Natural Disaster Handbook – WIF HOF

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Biggest Natural Disasters

in Earth’s History

Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect principle simply states that, given enough time, whatever event, no matter how small, can and will have tremendous reverberations into the future. And when talking about past disasters, natural or otherwise, we always have to keep in mind that, even though devastating, they are part of what brought us here in the first place. Without them the world and everything in it would have taken a totally different turn, ending up completely different than it is today. The further back in time any particular event takes place, the more indirect influence it has on the present and future, altering them beyond recognition.

We may try to speculate on how things would have turned out if any particular disaster from our past didn’t happen, but the variables are so small and infinitely numerous, that we may never know the right answer. Similar to weather prediction (which is looking into the future, by the way), we can only make our best guess with the limited information we have. With this being said, let’s take a look at 10 natural disasters from our past, and maybe later imagine how the world would have looked like without them.


Natural Disaster Handbook

– WIF HOF


Down to Earth Facts – Planetary Platitudes

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Amazing Facts

About

Planet Earth

Planet Earth is an amazing place, to say the least. And even though we’ve been living on its surface our entire life, there are still a lot of things we don’t know about it. Many things that we do know are awe-inspiring. What’s even more interesting about some of these is the fact that they have wide-scale implications on everything around them. But why try to be so mysterious, if we can give you 10 such examples, right?

 10. Planet Earth and a Cue Ball

We all know the Earth is big, there’s no denying it. But when it really comes down to it, we have a hard time coming to grips with its actual dimensions. So, in order to make things more relatable, let’s take a look at mountains. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to see or even climb Mount Everest can attest to the fact that it’s incredibly huge and incredibly humbling. But most people don’t even need to see any of the tallest mountains in the world to know that mountains are big. Now, let’s take our mental image of mountains as points of reference when we talk about the dimensions of the Earth. We know that the average diameter of the planet is of about 7,900 miles. It’s important to note here that Earth is not a perfect sphere, but rather  an oblate spheroid. This means that, because it’s spinning on its axis, the diameter at the equator is bigger than the distance between the poles by about 27 miles. And beside these differences, the planet also has some bumps and dents, but they’re much smaller than 27 miles.

With this information in mind, if we were to scale the planet down to the size of an average cue ball, we would come to an incredible realization. According to the World Pool-Billiard Association (WPA) Tournament Table and Equipment Specifications, every new ball should measure 2.25 inches in diameter and only have imperfections that cannot exceed 0.005 inches. By making the proper calculations here, it turns out that the biggest “imperfection” on Earth can be 17 miles and fall within WPA standards. While Mount Everest is almost 5.5 miles tall, and the Mariana trench is 6.8 miles deep, if they were taken together, side by side, the sum is still below the 17 mile margin. The same thing applies to the difference in diameter between the poles and the equator. Each half of the planet is responsible for its 13.5 mile share out of the total 27, which again is below 17 miles. So, anyone who has ever held a brand new cue ball in their hand and is not amazed by the fact that the Earth is even smoother than that? Well, he or she seriously needs to revise their sense of wonder about the world.

9. The Earth’s Crust

If you liked the previous example, you’ll like this one too. The planet’s crust is the only place in the whole seemingly infinite universe that we call home; at least for the time being. And it’s not even the whole crust, per se, just the surface. The deepest humans have ever managed to go was to a depth of 7.5 miles with the Kola Superdeep Borehole in Russia. Temperatures reached well above 356 °F, so it was only the drilling equipment and measuring apparatus that made it down there, while the scientists stayed safely on the surface. The actual thickness of the crust, like its temperature, varies from one place to the other. While the average thickness is of about 9.3 miles, it can reach a maximum of 55 miles under the Himalayas and just about 3.7 miles under the oceans.

Now, by knowing the planet’s diameter to be 7,900 miles, if we were to scale it down again, but this time to the size of a basketball, the Earth’s crust would be the thickness of a postage stamp; a postage stamp floating on a ball of molten rock and metal. Yes, this is true. So, the next time you hear someone comparing the planet’s crust to that of a chicken egg shell, know that information to be false. The planet’s crust is far thinner than that. If Earth was the size of an actual egg, the crust would probably be even thinner than the thickness of human skin that peels off after a sunburn. Yuck! And since the crust is also broken up into pieces that we call tectonic plates, it’s now easier to understand how and why continents move around so much. So, now that you know these two pieces of information about the crust and the actual size of the Earth, how do you think we fare in size here on Earth by comparison to bacteria on an actual billiard ball?

8. Earth’s “Heartbeat”

With the previous two entries on this list, would it really come as a surprise to anyone that Earth might just have an actual heartbeat? Well, yeah, it would, and this isn’t actually true, but the planet does have something closely resembling one. Every moment of every day, Earth is going through roughly 2,000 thunderstorms everywhere on its surface. And these thunderstorms produce roughly 50 lightning strikes every second. And in turn, each of these lightning strikes produces a series of electromagnetic waves that are captured and then bounce between the planet’s surface and the lower ionosphere, some 60 miles up. If the wavelength is just right, then some of these waves combine and increase in strength, creating a repeating atmospheric “heartbeat”, a phenomenon known in science as the Schumann resonance. This phenomenon has been known for a while now, but in 2011 researchers came to realize that this resonance isn’t just confined to the planet’s atmosphere, since some of the waves actually extend more than 500 miles into space.

On a somewhat similar note, a Dutch artist by the name of Lotte Geeven, in collaboration with geoscientists from the German Research Centre for Geosciences, have recorded the sounds made by the planet, deep inside its crust. The recording was done in Germany, in a hole similar to the one in Russia mentioned before. The German Continental Deep Drilling Program, or more commonly known as the KTB borehole, goes to a depth of six miles inside the Earth’s crust and here, scientists were able to capture the sounds made by the planet. Some have described these sounds as a “melancholic howl” or “a bell-like alarm denoting histories in the making.”

7. The Amazing Story about Oxygen

It’s no real mystery that Earth hasn’t always looked like it does today. In fact, our planet is in constant change even at the current moment, and for the better part of its existence, the conditions on the surface have almost always been different than they are now. So, with this in mind, let’s talk about oxygen and how it got here. Oxygen only became predominant in the atmosphere roughly 2.3 billion years ago, during an incident called the Great Oxygenation Event. Before this time, oxygen levels were marginal at best, making up just around 0.02% of all the gases in the air. But during the GOE, it reached levels of above 21%. This big rise is thanks to a tiny organism that is still alive today – Cyanobacteria, or more commonly known as the blue-green algae. These organisms are not algae, as their common name might suggest, but unicellular bacteria that can manufacture their own food. They live in water, form huge colonies, and use photosynthesis to turn the sun’s rays directly into energy. A byproduct of photosynthesis, as some of us know, is oxygen.

Over billions of years , these tiny creatures inhabited the world’s oceans, releasing more and more oxygen as they multiplied and spread. It’s safe to say that we owe thanks to these Cyanobacteria for our very existence and the world we live in today. It is, however, important to note that this new change in the planet’s chemistry did not go as smoothly as some might think. For starters, oxygen was toxic for all other living creatures on the planet at that time and nearly drove all previous anaerobic life into extinction. Secondly, the growing amount of oxygen in the air reacted with the already existing methane, which was in abundance at the time, creating CO2. And since methane is 25 to 30 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, Earth went through a severe cold spell that lasted for 300 million years and almost drove even the “mighty” Cyanobacteria into extinction.

Lastly, the higher levels of oxygen triggered an explosion, so to speak, in the number of minerals on the surface of the planet – minerals that otherwise would not have existed if it weren’t for the blue-green algae. More than 2,500 of the total 4,500 minerals now common on Earth appeared during the Great Oxygenation Event. So, the next time you think of humans as being the only species capable of changing the planet beyond recognition and having the capacity to drive life, including itself, into extinction… think again.

6. The Origins of Life

For all the credit we can give our men and women of science when it comes to all the discoveries they’ve made over the years, we still have to take into account the fact that we know surprisingly little when it comes to life and how it came into being

in the first place. Up until fairly recently, we believed we knew with a relatively high degree of certainty when life first appeared on Earth, and we had our presumptions on how it happened. But it seems that this theory has now changed. According to a recent study, we can now move the appearance of life back by another 300 million years, bringing it quite close to the moment when the planet actually formed some 4.5 billion years ago.

 If the research is confirmed, then it would seem that life formed 4.1 billion years ago, from a primordial disk of dust and gas surrounding the Sun just before the Earth started forming. The researchers came to this conclusion after observing tiny specks of graphite trapped inside zircon crystals. This graphite is usually associated with signs of life. Another theory that can account for its existence in the crystals is a massive meteor impact. But given the amount needed to explain these findings, it makes the meteor theory highly unlikely, though not entirely dismissible. If proven true, however, and life is as old as this new evidence suggests, then it would seem it’s even older than the Moon itself. “With the right ingredients, life seems to form very quickly,” said Mark Harrison, a professor of geochemistry at UCLA and member in this study.

5. Two Planets Become One

Ever thought about how the Moon was formed? Probably because it’s visible up in the sky almost every other night, people have grown accustomed to seeing it and don’t give it a second thought. But the Moon’s history, and especially its birth, are amazing and terrifying, to say the least. Back in the early days of the solar system, and soon after our planet began to take shape, fate would place young Earth on a direct collision course with another planet we now call Theia. Now, even though it’s hard to know for certain if this actually happened, there are strong indications that it did. According to the calculations, this sister planet of ours was roughly the size of Mars (or slightly smaller), and because of the still unpredictable and chaotic nature of the solar system at the time, it was flung in the direction of Earth.

In the aftermath of the collision, two things happened. The two planets merged to form this one we are all standing on right now. And secondly, much of the debris that was flung into space came together and formed the Moon. Now, as we said before, this collision theory is not certain. But the relatively large size of the Moon as compared to the Earth points to this hypostasis. So do the rocks brought back during the Apollo missions, which are virtually indistinguishable from those here on Earth when it comes to their oxygen isotopes. This theory can also explain our planet’s unusually large core as compared to all the other rocky worlds in the solar system.

4. Shifting Poles

No, this has nothing to do with any voting or elections – it’s about the Earth’s magnetic field. Thanks in part to our planet’s larger-than-usual molten core and its relatively fast spin on its axis, both of which may be the result of the previously mentioned collision between Earth and Theia, our planet has a very strong magnetic field relative to its size. In fact, only Mercury, of all the other rocky planets, has a magnetic field, but it’s far weaker than our own. Venus doesn’t have one, even though we’re fairly certain it has a molten metal core. Scientists believe the reason behind this is because Venus has a slow rotation around its axis and the temperatures inside are more evenly distributed. Mars, on the other hand, did have a magnetic field once, but its metallic core has since cooled and solidified. In any case, our strong magnetic field protects us from the sun’s deadly solar radiation, it keeps our atmosphere from being blown away into space, and it gives us the beautiful aurora borealis around the poles.

But over the past century and a half, scientists have come to realize that this magnetic field is weakening. As it turns out, the magnetic poles of our planet are shifting. This means that someday in the future, north will be south and vice-versa, and the process has already begun. While in the early 20th century the poles were moving at a rate of about 10 miles per year, today that speed has increased to 40. There’s no real need to panic, though, since this phenomenon has happened hundreds of times before. In fact, over the past 20 million years, the poles have shifted every 200 to 300 thousand years or so. The last time it happened, however, was more than 780,000 years ago, so, we’re due for another one. And according to the fossil record from previous pole reversals, it seems that there were no major changes in plant or animal life.

What we would expect to see in this several-century-process would be an increased vulnerability to solar flares that could knock out entire power grids. Holes could be made in the ozone layer, exposing us and the environment to higher degrees of radiation. There would be more than two magnetic poles at a time, scattered all across the face of the planet, leading compasses to spin uncontrollably. Some animals could become disoriented, and we would see the northern lights in unusual places. The actual timeframe here is nowhere near to being exact. Scientists are still having a hard time understanding all the inner workings of our planet, but estimates say that this shouldn’t take more than 1,000 years or so. Probably even less. And before you say anything, it is important to note that from our planet’s perspective, a millennium is a literal geological instant.

3. Mother Nature is an Expert at Recycling

Over the many millions of years, Earth has become an expert at recycling. If given enough time, our planet has and will continue to reshape itself in a continuous cycle of renewal and rebirth. Every natural system on Earth is involved in this process in one degree or another, and the whole thing could take hours to explain properly. But because we know your time is valuable, we’ll keep it short. Let’s start with life. As time marches on, organisms grow, develop, and multiply, and then they eventually die. Their remains fall to the ground and become the very soil they once drew their nourishment from. Layer upon layer of this soil is produced, one on top of the other, slowly but surely turning into stone. This bottom layer of stone moves along with the tectonic plates they’re sitting on, eventually sliding underneath one another, or becoming a mountain if it ends up on top.

If this rock layer turns into a mountain, as two plate tectonics bump into each other, over time, rain, wind, the many rivers, as well as other natural phenomena, grind away at that rock, eroding it and washing it out to sea where it sinks at the bottom and turns into sedimentary rock on the ocean floor. Once here, it again transforms into metamorphic rock due to very high heat and pressure, and eventually ends up in the upper mantle of the Earth in a process known as subduction. Here, this rock is turned into magma which eventually finds its way back to the surface via an oceanic ridge system, or through the many volcanoes that dot the Earth – and the cycle repeats itself. Now, this whole process has been overly simplified here, but this cycle the crustal rock goes through, not only recycles carbon across the globe, but it also provides the nutrients necessary for life to thrive in abundance. If it weren’t for this process, life’s chances on the planet would be severely compromised.

2. The Earth is Growing

There is a theory circulating out there that states the planet has been in a continuous process of expansion and contraction throughout its entire lifetime. Known as theExpanding Earth theory, it says that at some point in the past, Earth was 80% smaller than it is today, at which point the continents formed its entire surface. Then it began expanding, forming the ocean floor. While the theory does seem to have some intriguing concepts, it does have a lot of scientific inconsistencies and is extremely unlikely. What we are really talking about here, when we say the Earth is growing, is the fact that our planet takes in roughly 60 to 100 tons of cosmic dust every single day. This can’t really come as a surprise to anyone since this is the exact same process through which all other heavenly bodies in the universe have been created since the dawn of time, including Earth itself. But we don’t really think about it still happening, right? Well, even though it has toned down a bit since the early days of the solar system, the process is still pretty much alive.

Even if space seems to be empty, it’s really littered with fine particles of dust, and these particles get swept up by our planet and, in a sense, become part of Earth. Only a small fraction of this material actually leaves a visible trail in the sky, since most of it is too tiny for that to happen. Now, even though scientists have been aware of this phenomenon happening for a while, only with the advent of more sophisticated technology did they come to comprehend its actual scale. Researchers are now looking at what effects these particles have on our environment. For starters, it was observed that these particles are incremental in the formation of the highest clouds in our atmosphere. It also acts as fertilizer for phytoplankton, and can even affect the ozone layer’s chemistry. But these effects can be just the tip of the iceberg, and scientists are trying to figure out cosmic dust’s many other implications.

1. But it’s Actually Getting Lighter

How can this be? We’ve just concluded that Earth takes in around 30,000 tons of space dust every year, so… how is this possible? It’s not like we’re throwing stuff into outer space – not that much, at least – and it’s not like we’re using any of the weight to build stuff, since that mass still adds to the overall load of the planet. Well, as it turns out, Earth is losing mass via two major ways. One is through its core, as it consumes energy in the form of heat. But this loss accounts for just 16 tons a year. The real mass loss comes in the form of hydrogen and helium. These two gases are the lightest in the universe and oftentimes they just simply float away from Earth. They do so at a rate of 95,000 tons of hydrogen and 1,600 tons of helium each year. So, even though we get roughly 30,000 tons of dust, we lose almost 97,000 tons of gas.

Now, when it comes to hydrogen, there’s nothing to really be afraid of. Even at this current rate, it would take it trillions of years before all of it could be depleted from the atmosphere and by that time, the sun will have died out, and there will be no Earth to speak of. (Um, yay?) But helium is another matter. Even though it’s the second most abundant element in the universe, it’s disappearing here on Earth. We’re now using it for a great deal of things, on an unprecedented scale, and there’s only so much to go around.


Down to Earth Facts

– Planetary Platitudes

Natural Disaster Digest – WIF Geography

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Biggest Natural Disasters

in Earth’s History

Image result for natural disasters

The Butterfly Effect principle simply states that, given enough time, whatever event, no matter how small, can and will have tremendous reverberations into the future. And when talking about past disasters, natural or otherwise, we always have to keep in mind that, even though devastating, they are part of what brought us here in the first place. Without them the world and everything in it would have taken a totally different turn, ending up completely different than it is today. The further back in time any particular event takes place, the more indirect influence it has on the present and future, altering them beyond recognition.

 We may try to speculate on how things would have turned out if any particular disaster from our past didn’t happen, but the variables are so small and infinitely numerous, that we may never know the right answer. Similar to weather prediction (which is looking into the future, by the way), we can only make our best guess with the limited information we have. With this being said, let’s take a look at 10 natural disasters from our past, and maybe later imagine how the world would have looked like without them.

10. Outburst of Lake Agassiz, North America

lake-agassiz

Roughly 14,500 years ago the planet was beginning to emerge from its last Great Ice Age. And as temperatures began to rise, the Arctic Ice Sheet that gripped much of the Northern Hemisphere began to melt away. Fast forward 1,600 years, and what is now the middle of the northern part of North America (parts of North Dakota, Minnesota, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario) was under a huge proglacial lake, formed by melting water being trapped by a wall of ice or another natural dam. With an estimated area of 170,000 sq. miles, Lake Agassiz was larger than any currently existing lake in the world, and roughly the size of the Black Sea.

Then, for whatever reason, the dam broke and all the fresh water trapped there escaped into the Arctic Ocean via the Mackenzie River Valley. And even if the deluge itself was bad enough, what followed next may be what killed off the megafauna in North America, as well as the Clovis culture. As the insane amounts of fresh water flooded the Arctic Ocean, it severely weakened the Atlantic “conveyor belt” by 30% or even more. This belt cycles warm water up to the Arctic, where it cools, sinks to the bottom and travels back south along the ocean floor. With the new influx of fresh water from Lake Agassiz, the cycle slowed down and the Northern Hemisphere returned to near-glacial temperatures and conditions for about 1,200 years, in a period known as The Younger Dryas. The end of this period, roughly 11,500 years ago, was even more abrupt than when it first started, with temperatures in Greenland rising by 18 degrees Fahrenheit in a just a mere decade.

9. The Siberian Traps Eruption, Central Russia

siberian-traps

Some 252 million years ago, planet Earth looked a lot different than it does today. Life was as alien as life can get and the continents were all pushed together, forming a single, super-continent known as Pangaea. Evolution was following its normal path, with life flourishing on both land and sea. Then, as if out of nowhere, all of it would change in a geological instant. In the far north of Pangaea, in what is now Siberia, a super volcano of Biblical proportions began to erupt. The eruption was so massive and so devastating, it covered an area of almost 1.7 million sq. miles (roughly the size of the continental US) in a one mile deep sea of lava. Only about 500,000 sq. miles of it are still visible today, in a region now called “The Siberian Traps.

This eruption itself and subsequent lava flows, while devastating in their own right, were only a catalyst for an unstoppable chain of events that would kill off 75 percent of life on land and over 95 percent of all marine creatures. This apocalyptic event marked the transition between the Permian and Triassic periods, and is sometimes known as The Great Dying. The immediate effects of the super volcano completely devastated the Northern Hemisphere, turning the air into literal acid and plunging the entire food chain into complete disarray. With the several century-long volcanic winter that followed, 10% of the world’s species had perished. After the dust settled, the planet was immediately thrusted into a massive global warming, raising the global temperatures by 5 degrees Celsius and killing another 35% of all land creatures.

The oceans were next, with much of the CO2 in the atmosphere being absorbed by the water and turning it into carbonic acid. With the increasing temperatures, the oxygen-depleted waters from the ocean floor began to expand and rise from the depths, trapping all marine life “between a rock and a hard place.” The massive amounts of methane hydrate, found even today on the ocean floor, began bubbling to the surface due to the warming waters, and raising the planet’s temperatures by another 5 degrees Celsius. At this point in time, almost all of marine species had died off and only the sturdiest of land creatures managed to survive. This event is the single largest case of a mass extinction to have ever happened on Earth. But at this point we are able to generate four times as much CO2 into the atmosphere as that super volcano all those million years ago, with most of the above mentioned effects already beginning to happen.

8. The Storegga Slide, Norwegian Sea

Some 8,000 years ago, 60 miles off the Norwegian coast to the north, a huge chunk of land roughly the size of Iceland broke off of the European continental shelf and plunged into the depths of the Norwegian Sea. Most likely caused by an earthquake that destabilized the methane hydrates found trapped there, the 840 cubic miles of sediment spread itself over 1,000 miles into the abyssal plain below, covering an area of about 36,700 sq. miles. The ensuing tsunami following the landslide wreaked havoc on all surrounding landmasses at that time.

As the planet was emerging from a previous Ice Age, sea levels were 46 feet lower than they are today. But even so, sediment deposits originating from the Storegga Slide have been discovered 50 miles inland in some places, and 20 feet above current tide levels. With waves exceeding 80 feet and travelling in all directions, Scotland, England, Norway, Iceland, Faroe, Orkney and Shetland Islands, Greenland, Ireland, and the Netherlands were all severely affected by this natural disaster. The last remnant of land that once connected the British Isles to mainland Europe, known as Doggerland, was completely swept over by the deluge, thus creating the North Sea we know today.

This was not the first or the last time this happened, with several other smaller landslides off the Norwegian coast taking place between 50,000 and 6,000 years ago. Companies involved in petroleum and gas exploration take special precautions so as not to trigger another such event by accident.

7. Laki Eruption, Iceland

laki

Iceland sits directly on top of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where two large tectonic plates are pulling away from each other. This makes the island nation one of the most volcanically-active regions in the world. In 1783, an 18 mile-long crack on the island’s surface, known as the Laki Fissure, ripped open. Along its length, 130 craters formed, spewing 3.4 cubic miles of basaltic lava over a period of 8 months. Incomparable in size and devastation with what happened in Siberia 252 million years ago, the Laki event featured very similar characteristics, and was the largest volcano eruption of the past 500 years. Thanks to a network of underground tunnels known as lava tubes, the molten rock was able to spread hundreds of miles away from the fissure and raze a total of 20 villages to the ground.

The most devastating effect of Laki however was not the lava itself, but the toxic gases it spewed into the atmosphere. An estimated 8 million tons of hydrogen fluoride and 120 million tons of sulfur dioxide were released, poisoning the air and forming acid rains. Three quarters of Iceland’s sheep and over half of all its livestock died as a result. Due to starvation and disease, over 20 percent of Iceland’s population was killed over the following months. Furthermore, the sulfur dioxide was spread over much of the Northern Hemisphere, blocking the sun’s rays and plunging the planet into a mini volcanic winter. Europe was most affected by it, causing crop failures and starvation, leading to the infamous French Revolution.

The rest of the world is affected as well. North America experiences the longest and harshest winter on record, one sixth of Egypt’s population dies of starvation, and the monsoon seasons are thrown into disarray, affecting regions as far away as India and Southeast Asia.

6. The 2011 Tornado Super Outbreak, Central United States

tornadoes

Tornadoes in general leave few remnants of their existence over long periods of time. Their effects can be devastating, but from an archaeological point of view, not much evidence can be unearthed. However, the biggest and most destructive tornado event in recorded history took place in 2011 over an area colloquially known as “tornado alley” in both the US and Canada. From April 25-28 a total of 362 tornadoes were reported and confirmed across 15 states by the National Weather Service. Violent tornadoes occurred each day, with April 27 being the most active, with a record of 218 tornadoes touching down. Four of these were classified as EF5, the highest ranking possible on the Enhanced Fujita scale. On average around the world, one such EF5 tornado is reported once a year or less.

 In total, 348 people were killed as a result of this outbreak, 324 of which were direct tornado-related deaths. The other 24 casualties were caused either by flash floods, fist-sized hail, or lightning strikes. Another 2,200 people were injured. The most affected state was Alabama, with 252 fatalities. The hardest-hit area was the city of Tuscaloosa in Alabama, where one EF4 tornado, with a diameter measuring nearly 1 mile and wind speeds exceeding 200 mph, ravaged through residential areas of the city. Total material damages have been calculated to be around $11 billion, making the 2011 Super Outbreak one of the most expensive natural disasters to grip the US.

5. The Spanish Flu, All Over the Globe

spanish-flu

As the world was gripped by the horrors of WWI, an even deadlier killer was beginning to make its presence felt throughout the planet. The Spanish Flu, or Influenza, was the deadliest pandemic in modern history, with 500 million people infected worldwide – about a third of the population – and an estimated 20 to 50 million people killed in less than six months. Around a quarter of all US citizens became infected and 675,000 of them died because of it, lowering the average life expectancy by 10 years. As the First World War was slowly drawing to a close in 1918, the Influenza virus was given little attention at first, especially on the battlefield, which quickly became a perfect hotbed for the airborne disease.

For years, scientists believed the origins of the flu began in the trenches of France, and neutral Spain was conducting heavy research on it, earning it the name “Spanish Flu.” The harsh conditions of the battlefield were perfect for such a disease to be created, with large numbers of people being packed together in squalor and often times in close proximity with animals such as pigs. Moreover, the many deadly chemicals used throughout WWI gave ample chance for the virus to mutate.

A decade after the war, however, Kansas was being seriously considered as another possible breeding ground for the N1H1 influenza virus, when it was discovered that 48 infantry men died in a military camp there. More recent evidence indicates to a group of 96,000 Chinese laborers who were sent to work behind the British and French lines. Reports of a respiratory illness that struck northern China in November 1917 was identified a year later by Chinese health officials as identical to the Spanish flu. However, no direct link had been made between the Chinese illness and the worldwide outbreak. The effects of the pandemic can be felt even to this day, 100 years later, with several other related strains of the virus hitting in 1957, 1968 and again in 2009 and 2010 during the “swine flu” crisis. None of these instances have been as deadly as the one at the end of WWI however, when only the isolated Marajó Island in Brazil’s Amazon River Delta had not reported an outbreak.

4. Last Outburst of Lake Agassiz and the Black Sea Deluge, Eastern Europe

black-sea-deluge

Once again Lake Agassiz makes it on this list, this time with its final drainage which occurred around 8,200 years ago. After the lake’s last major drainage mentioned above, the ice sheet replenished itself due to the cooling caused by the lake’s fresh waters gushing into the Arctic Ocean. But as the planet began to warm up again 1,200 years later, the lake reappeared. But this time Agassiz seems to have merged with another equally large Lake Ojibway. The joining was short lived, however, with their complete drainage taking place, this time into Hudson Bay. Like before, the planet was plunged into another cold spell, called the 8.2 kiloyear event. However, this event was far shorter than the Younger Dryas, lasting for only about 150 years. Nevertheless, this sudden supply of water into the world ocean, raised sea levels by a staggering 13 feet.

Major flooding took place in all corners of the world, from the Americas, Europe, Africa, Arabia, South Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Many submerged settlements have been found all over the world, which seem to date from this period. This time in history may also be when all the Flood Myths around the world came into being. But the biggest case of flooding came about in Eastern Europe’s Black Sea, which at that time was no more than a fresh water lake. With the fast sea level rise, the Bosporus Strait partially gave in and water from the Mediterranean poured into the lake to form the Black Sea. The speed at which water poured in is still debated to this day, as is the quantity. Some believe that over 10 cubic miles of water entered the strait with 200 times the flow of Niagara Falls. This lasted for three centuries and flooded 60,000 sq. miles of land, with waters rising by six inches per day. Others believe the flooding was more gradual and covered just 770 sq. miles.

3. The Zanclean Flood and the Mediterranean Sea

zanclean

Just like the Black Sea above, the Mediterranean was also a lake once. As the African and Eurasian tectonic plates moved closer and closer together over a course of many millions of years, they eventually collided. Their initial point of contact was between the Iberian Peninsula and the northern coast of West Africa some 5.6 million years ago. Isolated from the Atlantic Ocean, the now Mediterranean lake began to evaporatedue to the arid conditions over the course of several hundred thousand years. In most places the sea floor was covered by a mile-high layer of salt. This salt was then blown by the winds, wreaking havoc on the surrounding landscape.

Luckily, 300,000 later the Mediterranean was full once again. The likely cause is believed to have been the continuing shift of the crustal plates, which in turn caused the ground around the Gibraltar Strait to subside. Over the course of several thousand years, an instant in geological terms, the Atlantic dug its way through the 124-mile-long channel. The flow of water reaching the Mediterranean basin was slow at first, but still three times the rate of discharge of the Amazon River today. However, it is believed that once the channel was wide enough, the surge of water was tremendous, filling the remaining 90% of the Mediterranean basin in a course of several months to two years. The water level rise may have been as high as 33 feet per day. This event is known asthe Zanclean Flood. And even today, more than 5 million years later, the Mediterranean is much saltier than the Ocean, due to the narrow strait that connects them.

2. North China Drought, 1876-79

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Between 1876 and 1879 a serious and large-scale drought occurred in China, leaving some 13 million people dead out of the total of 108 million. As the world was emerging from its last period of cooling known as “The Little Ice Age,” a drought in the Yellow River basin area began in earnest in 1876, worsening the following year with the almost total failure of rain. This was by far the worst drought to hit the region in the past 300 years, and definitely caused the largest number of casualties. Shanxi province was the most affected by the famine, with an estimated 5.5 million dead out of a total population of 15 million.

This was not the first time China was faced with a severe drought, and up until the 18thcentury the nation was heavily invested in the storing and distribution of grains in cases of dire situations such as this. In fact, the state on several occasions was effective in preventing serious droughts from resulting in mass starvation. This time however, the Qing state was considerably weakened by the mid-century rebellions and strong British imperialism, and was totally unprepared for a crisis on this scale. Foreign and local relief efforts had been made, but much of rural China had been depopulated by starvation, disease and migration.

1. The Collision Between Earth and Theia

Though this list was not written in any particular order, we’ve decided to end it with a huge, cataclysmic event of literal astronomic proportions, which made our planet what it is today. And even if scientists are not 100 percent certain it happened, there are strong indications that it did. Some 100 million years after our planet had been formed by the gradual collection of asteroids and other space debris, the young Earth was headed on a direct collision course with Theia, a hypothesized planet in our young Solar System. This other planetary-mass object is believed to have been roughly the size of Mars, or somewhat smaller, and which 4.31 billion years ago was flung towards Earth and smashed head-on into it.

 The force of the impact merged the two planets together, forming the Earth we know and love today. The pieces that were blown out from the collision were captured by the planet’s gravitational pull and slowly formed the Moon. The large size of our natural satellite relative to Earth backs up the collision hypothesis. Moreover, scientists analyzing moon rocks from three Apollo missions have compared them to volcanic rocks found in Hawaii and Arizona and discovered no difference in their oxygen isotopes. Another indication of the collision is the unusually large core and mantle of our planet compared to the other rocky worlds in our Solar System, as Theia’s core and mantle mixed with Earth’s.

Natural Disaster Digest

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– WIF Geography