is completed, it will provide homes for 45,000 people. Also on the islands are schools, shopping centers, hospitals, restaurants, and beaches.

Within IJurg, there is a neighborhood called the Waterbuurt or the Water District. In that neighborhood, the homes are floating houseboats that are moored to jetties. People who don’t mind spending a little bit more even have a dock outside their home where they can dock their boat.

2. The Pearl-Qatar (Qatar)

Qatar is an oil rich country in the Middle East, and even though it may be physically impossible to play soccer there because of the extreme heat, it’s set to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. A few tourists coming to enjoy the World Cup will be able to stay on one of the most unique man-made islands in the world, the Pearl-Qatar. Construction on the infrastructure of the island took about 10 years and it was completed in 2014.

It has nearly 20 miles of coastline and on the island there are three five-star hotels, 492,000 square feet of international retail, restaurants, and entertainment. This includes a 64,000 square foot family entertainment center.

As of 2014, there were 12,000 people living on the island, but that number is expected to increase four-fold by 2018.

1. Palm Jumeirah (United Arab Emirates)

On both sides of the World Islands are the two Palm Islands. On the left is Palm Jumeirah and on the right is Palm Jebel Ali. Palm Jebel Ali has yet to be finished and it’s unclear when it will be completed. When the construction is finally done it’s expected to house 250,000 people, and it will have four theme parks. Construction on Palm Jumeirah went a bit smoother and in 2006 people started to move to the island.

When it was completed, it added 320 miles to the coastline. Amazingly, out of the two islands, Palm Jumeirah is the smaller one and it’s only about half the size of the Palm Jebel Ali. It’s home to several hotels, resorts, restaurants, and shopping centers. It also has a monorail to get around.

All three of Dubai’s artifical islands were built by dredging up millions of cubic feet of sand from the seafloor, and then sprayed into the pattern of the islands using GPS. Then, for the Palm Jumeirah, seven million tons of mountain rock were used to form a seven-mile breakwater around the 17-fronded palm tree to protect the island from waves and ocean storms.

Man-made Islands

– WIF Travel

Bungle in the Jungle – WIF Nature

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Strange Things


in the Jungle

Jungle View, Simon Scales – Concept Art – Matte Painting

The jungles are, and always have been mysterious. People can and have gone in them, never to be seen again. And even if they make up just 7 percent of the Earth’s land surface, with that number going down year after year, they are home to half of all living creatures on the planet. And what’s more, we don’t even know many of them. Nevertheless, the jungle can hide a great deal of mysterious things. Here are 10 of them.

 10. A Long Lost Mayan City Found by Looking at the Stars
It’s a fairly well-known fact that the Maya were good astronomers. The Mayan calendar may ring some bells, though it is often confused with the Aztec Calendar. And it never does get as much credit as it should. Nevertheless, a 15-year-old boy by the name of William Gadoury, from Quebec, Canada, has put the Mayan stargazing ability to the test. He theorized that the ancient pre-Colombian civilization used to build their cities in accordance with the overhead constellations.By making use of images from the Canadian Space Agency, Google Earth, as well as other known Maya settlements, he was able to pinpoint and discover marks which indicate a possible hidden city deep in the Yucatan jungles of Mexico.

Though nobody actually went there to analyze the site first hand, mostly because of the dense vegetation, the images provided by the satellite point to a possible pyramid complex hidden beneath the overgrown canopy. The satellite discovered linear elements that resemble a street network, as well as a rectangular shape that may actually be a pyramid. These images could, of course, show nothing more than natural features interpreted as man-made, but this is highly unlikely. Straight lines and rectangular shapes are rarely found in nature on their own, and are almost always a sign of human activity. If proven to be true and there actually is an undiscovered Maya settlement there, then this technique could prove useful in finding other lost cities just by looking at the stars.

9. The Largest Flower in the World

Growing some 3.3 feet across and weighing in at around 24 pounds, the Rafflesia Arnoldii is the largest flower in the world. There are 17 known species and they all live deep in the rainforests of Indonesia, Malaysia, Borneo, Sumatra, Thailand, and the Philippines. But this isn’t your ordinary flower to give your girlfriend on Valentine’s Day. Not because she doesn’t have a big enough vase to put it in or anything, but because this flower is notorious for its smell of rotten flesh when in full bloom. Also known as the “corpse flower”, it makes use of this particular “perfume” in order to draw in its main pollinator: the carrion fly. It sports five immense, red colored, leathery petals and a deep well in the middle. The flies go inside hoping to find some rotting flesh, but instead are covered with the flower’s pollen.

The corpse flower is also a parasite. It doesn’t have any leaves, stem, or roots and instead makes use of some threadlike growths that go inside its host: theTetrastigma Vine. Prior to its bulb sprouting, there are no visible signs of the flower’s existence. It can take up to ten months for the flower to go from bulb to full bloom. And when it does, it stays like that for only a few days; a week at best.Nobody really knows when that happens and it is extremely hard to make one do so in captivity. Singapore’s Botanic Garden hasn’t yet been successful in growing its own. So, if you really want to see one live, your best bet is to go deep within the Southeast Asian jungles to find one.

8. The Boiling River of Amazonian Legend

When he was only a boy, Andrés Ruzo, a geophysicist, was told a legend by his grandfather. This legend was about the conquistadors and how they went in search of El Dorado, the city of gold, deep in the Amazonian jungles. And from the fortunate few that were able to return came all sorts of stories. These stories were about man-eating snakes, jungle people with poison darts, trees bigger than they’d ever seen, and a boiling river capable of instantly killing anyone who would fall in its waters. This story remained with Ruzo into his adulthood. And for his PhD, he decided to make Peru’s first detailed geothermal map. Now, boiling streams do exist. They are located near volcanoes or other geothermal hotspots. But the thing is that the Amazonian basin is nowhere near such places, and the existence of a boiling river would be next to impossible. But as fate would have it, his aunt, of all people, was familiar with the boiling river. Not only had she been there before, but she was friends with the river shaman’s wife.

She then took him there, some 440 miles away from any volcanoes, and deep within the Peruvian jungle. The river itself is about 82 feet wide and 20 feet deep in some places, and for a distance of about 4 miles its waters are close to boiling point. This site is known as Mayantuyacu, and is considered sacred by the natives. What’s even more interesting is the fact that they use its waters for everything from cooking, brewing tea, or washing. But since this place is nowhere near a volcano, there isn’t a simple answer as to where the heat comes from. The best explanation so far, which probably is the case, is that this water comes from far away, as far as the glaciers high up in the Andes Mountains. Then it goes through an immense network of fissures within the mountains themselves, then deep underground where it’s heated, only to come back out in this place, making this stretch of the river boil.

7. Sigiriya – The Eighth Wonder of the World

Located on the teardrop-shaped island of Sri Lanka, there is an abandoned fortress/palace that some say is the Eighth Wonder of the World. Sigiriya’s origin dates back to the 5th century AD during the reign of King Kashyapa, 477-495, and was built on a 600 foot tall, vertical granite slab towering over the surrounding jungle. King Kashyapa came to power after successfully overthrowing his father and usurping his brother’s rule on the throne of Sri Lanka. He later killed his father by walling him up while still alive. Fearing for his life, his brother, Moggallana, fled to Southern India, where he would raise an army, determined to take back the throne from King Kashyapa. Knowing this, Kashyapa then moved the capital from Anuradhapura, to the strategically located Sigiriya. The site was chosen due to its defensive capabilities. The granite slab itself was a “plug” that once covered the mouth of a volcano. But over time, the volcano subsided and eroded, leaving only the huge stone in place.

Now only a ruin , Sigiriya was once a crowning technological achievement and quite possibly the most important urban planning site of the first millennium in the world. The complex was comprised of the royal palace located at the very top, a mid-level terrace that includes an exquisite gate shaped in the form of a huge lion, and the lower part, which was made up of other smaller palaces, elaborate gardens, and the city itself. The western wall of the granite stone was a covered in huge murals, 460 feet long and 130 feet high; probably the biggest in the world. The frescoes depicted over 500 partially undressed ladies, maybe the king’s mistresses, or probably priestesses during various religious ceremonies. The spiral stairs that went up to the palace were built next to the Mirror Wall. This was once covered in plaster and polished to the point where the king could see his reflection when going up to the palace.

Things, however, didn’t last. The king’s brother did eventually return with an army and defeated Kashyapa in battle. Taking back the throne of Sri Lanka, he moved the capital back to Anuradhapura and transformed Sigiriya into a Buddhist monastery that lasted up until the 14th century. The site was then abandoned for 500 years, only to be rediscovered by accident when some British troops went past it in 1831. The first small scale archeological work began in the 1890s, and only in 1983 did the Sri Lankan government get involved. Since then Sigiriya has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

6. Cuvette Centrale – Congo’s Hidden Carbon “Bomb”

For the past three years, scientists have been meticulously mapping the Congo Basin and what its soil has buried just below the surface. As it turns out, there is one of the largest carbon sinks in the world, covering an area larger than England, some 56,000 square miles in total. This swampland, even though it makes up just 4 percent of the whole Congo Basin, holds as much carbon below ground as the amount stored above ground (in the form of trees and vegetation) for the rest of the basin put together. That’s roughly 30 billion tons of carbon, or about 20 years’ worth of fossil fuel emissions in the US. When the investigations started, scientists had no idea of what they’d come across, and this peatland turned out to be 16 times larger than previously anticipated. Peat is decomposing organic matter turned partially into soil. It is most commonly found in cooler regions like Siberia, Northern Europe, or Canada, but they’re also found in tropic regions like this one.

When plant matter dies it falls into these marshlands and gets partially decomposed. But because of the water above, this decomposition stops midway. Left alone, peatlands make great carbon sinks, sucking up carbon from the air via plants and then storing it underground when these plants die. This particular marshland started forming roughly 11,000 years ago with the end of the last ice age, when Africa became more humid in its tropical regions as a result. However, if for whatever reason the water is drained or it evaporates, then the peat starts decomposing again, releasing all the carbon into the air with devastating effects. Now, because it was only recently discovered and is basically unprotected, this peatland is vulnerable to deforestation and drainage in order to make room for agriculture, particularly for palm oil. The same thing happened in Indonesia, where over 36,000 square miles of peatland were exposed in recent decades, in order to make room for palm tree plantations.

5. The Stone Spheres of Costa Rica

Ever since the late 1930s, people have been discovering strange stone spheres scattered all across southern Costa Rica. In order to make room for banana plantations, farmers began clearing the jungle only to come across these round balls ranging in size from only a few inches to over 6.6 feet in diameter, and weighing in as much as 15 tons. Not knowing what to make of them, the farmers either pushed them aside with bulldozers or blew them up with dynamite. Word got around that there was gold inside, so people began destroying them, but, surprise surprise, there was no gold.

Nevertheless, they did get proper archaeological investigation soon after their discovery. Some of the stone spheres, which were left in their original place, were found alongside pottery shards dating from around 300 to 1550 AD. But most of them are believed to have been made around the year 1000 AD, more than 500 years before the Spanish Conquest. There isn’t much information about their creators, however, with the culture disappearing soon after the European arrivals. Nevertheless, archaeological evidence points to the fact that these people lived in scattered settlements no larger than 2,000 people at a time. They also made use of agriculture and lived in circular houses. Go figure!

To create these spherical stones, this ancient civilization probably used a combination of techniques such as controlled fracture, pecking, and sand grinding. Contrary to what you might hear about them from various sources, they are nowhere near to being perfect spheres. But given the technology at the time, they are impressive nonetheless. Their purpose, on the other hand, is a complete mystery. Since they were removed from their original positions, we can only imagine their intended purpose. While some of the stones were still on site during the 1940s and ’50s, archaeologists documented them as being arranged in straight or curved lines. One such arrangement was said to be in direct alignment with the magnetic north. Others were said to be on top of low mounds, leading scientists to speculate that some of them, at least, were kept indoors. But because many of these stones have been relocated, it makes it impossible to verify. Today, most ofthe stone spheres adorn public places and even private gardens. Many of them have since found their way to other countries as well, particularly in the US.

4. Zombie Fungus

The Cordyceps are a genus of fungi with a worldwide distribution. But most of the almost 400 species are found in the humid and tropical regions of Asia, in countries like China, Nepal, Japan, Bhutan, Korea, Vietnam and Thailand. What they do, is that they infect an insect, usually an ant (but it depends of the species of Cordycep), and then they take control over the poor animal. Since 85% of all insects in the world live in rainforests, the fungus’ preference for ants kinda makes sense. For instance, it’s estimated that over 8 million ants cover a single hectare of tropical forest.

When these ants come in contact with the spores of these fungi, they immediately get infected. And as if out of a sci-fi movie, the fungi then takes control over the actions of the ant, making it climb the foliage as high as it can. There, the ant will fix itself to a leaf or a twig, and it will eventually die. Next, the fungus will sprout from the ant’s head, forming a long stem over the following three weeks. Then, the next generation of spores will burst from its tip and will fall to the ground, ready to be picked up by other ants, and the cycle repeats itself.

The higher the ant goes, the wider the distribution these spores have, and the more ants can pick them up. Now, if other ants come by an infected one, they immediately take it as far away from the colony as possible and dump it there, in order to prevent infection. What’s really interesting about these “zombie fungi” is that each species specializes on just one type of insect; not just ants. This indicates that there’s a close co-evolution between the parasite and the host. And what these fungi ends up doing on a grander scale is that they keep any one species from getting the upper hand. If one group of insects becomes too numerous, they have a higher chance of getting infected, thus constantly promoting diversity in the jungle.

3. The Lost Stone Head of Guatemala

Back in 1987, a doctor of philosophy by the name of Oscar Rafael Padilla Lara received a photograph of a giant stone head located somewhere in the jungles of Guatemala. The photograph was reportedly taken during the 1950s by a man who owned the land where the head was located. Dr. Padilla then tracked down the landowner and went looking for the head. Unfortunately, however, when they got there the head was gone. Well, it was still there, actually; it just no longer looks like a human head. From 1960 to 1996, Guatemala was ravaged by civil war and it seems that the mysterious stone head was used as target practice by the rebels. The site is located some 6 miles away from the small village of La Democracia in southern Guatemala. Dr. Padilla measured what remained of the monolith to a height of about 20 feet. But since the war was still taking place at the time, he never returned to the site.

Now, there have been other stone heads discovered in the country, as well as southern Mexico, which were created by the Olmec civilization during the first and second millennium BC. What makes this stone head so special, however, is the fact that it doesn’t look anything like the others. While the Olmec monuments resemble a more “Negroid” appearance – something that sparked all sorts of wild theories – this one had a more “Caucasian” look to it, which again ignited alien conspiracies. Some, nevertheless, speculate that this head was maybe an anomaly in the Olmec period, or maybe it was made by another culture altogether, before or after the Olmecs themselves. Others believe that, similar to the Easter Island Statues, there may be a body underneath yet to be discovered. But there is some controversy about the whole story. Due to the odd nature of the discovery and the unlikely and seemingly unfortunate series of events surrounding it, some believe the head to be a hoax. The answer, however, is still hidden within the Guatemalan jungles.

2. Real Life Tarzan

It’s a known and accepted fact that those who venture into the jungle have a big chance of never coming back out again. There are plenty of things that can go wrong and they sometimes do. But it’s not that common for people to lose themselves in the jungle willingly. But on extremely rare occasions, this happens as well. This was the case of a man and his then-infant son, who’ve been living in the Vietnamese jungles for over 40 years. During the Vietnam War, Ho Van Thanh, now over 80 years old, took his youngest son, Ho Van Lang, deep within the jungle in order to escape an US air raid that killed his wife and two older sons. Unbeknownst to him, however, his wife gave birth to another son just before the air raid, and this baby also managed to somehow survive, and was then taken by his uncle, Thanh’s brother.

Forty years later, the two were discovered some 25 miles away from the nearest village, living in a tree house constructed close to a stream. The two also crafted their own makeshift tools like axes, knives and even arrows, and were even tending a sugarcane plantation. They also had a small fire going in the suspended hut and made their own underpants from dried tree bark. When discovered, the father was barely able to walk due to his old age, and even forgot most of the language. His son, though thin, was in peak physical condition, but like his father, didn’t know the language. Neither of them was suffering from any diseases. When taken back to the village, the father was taken to the hospital in order to receive proper medical treatment. However, doctors had to tie him to the bed because he kept trying to escape back into the jungle.

1. The White City of the Monkey God

Ever since the time of Hernan Cortez and his conquest of the Aztecs, there have been legends of a mighty city somewhere deep in the unexplored jungles to the south. This city was said to be so wealthy and so powerful that nobles were eating their food from plates of gold. And in charge of this city was an all-powerful monkey god. The Bishop of Honduras sent a letter to the King of Spain in 1544, telling him that after an arduous travel through the dense jungles, guided there by some locals, he saw the city from the top of the mountain in one of the valleys below. After that, the legend only continued to grow. That was until 1939, when an explorer by the name of Theodore Morde claimed to have found it in the Mosquita Valley area in Honduras. However, he was later found dead in his parent’s house, having supposedly hanged himself, never revealing the actual location.

However, a recent archaeological expedition in the area has actually discovered the site by making use of state of the art technology. The ancient city is located in a crater-like valley, surrounded by mountains and covered by almost impenetrable vegetation. The exact location is, however, kept a secret in the hopes of keeping looters away. The archaeologists have since managed to map an extensive area of the site, discovering plazas, earth pyramids, and countless valuable artifacts and stone statues. Though they don’t believe in an actual “White City of the Monkey God,” they do believe that they’ve stumbled upon something even greater: apreviously unknown civilization that inhabited the area long ago.

Bungle in the Jungle

– WIF Nature

Prehistoric Man and His Petrifying Pets – WIF World

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Terrifying Animals

That Lived Alongside

Prehistoric Man


Hunting the Cave Bear by Zdenek Burian

Our species, Homo sapiens, have only been around for about as long as a blink of an eye in terms of Earth’s history. It’s believed that the Earth formed over 4.6 billion years ago, and the first humans evolved about 200,000 years ago in Africa.

 In order to survive so that modern humans could flourish, our prehistoric ancestors had to fight off and hunt animals that were much bigger and far stronger than them. These are 10 horrifying animals that they may have encountered as humans migrated all over the world.

10. The Columbian Mammoth

Columbian mammoths were one of the biggest mammals to ever walk on Earth, and they were cousin to the more famous woolly mammoths. Columbian mammoths were found all the way from modern-day Canada to Mexico, while woolly mammoths, who were smaller, were found in northern Asia, Russia, and Canada. Another major difference is that Columbian mammoths had much less hair, so they looked closer to modern day elephants, but bigger with much longer tusks.

Columbian mammoths were 12 to 14 feet tall and weighed anywhere between 5.5 and 11 tons. The Columbian mammoth also had the biggest tusks out of the elephant family. They were, on average, 12 feet long, spiraled, and very strong. They would have been used to fight off predators, including humans.

9. The Ground Sloth

We know that this list is about terrifying animals, and sloths are anything but terrifying. However, their ancient ancestors, ground sloths, were a bit more intimidating than their modern day counterpart because they were some of the biggest mammals to ever live.

There were several different subspecies of ground sloths and the ones that lived in North America were the size of rhinos and humans most likely dined on them. However, the biggest ground sloths, the Megatherium, which lived in South America up until about 10,000 years ago, were as big as an elephant. From head to tail, they were 20 feet long and weighed up to four tons. Also, because they had sharp teeth and long claws, there is some speculation that they may have been carnivores.

Ultimately, the last species of ground sloths lived until about 4,200 years ago on theCaribbean islands. When humans arrived on the islands, it was the final death blow to the ground sloths.

8. Gigantopithecus

The biggest known primate to ever walk the earth was the Gigantopithecus, which is a relative of orangutans. They were 10 feet tall, and they weighed around 1,100 pounds.

One thing you may notice is that the Gigantopithecus looks a lot like the mythical Sasquatch. However, before anyone begins to speculate, the Gigantopithecus died out 100,000 years ago. So unless a group of 10-foot, half ton apes actively hid themselves from humans for one thousand centuries, it doesn’t seem likely that people have seen Gigantopithecus and thought it was Bigfoot.

The reason they died out after living on Earth for six to nine million years is because they needed a lot of food, like fruits, to sustain their giant bodies, which wasn’t a problem when their home in Southeast Asia was tropical forests. But then, because of weather changes their forests started to disappear and they became dry savannas, meaning there was less food and the giant primate just died out.

Of course, Gigantopithecus may be familiar to those people who saw the very excellent live adaptation of The Jungle Book, because King Louie is a Gigantopithecus.

7. The Cave Hyena

Cave Hyenas, also known as spotted coyotes, were about double the size of their relatives, the laughing coyote. They weighed up to 285 pounds, they were about three feet tall, and were nearly five feet long. According to calculations based on fossils, one cave hyena was strong enough to take down a 5-year-old mastodon that weighed a ton.

However, they lived in packs, sometimes consisting of 30 coyotes. These made them much more effective hunters, and they could take down a nine-year-old mastodon that weighed nine tons. Needless to say, a small family of humans would not want to come across a pack of hungry hyenas.

Their population started to dwindle about 20,000 years ago, before going extinct somewhere between 11,000 and 13,000 years ago. One reason may have been humans, because we competed with hyenas for cave space during the last ice age.

6. Smilodon

Saber-toothed cats are often given the very misleading title of saber-tooth tigers. It’s misleading because while they are part of the Felidae family, they weren’t closelyrelated to tigers.

Saber-toothed cats first appeared 42 million years ago. There were many species of them and most of them had died before humans first appeared. However, it’s believed that humans living in the Americas could have come across two different species of saber-toothed cats, Smilodon fatalis and Smilodon populator. They ranged in size and they could be as big as an African lion, which is the biggest wild lion living today. They also could weigh as much as the biggest subspecies of tiger, the Siberian tiger.

With their size came great strength. The smilodons could take down much bigger animals than themselves, like mammoths. Often, they would wait for prey to get close and then launch a surprise attack.

Out of the feline family, the smilodon didn’t have the strongest bite. According to calculations, it only had about one-third of the bite strength of modern lions. However, it had a really flexible jaw and could open its mouth 120 degrees, compared to a lion, which maxes out at 60 degrees.

The smilodon also had fairly weak teeth, but researchers think to compensate for that, they developed the strongest forearms of all cats. It’s believed that they used this strength to hold down their prey and then stabbed their fangs through the prey’s neck. Another theory is that the Smilodon repeatedly stabbed the prey with their fangs after it was held down. No matter how they killed their prey, a human did not want to find itself under the forearms of a smilodon.

5. The Dire Wolf

Fans of Game of Thrones may recognize Dire Wolves, but unlike many other animals on the show, Dire Wolves were real.

They first appeared about a quarter of a million years ago. They were similar tomodern-day gray wolves but sturdier. The gray wolf, which is the largest living wolf, is about 4 feet to 6.6 feet long and weighs 40 to 170 pounds, while Dire Wolves were about 5 feet long and weighed up to 200 pounds.

Dire Wolves, which were found all over North and South America, had a bite force that was 29 percent stronger than gray wolves. Their diet consisted of mostly horses.

They became extinct like so a lot other carnivores, at the end of the last ice age about 10,000 years ago.

4. The American Lion

Like a lot of other animals on this list, the American Lion is horribly named because it’s not a lion at all. Its scientific name is Panthera atrox, and as it suggests, the American Lion is more closely related to panthers than lions. One part about their name that is correct is that they lived in modern-day America starting about 330,000 years ago.

One notable aspect that our ancient ancestors would have noticed right away if they encountered an American Lion is that it was huge. In fact, it is the biggest known wild cat in history. On average, they weighed 772 pounds, which is 25 percent larger thanan African Lion. The American Lion was also incredibly strong. They were powerful enough to bring down a bison, meaning a small group of humans would have been in trouble had they encountered one of these lions.

They died around 11,000 years ago around the end of the last ice age.

3. The Megalania

Megalania was a monitor lizard, which is the same lizard family as the Komodo dragon, and it lived in Australia until about 50,000 years ago; around the same time that humans migrated there.

The size of Megalania is a highly debated topic. Originally, it was thought to be 23 feet long, while other estimates put its size more in the range of 11 feet long.

Regardless, they were bigger than Komodo dragons, but like the Komodo dragon, the Megalania also had poisonous glands. It would simply bite its prey and if it didn’t die of blood loss, then it would be slowly poisoned to death and the Meaglania would feast on its carcass.

Today, Komodo dragons are considered a very dangerous animal. They are fast, strong, and poisonous. They are also on average 6.5 feet long. The Megalania could have been four times that size; not exactly something a human, either prehistoric or modern, would want to bump into.

2. The Short-Faced Bear

Bears first appeared about 40 million years ago, and several subspecies have evolved over the years. One that our prehistoric ancestors would have encountered is the short-faced bear.

Short-faced bears (Arctodus pristinus) were five feet tall at shoulder height, but when they stood up, they were 12 feet tall and with its arms raised it was 14 feet tall. It also had the ability to run on two legs. If that wasn’t terrifying enough, the short-faced bear also had long limbs, and could run faster than a grizzly, possibly reaching speeds of 40 miles per hour. That means even Usain Bolt, who was clocked in at 28 miles per hour, would be dinner for this beast.

The Giant Short-Faced Bear was one of the biggest carnivores in North America. They first appeared about 800,000 years ago and they became extinct about 11,600 years ago.

1. The Quinkana

According to fossils, the Quinkana first evolved about 1.6 million years ago and they lived in modern day Australia. They were huge members of the crocodile family and they could grow to be 23 feet long. Just for some perspective, the longest crocodile in captivity was Lolong and he was 20 feet long.

A major difference between the Quinkana and many other crocodiles is that they were land dwellers. Since they lived on land, there was two major physical traits that the Quinkana developed. The first was that it had long, powerful legs. It would hunt its prey by chasing after them for long distances. The second difference is that crocodiles use their teeth to latch on and drag their prey into the water and drown it. The Quinkanas’ teeth, on the other hand, were much sharper and they were used for cutting.

They died out about 50,000 years ago, about 10,000 years after humans first arrived in Australia.

Prehistoric Man and His Petrifying Pets


– WIF World

Amazing Nature Almanac – WIF Science

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Strange and Beautiful

Natural Phenomena


Nature is amazing. There is no doubt about that. People have marveled at nature’s beauty since they came into existence. Not knowing what was happening, these people of old came up with some truly magnificent stories, trying to give a sense to the world around them. Today we are blessed with more knowledge about the world, but nevertheless this doesn’t diminish the magic taking place before our very eyes. If anything, it only makes nature more interesting.

 And while we no longer believe the “sky to be falling” every time it’s raining, or that Thor is smiting his hammer with every lightning strike, there are some natural phenomena out there we common folk still don’t understand. Here are 10 such natural occurrences, explained by our most prized of storytellers: scientists.

10. Snow Rollers

snow roller

No, these weren’t made by gnomes during the night, but rather by a series of meteorological events, in a particular order. Snow rollers aren’t a common sight, but when they do happen, and you stumble upon some of them, be sure that a fairly unlikely series of events took place the night before. First and foremost there needs to be two separate layers of snow already present: a first, icy or crusty layer of snow underneath, and a wetter one above. This way, the wet layer has something on which to roll over. Then you need some wind, strong enough to scoop out balls of snow and push them forward, similar to a tumbleweed, but not so strong as to blow it apart.

They will also form in relatively sloped areas, but this is not absolutely necessary. Just imagine yourself making a snowman, and the process is more or less the same. The biggest differences are that one is made by a person, the other by the elements. Also, snow rollers are more often cylindrical in shape, rather than a sphere, and they can vary in size from that of an average snowball, to that of a car. Nevertheless, the many meteorological conditions which need to take place in that exact order, at the exact time, make these snow rollers a very rare phenomenon to behold, and they usually make headlines in the newspapers the following day.

9. Mammatus Clouds


Looking very ominous, mammatus clouds are sometimes the harbingers of an imminent and powerful thunderstorm. But more often than not, they form just after the storm has passed. Also known as mammatocumulus, they translate to “mammary cloud” due to their appearance as pouches, usually hanging beneath a larger, anvil cloud. As updraft pushes precipitation enriched air to the top of one such anvil cloud, the air begins to spread out, and the heavier precipitation, usually water particles and ice fall back to the bottom, forming these mammatus clouds. As the air falls back down to the ground, it heats up, evaporating the precipitation within it. The more precipitation there is the further down they will sink.

These clouds usually span over an area of several hundred miles in all directions and last for about 10-15 minutes at a time. While they usually form underneath an anvil cloud, they also appear on occasion under altocumulus, altostratus, stratocumulus, cirrus clouds, as well as volcanic ash clouds. Whatever the case, they look amazing and ominous at the same time, especially when sunlight is reflected off of them.

8. Ice Flowers


This natural phenomenon in particular is as beautiful as it is rare, and only takes places in late autumn or early winter, before the ground freezes over. As the air goes below freezing point, the sap within some plant stems, plants like theFrostweed (Verbesina virginica), begins to freeze and expand, pushing through the plant itself and forming an amazing thin sheet of ice, similar to a flower petal. Certain conditions need to take place for this beautiful phenomenon to appear. As the ground is still unfrozen, water keeps on going up the stem and through the microscopic cracks, the sap escapes and transforms into ice, adding to the ever longer sheet.

In some instances, this phenomenon can happen to wood as well. Wood which hasn’t yet dried completely and is kept in freezing conditions can sometimes present these Ice Flowers. More often than not however, the wood cracks from the pressure within, generating these wonderful patterns which curl and fold into gorgeous frozen petioles, giving this phenomenon both its name and appearance.

7. Columnar Basalt


This type of rock formation occurs, as it name suggests, in basalt, which is a lava flow rock. These formations can be found all over eastern Washington state, Devils Tower in Wyoming, Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, or the Los Organos on the northern part of La Gomera Island in the Canaries, and many other places around the world. Based on their name, you can clearly see what kind of stories people used to give these, back in the day. Nevertheless, there are columnar basalt formations found even on Mars. The way these form, is similar to how the ground cracks during a severe drought. As the water evaporates, or goes into the water bed below, the ground above contracts and cracks. The same thing applies here, as the lava flow progressively cools over a period of maybe longer than 100 years. The cracks form perpendicular to the original flow direction.

The difference in thickness of these columns depends on the speed at which they cool. While there are cases of a lava beds contracting as a whole, it is more likely for them to crack. The faster they cool, the thinner the columns will be. And while hexagons are most common, polygons with three to twelve or more sides can be observed. Their length, which can be greater than 50 feet, is based on how thick the original lava flow was.

6. Fallstreak Hole


This particular cloud formation looks as if someone took an enormous cookie cutter and made a hole in what, otherwise, looks like an enormous flat cloud covering the sky. In fact, some people call them Holepunch clouds. Another particular aspect here is that a streak of cloud usually hangs underneath that hole. What’s happening up there is quite interesting, to say the least. For starters, we need to know that air at higher altitudes is much cooler that the temperature at the ground level. In fact, temperatures can go well below freezing point.

But despite this, water vapor and tiny water droplets “refuse” to freeze and remain in a “supercool” state. Water usually begins to freeze due to the impurities inside it: salt, dust particles, all sorts of other minerals, and so on. Cold, distilled water can also begin to freeze instantaneously if a piece of ice is added to it, in a process known as “ice nucleation.” Since water vapor is quite pure, water stays in liquid form even under freezing temperatures. Here, a piece of ice falls from higher altitudes and comes in contact with the water inside this cloud. This in turn sets out a chain reaction, freezing the droplets around, and making them fall to the ground – thus, the cloud streak below the hole. If a plane happens to pass through a cloud at a shallow angle, it can also cause it to freeze and form a cigar-shaped Fallstreak hole.

5. Brinicles

Brinicles are a fairly rare sight to see, not because they rarely happen, but because they take place underwater. In fact, they were only discovered in the 1960s. When seawater freezes, it releases its salt, creating super-salty brine. This percolates through cracks in the ice, into the water below. This brine then sinks because it’s much denser than the surrounding water. That is also the reason you can float in salty water, far better than in a fresh water lake. Nevertheless, this brine is also much colder, and the seawater around freezes on contact. Over time, this creates somewhat of an inverted cone, or funnel if you will, which goes ever deeper towards the bottom. This stalactite is what’s known as a brinicle.

Since brinicles appear in shallower waters, closer to the coast, in a course of some 12 hours it’s able to reach the bottom, trapping everything in ice. Creatures usually living on the ocean floor, like starfish and sea urchins, move far too slow and they get trapped in this newly formed ice, which then spreads along the bottom. Not surprisingly, brinicles are more commonly known as “The Ice Fingers of Death.”

4. Volcanic Lightning

Also known as a dirty thunderstorm, volcanic lightning is a weather phenomenon related to the production of lightning in a volcanic plume. What causes them was somewhat hard to figure out, and is still not yet fully understood. While during a thunderstorm, lightning is caused by colliding ice crystals, which generate enough electricity to cause a lightning bolt, ash clouds are far more difficult and a lot moredangerous to study. At first glance, it would seem counter intuitive to attribute ice as the main culprit behind a “dirty thunderstorm”. Some new scientific studies and better equipment, however, have begun to show us what’s really happening during one such volcanic inferno.

Once an eruption begins, large quantities of positively charged particles are blown into the air, which in contact with the negatively charged air particles around make for an electric discharge. These lightning bolts occur in and around the plume, which is ejected by the volcano itself. At first this theory was mostly based on speculation, but thanks to the very high frequency (VHF) radio emissions technology, scientists were able to get a better look inside one such dense volcanic plume and figure out what’s actually happening. But this is not all when it comes to lightning and volcanoes together.

Another study has tracked the location of lightning strikes some 60 miles from the eruption, and at near-stratospheric heights of about 12 miles above the ground. This seems to be caused somewhat in the same way as in a usual thunderstorm. As the ash cloud is blown by the wind, it thins out, and ice begins to form at its extremities, resulting in further lightning strikes. These studies, while not that surprising, can help a great deal in aviation as they can inform on the way to properly respond to a volcano eruption and the usual flight paths of commercial airliners passing above.

3. Sailing Stones


Death Valley in California is notorious for its scorching heat during the day and extreme cold during the night. Among the many mysteries and legends linked to this place, none is more fascinating than the “sailing stones” phenomenon taking place within the Racetrack Playa, an exceptionally flat and level scenic dry lake. Some weighing around 700 pounds, the stones which dot the lake bed seem to be moving across the desert floor when nobody’s watching, leaving long trails behind them. This has puzzled scientists for decades now, but now geologists Richard and Jim Norris, believe they have found the answer. Though the phenomenon itself was under scrutiny since the 1940s, only recently did the two geologists actually capture these sailing stones on film. They set up a weather station in the area and fitted stones with GPS trackers. Two years into the project, the stones began to move.

What actually happened was that it rained the day before, and during the night a thin layer of ice had formed over a few inches of liquid water. As day came, the ice began to break apart and, pushed by the breeze, these ice sheets simply dragged the stones with them, scraping a trail on the bottom. By the end of the day, when all the ice had melted, some of the stones moved more than 200 feet. However, the conditions for this phenomenon to take place are hard to come by, and Norris compared the chances of actually stumbling upon it with winning the lottery. This also explains why this seemingly simple occurrence has intrigued people for so long.

2. Penitentes


Penitentes are narrow ice formations, commonly found at high altitudes of over 13,000 feet, with low humidity, especially in the Andes Mountains of South America. What’s curious about them is that they usually point towards the sun, ranging from a few inches to six or even 16 feet in height. Their name comes from their resemblance to people kneeling, as when doing penance. More precisely, they resemble the brothers of the Procession of Penance in Spain, who wear hats with very tall, narrow, and white sharp tips (just like the KKK).

Anyway, the existence of these Penitentes was known about as early as the 1800s and were originally believed to have been formed by the wind. But in fact these jagged snow structures are the result of dimples in the original snow sheet. These in turn result in ever larger ablations, through a process known as “sublimation” – where ice and snow melts and vaporizes without turning into liquid water first. This happens more easily at high altitudes due to the reduced pressure of the atmosphere, together with the lower temperatures of the air and the more powerful rays of the sun above. The Penitentes are what remains behind, thanks to their angle towards the sun.

1. Light Pillars


This stunningly beautiful light show usually makes an appearance in cold, arctic regions and can be described as optical phenomenon in which columns of light seem to emanate below or above a light source, in a vertical orientation. This light source can be of natural origins, like the sun or moon, in which case these light columns are called Sun or Lunar Pillars, respectively. Or, they can occur due to the presence of artificial lights as well. These light pillars form when the two astral bodies are close to the horizon and tend to take on the color of the body emanating that light in the first place.

The effect itself is created by the reflection of that light onto the many ice particles suspended in the air or clouds. Because of this, light pillars fall in the category of halos – optical phenomenon produced by light interacting with ice crystals. The reason for why they appear vertical and not as a circle, is because the ice crystals which reflect them consist mostly of flat, hexagonal plates, which tend to orient themselves more or less horizontally as they fall through the air. Together they act as a giant mirror, reflecting the light either up or down. Thanks to the slight turbulences in the air, these ice crystals somewhat change their horizontal orientation, elongating the light column even further. The larger the crystals, the more pronounced this effect becomes. In some rare cases, column-shaped crystalscan cause light pillars as well.

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Questions Science Took

Forever to Answer

Questions WO Answers-001

The scientific method is all about getting to the bottom of questions large and small. It will be an invaluable tool for as long as there are questions to be answered. That’ll be until such time as science gives us a quantum computer that can compute the Universe. And then, said computer will still be an end result of the scientific method.

That said, it can sometimes work very… very… slowly. From the mundane to the fantastic to the extraterrestrial, here are 10 questions scientists banged their heads against for a very long time until the answers came.

10. What Causes Volcanic Lightning

volcanic lightning

A long-observed quality of violent volcanic eruptions are the crackling electrical displays associated with their ash plumes. While awesome to look at (from a safe distance), the phenomenon has long puzzled scientists in that it is obviously a separate one from regular, earth-bound lightning, and had no apparent cause.

 The answer, according to University of Munich researchers, lies within the ash itself. Specifically, tiny particles of rising ash that are electrified by magma. Particularly in the violent lower regions of the ash plume, where the turbulence generates complex charge distributions, this eventually leads to an electrostatic discharge. One which often propagates upwards, instead of downwards like regular lightning, due to the rising ash.

The answer to this question isn’t just useful for satisfying curiosity. The study also unexpectedly showed a correlation between the frequency of the lightning and the total volume of ash that the eruption will generate. Observing the phenomenon could therefore lead to accurate predictions about the sizes of each ash cloud. That, in turn, could result in better evacuation planning and air quality alerts.

9. Why Turtles Have Shells


The question of what caused turtles to evolve their shells would seem to have a simple answer. Turtles are notoriously slow, making them easy pickings for predators. A hard protective shell is an obvious evolutionary advantage. But examination of the turtle’s evolutionary process shows this to be false. Turtles are slow because of their wide, flat ribs, a feature distinct from almost all other animals, and which is necessary to support their shells. That is, turtles are slow because they have shells. So why have them at all?

Well, for protection, yes. But not from predators; from the harsh South African desert environment in which turtles evolved. Specifically, the turtle’s shell began as a means of digging underground, creating caves to escape the heat and aridity.

 Though long suspected, final confirmation of this theory did not arrive until an 8-year old South African boy stumbled upon a well-preserved, only partially shelled “proto-turtle” fossil while working the family farm. Fortunately, the family took the specimen to a local museum and enabled researchers to put this burning, slowly ambulating question to rest.

8. Why Jet Lag is Directional

jet lag

Frequent fliers know that when traveling from West to East, the effects of jet lag are much more pronounced than when traveling from East to West. This was long suspected to be all in the head of the traveler, or perhaps due to public consensus that this is just how jet lag works. But it was recently found that the effect is real, and there is a reason for it. It has to do with your Circadian rhythm, and its role in how long it takes your brain to “sync up” after a time zone shift.

Simply put, the body’s natural clock is generally set to be slightly longer than 24 hours, and it varies for each individual.  This being the case, the body is naturally geared toward adjusting to longer days rather than shorter. Certain cells in the brain control this rhythm, but these cells are themselves controlled by variations in sunlight.

When days are lengthened and sunlight is prolonged, there is still a “signal” (sunlight) feeding information to these cells. But they become confused in the absence of sunlight, or when days are shortened. This throws off the body’s internal clock. Since traveling from West to East has the effect of shortening the day, our internal rhythm is thrown more severely out of whack in this scenario – our natural inclination toward longer days being a contributing factor.

7. Why Knuckles Pop


You may have heard that the popping sound when cracking your knuckles is the result of bubbles in the joint fluid, which collapse when the joint is moved a certain way. You may have even taken this as fact for a very long while. But it turns out that this whole time, that was pure speculation. In an experiment that we honestly can’t believe it took somebody so long to perform, University of Alberta Canada researcher Greg Kawchuk got somebody who is really, really adept at cracking his knuckles, stuck his hand in an MRI machine, and got to the bottom of the whole thing.

Rather, the subject came to him. Jerome Fryer is a “champion knuckle cracker” who also happens to be a chiropractor. He came to Kawchuk with his theory: the sound results from the sudden formation of a cavity inside the joint fluid. Not its collapse, but the actual formation of the cavity: “It’s a little bit like forming a vacuum… as the joint surfaces suddenly separate, there is no more fluid available to fill the increasing joint volume, so a cavity is created, and that event is what’s associated with the sound.”

You may have also heard that cracking your knuckles causes arthritis, which is almost certainly untrue. However, this new study could disprove that notion once and for all. It could also lead to better early treatment and diagnosing of joint problems.

6. The Function of the Appendix


For centuries, the appendix has been thought a vestigial organ. An evolutionary leftover, with no purpose other than occasionally to serve as a ticking time bomb which will kill us if not removed immediately. While it’s true that we can function perfectly normally without one, research has uncovered the hidden purpose of the appendix. It’s a sort of reserve barracks for the additional platoons of good bacteria needed to fight particularly nasty infections.

The discovery was made by examining the appendices of koala bears, which have comparatively long and large ones. They’re needed to aid in the processing of their diets, which consist of practically nothing but Eucalyptus leaves. It’s speculated that if koala’s diets were to change, over thousands of years, their appendices would shrink as ours have.

Duke University Medical Center professor Bill Parker, who participated in the research, stressed that this by no means implies that we should now try to hang on to our appendix at any cost. “It’s very important for people to understand that if their appendix gets inflamed, just because it has a function it does not mean they should try to keep it in,” he says.

5. Whether Memories Can Be Inherited


Epigenetics is the study of how genes can be altered by environment, writing changes into our DNA which can then be passed on. For example, it has been shown that things like dietary habits or exposure to environmental toxins can result in having offspring which inherit certain food or chemical sensitivities. What was not known until recently was whether experiences can have the same effect. For instance, if a traumatic childhood on the part of a parent can result in changes to a child’s DNA.

A Tel Aviv University research team recently not only confirmed that this is the case, but revealed the exact mechanism that serves as an on/off switch for inherited environmental influences. It was previously known that small RNA molecules are somehow key in facilitating inherited DNA modifications. In measuring epigenetic responses in worms, researchers were able to isolate an enzyme that essentially tells the small RNA molecules to keep replicating. This determines over how many generations the epigenetic response persists.

It was further discovered that by manipulating this “switch” that epigenetic responses – like passing down a fear response learned by a prior generation – could be prolonged or terminated at the researchers’ will. The implication, of course, is that a similar switch in humans could be manipulated to proactively help those predisposed not only to physical conditions, but emotional and mental conditions as well.

4. Why Subatomic Particles Bind


In particle physics, the quark is the tiniest, most elementary of all particles. If quarks are composed of anything smaller, we don’t know about it yet. They in turn make up protons and neutrons, which are bound together by… force. Up until recently, nobody was sure exactly what that force was. But we now have a pretty good idea. It’s yet another kind of particle.

 Scientifically known as meson f0(1710) but referred to as the gluon (yes, really), the particle acts as the glue which binds all other particles together. They are similar to photons (particles of light) in that they have no mass of their own. Yet, similar to how photons are responsible for electromagnetic force, gluons are responsible for strong nuclear force. The key difference: photons aren’t subject to their own force, while gluons are. Meaning that they’re able to bind together.

Existing for too short a period of time to be examined directly, gluons were discovered and can be examined by their detected rate of decay. More specifically, groups of bound gluons – called “glueballs”- are basically what’s holding the entire Universe together.

3. The Nature of Gravity


Albert Einstein’s Theories of Special and General Relativity have held up better than perhaps any other incredibly significant scientific theories. Their applications have led to the development of semiconductors, to name just one thing. Without those, you wouldn’t be reading this. But even the soundest theories, backed by reams of research and decades of practical applications, can have their holes. For relativity, that hole was gravity.

 Einstein’s theories assumed that, like light, sound, and practically everything else, gravity is expressed as a wave or frequency. This was, in fact, the last major prediction of relativity to be fulfilled. This has generally been held to be true for decades, but wasn’t confirmed until recently, and in rather spectacular fashion.

Using extremely sensitive instruments, scientists recorded the distant sound of two black holes colliding. The faint, rising tone represented the energy of the collision – 50 times the power output of all stars in the Universe combined – conveyed by gravitational waves to the measuring device. This tone may soon become a hallowed recording in the annals of science, as it all but completes Einstein’s vision. Using this new discovery, astronomers will be able to construct instruments that can “hear” deeper into space than ever before. That black hole collision that was measured? It was two billion light years away.

2. Why There Are Men


Humans have evolved to become very efficient organisms. However, our method of reproduction does not seem to suit us in that regard, strictly speaking. While we may find it enjoyable, sexual reproduction pales in comparison to asexual reproduction, exhibited by many animal species, in terms of efficiency. If humans have followed their most advantageous evolutionary course, there should be only one human sex (female) which would reproduce all on its own. So, why are there men?

Researchers may have found the answer in a study involving flour beetles. The study had two parts. In one, 90 males and 10 females were put together and observed. In the other, just one male and one female were paired up. After 50 generations (!), it was found that sexual selection seemed to play a significant role in producing healthy offspring.

This is likely because having a choice of mate can act as a means to filter out harmful genetic mutations. That’s according to lead researcher Matt Gage of the University of East Anglia. This suggests that not only would asexual reproduction not have been more efficient for us, but that if we did not reproduce sexually we probably would have gone extinct.

 1. Whether There Have Ever Been Aliens


Answering the question of whether we’re alone in the Universe is one of the holy grails of science. Almost as compelling is the question of whether extraterrestrial life hasever existed. We have no frame of reference as to how long a civilization might potentially last. Or, where on the cosmic timeline one might have existed. And we haven’t found any physical evidence. However, extremely strong circumstantial evidence has recently become available which all but answers the question definitively.

And, the answer is yes. In 1961, astronomer Frank Drake identified seven factors (expressed in the form of an equation) which identify the odds of contact with an alien civilization. They include the number of stars born each year, percentage of planets upon which life evolves, and so on, with the final factor being the average lifetime of a civilization. Most of these factors being unknown variables, there was no way to effectively use the equation to arrive at any kind of solution.

 However, in the intervening years, knowledge of the number of planets has increased exponentially. That’s allowed figures to be plugged into Drake’s equation and shed some light on the issue. In a recent paper, astronomers Adam Frank and Woodruff Sullivan ran the numbers to arrive at a startling conclusion: “unless the probability for evolving a civilization on a habitable-zone planet is less than one in ten billion trillion, then we are not the first.” Frank also stated, in a New York Times op-ed, “In previous discussions of the Drake equation, a probability for civilizations to form of one in 10 billion per planet was considered highly pessimistic. According to our finding, even if you grant that level of pessimism, a trillion civilizations still would have appeared over the course of cosmic history.”

Volcanic Lightning, Knuckles,

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Facts about the Earth’s

Greatest Mass Extinction

Their causes are somewhat varied, but we’ll be focusing on the greatest mass extinction that has ever taken place here on Earth. It happened some 252 million years ago, during the Permian period, and paved the way for the Triassic one. Also known as The Great Dying, the planet witnessed a huge cataclysmic event, so devastating that 75% of all land creatures and over 95% of all marine life went extinct. What caused it, what exactly happened and what can we learn from it, we’ll be discussing in this article down below.

10. The Permian Period


In order to properly understand what happened back then, we first need to look at the Permian period itself. It lasted for about 47 million years, from 299, up until 252 million years ago and was part of the larger, Paleozoic Era. By the beginning of this period, all current continents were pushed together and formed a single large super continent, known as Pangaea. Life in the interior of this huge continent was harsh, as it had a much cooler, drier climate than around its coast. Fern-like plants and forests, which dominated the previous Carboniferous period, began to give way to the first seed-bearing plants, the gymnosperms, which in turn evolved to present-day conifers, cycads and gingkoes.

Two types of land animals began to evolve during this time, the Synapsids and Sauropsids. The first, which seemed to be the dominant of the two, or at least at the beginning, were the ancestors of all present-day mammals. In the later part of the Permian period, these evolved into the Therapsids, with some of them exhibiting evidence of whiskers and a possible indication of fur.Sauropsids on the other hand, went on to become the reptiles, birds and dinosaurs that would follow the Permian. Insects began to diversify, with cicadas and beetles making their appearance at this time.

Marine life is a bit harder to identify as there is little exposed fossil evidence available. Nevertheless, the shallower coastal waters around Pangaea indicate that reefs were large and diverse ecosystems with numerous sponge and coral species. Bony fish began to make their presence felt, while sharks and rays continued to multiply as they’ve done for millennia. Life in all its prehistoric shapes and sizes seemed to be stable, with evolution following its normal path. But then something happened; something that would shake the entire course of evolution from its very core.

9. A Massive, Earth-shaking Eruption


Many have speculated that the trigger for all these species to simply die off was a meteorite slamming into the Earth, similar to the one that may have wiped off the dinosaurs millions of years later. According to the evidence however, this seems to not have been the case. Since fossil records don’t indicate a sudden and all round extinction (like the one you would see with an asteroid impact), paleontologists have come to the conclusion that something else was the cause. And that cause can still be seen today in modern-day Siberia.

Hidden beneath the Arctic tundra, lies one of the world’s largest expanse of lava flows, forming a bleak landscape known as the Siberian Traps. What happened back then can only be described as a huge supervolcanic eruption, the likes of which have not been seen on Earth for over 500 million years. During the Permian period, Siberia was located at the northern part of Pangaea and when the volcano erupted, it engulfed an area roughly the size of the US (almost 1.7 million sq. miles) in a one mile deep sea of molten rock. Today only about 500,000 sq. miles of it are still visible. The type of lava found here indicates that there wasn’t a big explosion (but given its size, it was huge compared to ordinary volcanoes), but rather a prolonged flow of basaltic lava which spread for millions of sq. miles, in a process which maybe lasted for 500,000 years or more.

And now, even if these immense lava flows may have killed anything in their path over a large area of land, it still doesn’t account for the greatest mass extinction in Earth’s history. What came after it however, managed to do the job.

8. First Came Acid Rain


Besides the tremendous amounts of ash and dust that came from an eruption such as this, there was also a huge quantity of sulfur dioxide; a gas that has a huge negative impact on the environment. This gas rose high up into the atmosphere where it condensed into tiny droplets. If mixed with water however, you get sulfuric acid. It is estimated that the air in the northern hemisphere of this ancient Earth had a pH level so low, it was comparable to undiluted lemon juice in its acidity. Research shows that within the first year after the eruption, the volcano was able to produce about 1.46 billion tons of sulfur dioxide, enough to completely devastate the northern half of the world. Around 4,000 billion tons of sulfur dioxide may have escaped Siberia in total.

Back in 1783, Iceland witnessed one such similar volcano and subsequent lava flows (but incomparable in size), around Mount Laki. After the eruption people reported their eyes burning, impossibility of breathing, livestock suffocating and suffering lesions and burning of their skin, with plant life getting the worst of it. The same thing happened 252 million years ago, but at a much, much larger scale. The whole food chain began to collapse as acid rain was burning plants and animals alike. These toxic gases also created some chemical reactions that destroyed the overall protective ozone layer to levels lower than those observed in the Antarctic ozone hole in the 1990’s.

7. Then Came a Volcanic Winter


After a while these acid rains began to stop, but not all sulfur dioxide managed to be washed off from the air. Some of it remained high in the atmosphere, way above rain-forming clouds, and as minute sulfuric acid droplets. These reflected sunlight away from the planet, cooling its surface. Together with the insane amounts of ash and dust which quickly encircled the globe by high stratospheric winds, the planet began to witness an abrupt drop in all-round temperatures. The same thing happened in Iceland in 1783. Here the cooling was catastrophic as it killed more people than the acid rain and volcano combined. For a period of two or three years, much of Northern Europe reported crop failures, death and unrest as a result. The infamous French Revolution started because of it.

In a virtual simulation made on the last eruption at Yellowstone, some 640,000 years ago, ash and dust completely covered the northern hemisphere in just one month’s time and dropped temperatures in 18 months by 10 degrees Celsius. This blanket brought on a quick rise in Arctic ice, reflecting even more of the sun back into space. Rain stopped falling altogether with the oceans and land retaining more CO2. This made food supplies last for only weeks in some areas. It took the planet about 20 years to come back to its pre-eruption temperature. But our eruption from 252 million years ago was 1,600 times larger than this one and lasted for over half a million years. The winter itself certainly didn’t last as long, but it most certainly sent global temperatures plummeting for decades if not centuries. With the food chain in disarray, 10% of the world’s species had perished by this point.

6. Quickly Followed by a Massive Global Warming


All the while the dust settled, our supervolcano continued on pumping lava over the landscape, as well as tons upon tons of CO2 into the air. Fossil records from the time following the eruption indicate a sudden rise of carbon in the atmosphere. Scientists calculate that CO2 levels during the eruption were 20 times higher than they are today, and more than enough to seriously affect the planet. It was a sort of global warming on steroids. In 10,000 years the volcano released 24,000 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere and temperatures spiked by more than 5 degrees Celsius. However much 24,000 gigatons sound, if divided by the time it took to be released, it comes down to only 2.4 gigatons per year. We currently emit slightly over 4 times that (about 10 gigatons), with even more being foreseen to be pumped in the future.

While this 5 degree increase doesn’t seem that much to us, it has some seriously devastating effects on the climate. In equatorial regions it simply stopped raining and lush forests quickly became scorched deserts. If these regions were least affected by the previous volcanic winter, the massive global warming that followed severely changed that. This is the moment in time when the last of the Permian herbivores like the Dicynodon, as well as 35% of all land life, perish. And if things looked like they couldn’t get any worse, they did. This “rapid” global warming unleashed a deadly chain reaction, but this time in the oceans.

5. Leading to the Oceans Turning to Acid from Above


All the while extinction ruled over the land above the surface, nature was brewing an even more atrocious fate for the oceans. Life here remained mostly unscathed by the previous apocalyptic events, but things were about to take a turn for the worse; much, much worse. All throughout this time, the oceans were absorbing about half of the CO2 from the air (similar to what it’s doing today). Scientists have deduced that, over the course of the previously mentioned 10,000 years during the eruption, the pH levels in the oceans dropped by 0.6 to 0.7 units. In comparison, modern ocean pH levels have fallen by 0.1 pH units since the Industrial Revolution, a 30 percent increase in acidity. Depending on the future trend of carbon dioxide emissions, this value could fall by another 0.3 to 0.4 units by the end of this century, which will bring us extremely close to what happened 252 million years ago.

And what happened was disastrous for all marine life. As CO2 combines with water, it turns into carbonic acid. In seawater, this acid can have some really negative effects on the formation of carbonate minerals; the ones that mussels, corals, sea urchins and plankton use to make their shells. As acidity grew, these marine species died off and with them the whole marine food chain system collapsed. Scorpion-like predators called Eurypterids, to various types of Trilobites as well as all shell-forming beings died off because of this event. Some other less resistant marine species were also extinguished. Matthew Clarkson, a geochemist at the University of Otago in New Zealand said that it took life another 5 million years to diversify once more.

4. And Oxygen-depleted from Below


As marine life was being killed by the growing water acidity, an equally devastating killer was rising from the depths. With temperatures surging worldwide, so did the water. This in turn led to the oxygen-depleted watersfrom the ocean floor to expand and rise to the surface. Not being allowed to sink to larger depths due to suffocation, fish and invertebrates were stuck between a “rock and a hard place”, dying en masse as a result. Evidence of thiswas found in Greenland, by paleontologist Paul Wignall from the University of Leeds, where the ancient seabed, now raised, show signs of a large amount of fool’s gold (pyrite). This element can only be created if there is no oxygen around.

Evidence of this rising, oxygen-depleted, water can be seen today. As the oceans warm up, less oxygen is carried in the water, thus leaving the ocean sequestered in layers. Already naturally low in oxygen, these deep regions keep growing, spreading horizontally and vertically. Vast portions of the eastern Pacific, almost all of the Bay of Bengal, parts near Central America, and an area of the Atlantic off West Africa as broad as the United States are such “dead zones”. Since 1965, these low-oxygen areas have expanded by more than 1.7 million square miles. Further studies have indicated that during the Permian extinction, this low oxygen in the water has halted recovery in the oceans by at least one million years.

3. With Water Turning Pink and Poisonous as a Result


Besides no oxygen, fool’s gold also needs hydrogen sulfide (H2S) to be produced. And according to the large amounts of it found all over the world, and dating from that period, it is evident that the oceans were full of the stuff. In order to get that much H2S into the water however, something drastic must have happened. As temperatures rose, ocean currents stopped and water became low in oxygen. Once this occurred, organisms which hate oxygen began to thrive. The purple sulfur bacteria is one such organism. Often found in stagnant water, these bacteria have a waste product (H2S) which is poisonous to all air-breathing life. With the rise of oxygen-depleted waters, so did the environment for this organism grew, resulting in poisoning of the entire Permian ocean.

There was so much H2S in the water, that, if seen from space, the ocean would have looked pink in areas where it now looks green, due to the large number of bacteria present. But besides its aesthetics, some scientists believe that there was so much toxic gas produced, it could no longer be contained in seawater solution. As a result, large oily bubbles of hydrogen sulfide came out of the pink-stained sea and entered the atmosphere with some truly devastating results. Besides poisoning the few remaining plants and animals at the surface, H2S also significantly added to the shrinking of the ozone layer, left behind by the sulfur dioxide from the eruption.

2. And Then Came the Final Blow


At this point in time, almost all marine life was gone. It was the closest our planet ever came to achieving an aquatic extinction such as this. Land life on the other hand was only halfway there. What caused the other 25% to die was another subsequent heat wave. This time however, it didn’t come from the volcano itself, but rather from the depths of the ocean. And CO2 wasn’t to blame this time either, but rather methane.

Methane is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, and there is currently an estimated of 30 trillion tons of methane hydrate locked on the ocean floor. If for any reason, water temperatures rise, this methane is released, as it is ultrasensitive to heat, and flows to the surface in the form of bubbles. This in turn will heat up the planet even further, leading to even more methane escaping, in a sort of a positive feedback cycle. This is exactly what happened 252 million years ago, killing off the remainder of land animals and plants, “fortunate” enough to escape the previous cataclysms. Earth’s temperature rose by another 5 degrees Celsius as a result.

Even if it took the Siberian Traps more than 10,000 years to reach this point, we today have begun to experience this phenomenon. As of 2014, researchers have found more than 500 bubbling methane vents being activated off the US east coast alone. There are an estimated 30,000 other such hidden methane vents worldwide. While this methane doesn’t reach the surface yet, it is however dissolved into the ocean at depths of hundreds of meters and being oxidized to CO2, which leads to further acidification of the water.

1. The Aftermath


Huge catastrophes such as this one can reset the evolutionary clock, meaning that the whole course of evolution will change. As the dominant species disappear, less significant ones take their place. As Gorgonopsians died off due to the scorching heat and hunger, the smaller Cynodonts took their place. Since these creatures burrowed underground, it offered them protection from both their dying predators as well as the harsh climate outside. After the mass extinction was over, and over the course of millions upon millions of years, these Cynodonts went on to become one of the dominant species of the new world. Without them we, as well as all other mammals, wouldn’t be here today.

Thoroughly understanding what happened during the end of the Permian, can help us tremendously in dealing with our current Anthropogenic Extinction. As we have observed up to this point, we are presently experiencing many of the effects felt millions of years ago, but which take place at a much faster pace than they did back then. For the first time in Earth’s history, the dominant species on the planet is upsetting the delicate balance of its ecosystem. Our massive production of CO2 has a catastrophic impact on Earth’s systems and we are able to shorten the time from tens of thousands of years, to mere centuries… some of which have already passed.

Many will say that this is just a way for the planet to “reboot” itself in terms of life. It happened before so it can happen again, right? Well, not necessarily. While it is true that we are the result of this Permian extinction, as well as the others that followed, this doesn’t automatically mean that life will happen again if Earth goes through another massive die-off. Venus is one such example. Even if it never had life, at one point in its evolution, these two planets were quite similar. But since Venus is closer to the Sun, it was a bit warmer. Because of this, our sister planet went through a process known as a runaway global warming, which made it into the hellish place it is today. Its closer proximity to the Sun was just the catalyst needed to ignite this global warming which, after 4 billion years, is still going on. Are we really that proud as to put all life we currently know exists into such a dangerous and risky predicament?

Mass Extinction Handbook

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