The earth is continuously full of surprises. Though we as humans never cease our attempts to conquer and control, to name and classify, to constrict wonder into the parameters of science, nature is always one step ahead. The more we think we know, the more we realize we do not. The capacity for discovery is endless.
If we had to characterize nature into a human being based on her earthly manifestations, we would have ample clues to sketch her personality. Mother Nature likes to captivate. She likes loud entrances, and she is aware of her capacity to impress. By contrast, she is also a master of subtlety. She provides rewards to those who observe her closely, from the details etched into butterfly wings, to the delicate trails of “sailing stones” that we will touch upon later. She also clearly has a sense of humor, pranking Antarctic explorers with her “Blood Falls” and painting certain species of dolphin pink. Like most people, Mother Nature is endlessly complex, revealing new aspects of herself in every breeze, every body of water, every bolt of lightning.
Continue reading to learn about some of Mother Nature’s strangest performances on this planet.
25 25. Thor’s Well in Oregon looks like a vortex formed by mythical gods.
Thor’s Well sits on Oregon’s coast, less than a 3-hour drive from Portland. Though this looks like a black hole from outer space, the reality is far less mystical. According to Atlas Obscura, the “Well” likely began as a sea cave dug out by repetitive patterns of the ocean tide. When the roof of the sea cave collapsed, it resulted in the structure we now see today.
Thor’s Well is only 20 or so feet deep, but it still produces awe-inspiring sights. During high tide and storms, water crashes and swirls deep into the well, before being dramatically spat out by the natural patterns of the waves.
24 12. Waterspouts are like a whirlpool and tornado spun into one.
It’s a whirlpool? It’s a tornado? Actually, it’s a bit of both! According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, waterspouts can be either tornadic or fair weather.
Tornadic waterspouts occur when a tornado either forms over water, or moves from land to water.
Fair weather waterspouts usually form along a line of developing cumulus clouds. A fair weather waterspout develops out of a vortex on the surface of the water and works its way upward. While tornadic waterspouts are volatile, fair weather waterspouts typically move very little.
23 11. Plankton can be glow-in-the-dark.
This dreamy sight is technically called “bioluminescence,” which is the production and emission of light by a living organism. Regardless of the scientific explanation, this is certainly a brilliant phenomenon, literally akin to visiting another world. These tiny, glowing microorganisms look like thousands of aquatic fireflies, or swimming chains of Christmas lights. You can witness this curiosity for yourself in certain parts of Taiwan, Puerto Rico, Malta, Japan, and Florida.
22 7. The earth can spontaneously open...just ask Guatemala City.
Nope, this isn’t the work of a trompe l'oeil sidewalk chalk artist; it’s a real, massive hole.
According to Atlas Obscura, this 60-foot-wide and 30-story-deep sinkhole spontaneously opened on Sunday, May 30, 2010. The erupting hole devoured a three-story building, a home, and one human. Guatemala has a general problem with sinkholes, as the city is built upon a shaky foundation of volcanic earth. However, no one was prepared for a crater this massive.
Oh, and this all happened over the course of a few seconds. Can you imagine? One second there’s pavement and buildings, and it can all disappear in the blink of an eye.
21 2. The point where the Catatumbo River meets Lake Maracaibo is the most electric place on earth.
Once again, the above image is not photoshopped. I repeat: it is not photoshopped. Dubbed “Catumbo Lighting,” this photo depicts a unique phenomenon occurring at the intersection of the Catumbo River and Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. According to News.com.au, Catumbo Lightning strikes approximately 1.2 million times per year. To put that in more relatable terms, this simplifies into 28 lightning bolts per minute. This can again be divided into approximately one lightning strike every two seconds. What. On. Earth.
20 6. Mammatus clouds are monstrous.
According to Earth Sky, mammatus clouds are pouches that hang from the underbellies of storm clouds. They are mostly ice, and they can extend for hundreds of miles in any direction. Unlike most clouds that form from rising air, mammatus clouds are created by sinking air. Sometimes, mammatus clouds can precipitate severe weather, such as thunderstorms.
They are certainly a magnificent sight, looking like clumps of kneaded clay, or the slow-moving globs within a lava lamp.
19 24. Abraham Lake contains thousands of frozen bubbles.
Abraham Lake is located in Alberta, Canada, on the outskirts of Jasper National Park. Abraham Lake is actually a manmade lake, but the bubble phenomenon is anything but. The bubbles are pockets of frozen methane.
According to the Smithsonian, methane bubbles form in bodies of water when dead organic matter sinks to the bottom. Bacteria consume the organic matter and release methane, which turns into the pale bubbles seen above. This process occurs in all bodies of water, but bubbles form when the surrounding water is frozen. Be careful if you’re ever near Lake Abraham - these bubbles can pop and explode as temperatures fluctuate!
18 23. Solar halos are a real thing.
The beautiful apparition shown in this photo - often called a circular solar halo or 22-degree halo - arises as the result of light refracted upon hexagonal ice crystals. Interestingly enough, these halos are also considered harbingers of stormy weather. Circular solar halos only manifest in skies with thin cirrus or cirrostratus clouds, which precede storm fronts by a margin of two or three days.
This particular solar halo is shining over the Sydney Harbour, but they can occur anywhere in the world.
17 22. Volcanic lightning doesn’t just happen in C.G.I.
A dirty thunderstorm is a weather phenomenon that transpires when lightning occurs inside a volcanic plume. If you’re thinking that lightning within an active volcano seems improbable at best, you’re right. Dirty thunderstorms are a rare marvel, with the sole exception of Sakurajima volcano in Japan. No one knows why Sakurajima is such an electrifyingly intense volcano.
According to the BBC, traditional lightning is the result of ice crystal collision, which releases an electrical charge. In a volcanic cloud, ash particles collide and have the potential to release similar electrical charges. Pretty crazy, right?
16 21. Snow can form into an army of spikes.
These spikes are called penitentes, and they can only form at extremely high altitudes. According to Amusing Planet, penitentes occur when the sun turns snow directly into water vapor without melting it first, a process called sublimation. A blanket of freshly fallen snow first develops depressions as some regions randomly sublimate faster than others.
The now-curved surfaces concentrate sunlight and speed up sublimation in the depressions. The high, non-sublimized points become sharper and skinnier as more snow in the depressions transforms into water vapor: therefore, the points are the result of reduction, not building.
15 20. The Blood Falls exist in Antarctica, not in a Stephen King novel.
Whoa, we’ve stepped into a horror novel! The Blood Falls in Antarctica are an extremely unique sight, and the science behind their manifestation has only recently been solved. According to a Forbes article from 2017, the Falls’ dark red color is the result of oxidized iron in brine saltwater. When iron-infused saltwater comes into contact with oxygen, the iron oxidizes and takes on a red coloring, which in effect dyes the body of water as a whole. This is the same process that gives rust its telltale color.
I am so glad that scientists solved this mystery. Can you imagine being the first explorer to lay eyes on the Blood Falls, without warning or explanation? I don’t know about you, but I’d run away immediately.
14 19. Starlings can form a murmuration and block out the sun.
We’ve all observed birds migrate in a stereotypical “V” pattern, but have you seen anything like this? When I lived in Baltimore, the birds around Pennsylvania Station would form extremely strange swirling patterns, flying in repetitive circles as various individual flyers joined and fell away from the hundred-strong mass. I would involuntarily stop and stare, as this proved such a tumultuous, powerful sight.
Starlings are especially known for this behavior, as thousands of birds can band together to form murmurations. This general biological principle is paralleled in fish (shoaling), insects (swarming), and sheep (herding). Starlings form murmurations to communicate, keep warm, and increase safety from predators.
13 18. This isn’t a Pepto-bismal ad; it’s Lake Hillier.
When I first saw this photo, I refused to believe it as a naturally occurring color. That pink is far too vibrant, far too opaque! It has to be artificial, right? Wrong. According to Interesting Engineering, most scientists attribute the pink pigment to a specific species of microalgae - Dunaliella Salina. These salt-loving microorganisms are rampant in Lake Hillier, which is a saline lake.
The microalgae are also photosynthetic, generating energy by absorbing yellow through violet frequencies (meaning they reflect red and orange frequencies). If you remember learning about light in science class, an object manifests as the colors it does not absorb. Therefore, Dunaliella Salina appears as a red-orange color.
12 17. These strange “fairy circles” occur in parts of both Australia and Africa.
Fairy circles, a mystical sight to behold, are actually the result of a fascinating competition between termites and vegetation. According to New Scientist, termites forage in a circular pattern around a central home base. When competing termite colonies cannot conquer one another, they indirectly form a honeycomb pattern, with ample space between individual, circular colonies.
Humans typically cannot observe this pattern as it takes place underground. However, in arid regions, there is very little water supply. Termites use the water that absorbs into the earth above their colonies. As a result, vegetation can only grow in the spaces surrounding termites circles.
Therefore, each tan circle in the above photo indicates a single termite colony!
11 16. The Pamukkale in Turkey contains hundreds of naturally-occurring thermal pools.
“Pamukkale” means “cotton castle” in Turkish, and I cannot think of a better phrase to capture this dazzling natural beauty. The Pamukkale exists in Denizli in southwestern Turkey, and it has been functioning as a spa since the second century BC. The Pamukkale arose as the result of a shifting fault line, which released hot springs with a high mineral content.
According to WikiVoyage, calcium and hydrogen carbonate in the water reacted to create travertine and limestone, which then coated the cliffs in a blanket of bright white. Because of the natural hot springs and natural beauty, this proves a popular attraction for all seasons.
10 15. Sometimes spiders freak out after natural disasters.
Sindh, Pakistan experienced severe flooding throughout 2010. According to National Geographic, this caused millions of spiders to seek refuge by climbing trees. Then, all of these spiders spun overlapping, thick, ghastly webs. Because every spider needs a home of its own, right? Ick. Well, there is one benefit resulting from creepy spider trees.
Apparently, the people of Sindh noticed an extreme decrease in mosquitos, and therefore a decrease in the risk of malaria. The abundant treetop webbing is credited for capturing a large percentage of mosquitos that flocked above the stagnant water post-flood. So...yay, spiders?
9 14. Stones scrape the surface of Death Valley without human or animal intervention.
Rocks in Racetrack Playa, Death Valley - sometimes 700 pounds in size - leave trails in varying patterns, including graceful curves, straight lines, and blunt turns. These mysterious rocks, dubbed the “Sailing Stones,” have puzzled scientists for years. It now seems that we finally have an explanation.
According to Live Science, a NASA scientist named Ralph Lorenz has officially cracked the case. Through experimentation with small-scale models, Lorenz calculated that under certain winter conditions in Death Valley, enough water and ice could form to float the rocks in a light breeze, leaving a trail in the mud as the rocks moved. As the ice melts with the changing seasons, only the trail and rock remain.
8 13. Adorable pink dolphins exist in Hong Kong.
A pink dolphin may sound like an invented side character in a Disney princess flick, but not to the Chinese. Contrary to the name, an adult Chinese white dolphin is either white or pink. Specifically, the dolphin population along the Chinese coast has pink skin, resulting from an overabundance of blood vessels for thermoregulation.
Unfortunately, the pink dolphin may soon be reduced to the realm of imagination. According to IFLScience, Hong Kong’s dolphins are endangered due to the large volume of industry along the coast. The dolphins’ diet is affected by overfishing, and noise pollution from shipping and construction interferes with their highly sensitive sonic communication.
7 10. This lake in Canada sports seasonal spots.
In winter and spring, this lake in the Okanagan Valley looks like any old lake. However, as water evaporates in the summer, yellow, blue, and green pools materialize on the lake’s surface. According to Mother Nature Network, the Spotted Lake is a sort of well for mineral and salt runoff from surrounding hills.
The high concentration of minerals, including calcium, sodium sulphate and magnesium sulphate, is responsible for the colorful pools of Spotted Lake. The various colors depend on the concentration of minerals in each pool.
Spotted Lake is considered a sacred place by the indigenous people of the Okanagan Nation. According to ancient tradition, each colorful circle contains unique healing properties.
6 9. The Yanar Dag in Azerbaijan is a naturally-occurring eternal flame.
Azerbaijan has been historically known around the world as the “land of fire.” Well, Yanar Dag is one of the reasons why. According to Atlas Obscura, the natural flames of Azerbaijan are the result of enormous gas reserves.
Surpringsly, Azerbaijan used to have even more fires escaping from the earth’s crust, but most of these stopped due to human consumption of natural resources. Of the natural fires that burn today in Azerbaijan, Yanar Dag is clearly the most impressive. Yanar Dag is 10 meters long, and it is an utterly jaw-dropping spectacle as a sole source of light at night.