West News Wire: The strange places on Earth range from a strange pink lake in Australia to a forgotten village in Italy, from the most polluted region on Earth where you could die in an hour to a world that has been cut off for millions of years.
Our first stop takes us to Vulcan Point in the Philippines. The best way of describing Vulcan Point is that it is an “Inception-style island. It’s an island on a lake on Taal Volcano Island, on Taal Lake, and So Vulcan Point is an island on a crater lake, which is on Taal Volcano Island, which is on Taal Lake, which is on Luzon Island. And “Taal Volcano Island” should give you a clue as to how these islands are formed. The regular eruptions in this area have resulted in a truly extraordinary landscape. As beautiful as this scenery is, Taal Volcano has killed 6,000 people in its recorded history. A huge eruption occurred in 1977 and started rumbling again in 1991. There have been 33 recorded eruptions, and it is the second most active volcano in The Philippines. Its latest major eruption was in January 2020, when 23,000 people had to be evacuated. During this eruption, Vulcan Point was nearly destroyed. Although Vulcan Point is incredibly strange, it is not the only geographical form of this kind. Victoria Island in Canada has another Inception-style Island. However, this island has no access routes and is far away from the nearest town or village. But Victoria Island holds the Guinness World Record for the largest inception island in the world.
Our next strange sighting takes us further south to The Sahara Desert. This amazing feature was walked by unnoticed for hundreds of years. It wasn’t until humans began traveling into space in the 1960s that people realized just how truly spectacular this structure was. Deep within the desert lies a unique rock formation which is now known as The Eye of the Sahara. It was spotted in the 1960s by Gemini Astronauts and soon became a landmark for astronauts orbiting the planet. Several theories have been proposed as to what this could be. But the craziest theory must be that this formation is the Lost City of Atlantis. The Greek Philosopher Plato spoke about the lost city having concrete rings around it. But this theory is not taken seriously by many scientists. It was also argued that this could have been a meteorite, but a more accepted theory is that the rings were molten rock from the surface. According to NASA: “This circular geologic feature is thought to be caused by an uplifted dome geologists would classify it as a domed anticline that has been eroded to expose the originally flat rock layers.” The different layers are what gives it a “bullseye” look. The theory that it is molten rock from the surface is the most plausible explanation. But ultimately, geologists cannot say this for sure and until then, it remains a mystery.
Our next place takes us across the Atlantic to Mount Roraima, a fascinating mountain that stretches across Venezuela, Brazil, and Guyana. Although it is a mountain, it looks like an island within the clouds and is in a world of its own. For 20 million years, this mountain has been surrounded by incredibly steep cliffs on all sides. The steepness of these cliffs means that it is not connected to surrounding areas and simply exists on its own. The surface is 2.8 kilometers high and takes a three-day hike to reach. It was referred to by the indigenous people who lived nearby as “The House of The Gods” and that whoever reached the top would not return. In the early 20th Century, this mountain was visited by The British author Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote the Sherlock Holmes series, and was inspired to write a novel called The Jurassic World about a land on Earth where dinosaurs still exist. Doyle’s book was based on the theory that dinosaurs or lifeforms still exist in this place. This has obviously never been proven, but still a lot of this area has remained unexplored till this day. When working for National Geographic in 1989, German explorer Uwe George said: “None of us have found primordial creatures or their fossil remains there, but the terrain is so difficult that only a fraction of the 44 square miles has so far been explored” What has been found are black frogs, dragonflies, tarantulas, and plant life which are found nowhere else. Mount Roraima is truly a world of its own.
Thousands of miles away from this location is a place in a remarkably similar situation. While Socotra Island is technically part of Yemen, the island itself is stranded in the middle of the Indian Ocean and closer to Africa than the Middle East. It is 240 kilometers from Somalia but 380 kilometers from the Arabian Peninsula. But Socotra is a world of its own. There are over 300 plant species and 5 bird species that are not found in any other place on Earth. It has been nicknamed the most alien place on Earth because of its unique habitat and surroundings, particularly the dragon blood tree. This iconic tree is umbrella-shaped and doesn’t look like any other tree in the world. But Socotra is also an island marred by conflict. It has been known as a pirate base as far as Marco Polo. More recently, it has often been a refueling place for Somali Pirates and has also been impacted by the ongoing war between Yemen and Saudi Arabia. The island is currently controlled by the UAE military, an ally of Saudi Arabia. So, despite its incredible beauty, not a lot of tourists come here.
Moving on to The Bahamas, we have one of the deepest known blue holes. While this is a popular tourist spot, the feature is also helpful to us when researching extraterrestrial life forms. Cave scientists are discovering microbial life in deep caves, which are feeding upon sulfur compounds that are apparently toxic to any other forms of life. Similar conditions might exist in pitch-black oceans millions of miles away perhaps under the icy crusts of Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Although blue holes are incredibly beautiful, they are also highly dangerous. They are sought after by divers across the world but often are too dangerous for even the most skilled of divers. In April 2010, the professional diver William Trubridge broke a new record at this very new site and reached a depth of 92 meters without the use of fins. In December later that year, he reached 101 meters. Sadly, the professional diver Nicholas Mevoli tried to break this record in November 2013 and died from an upper respiratory squeeze where the differences in pressure caused him to go unconscious and never recover. The dangers of these waters have not been forgotten since.
Next up is an area of Spain, which also looks particularly strange from space. Southern Spain is known for its incredibly warm weather, but vast shades of it are covered in white. At first glance, it looks like snow. But what you are seeing is not snow, but vast swathes of plastic which cover one of the biggest greenhouse operations in the world. If you live in Europe, it’s highly likely that you have eaten fruit from this very region. These plastic greenhouses take up almost 100,000 acres along the coast. This part of Spain receives a vast amount of sunlight all year round, so can grow vegetables throughout the year. Environmentalist groups are worried about the scale of the operations, believing that this intensive farming could deplete the groundwater, which could take centuries to recover.
Moving across to Russia, Lake Karachay is so polluted you would be killed by simply spending an hour bathing in it. Frighteningly enough, this is an improvement on its previous state. In 1990, if you merely stood on the shore, you would be killed within an hour. The lake is situated near Mayak Production Association, one of the largest power plants in Russia. The Soviet Union continually dumped nuclear waste into the lake, and the consequences of this were devastating. According to Grist.org, the lake resulted in 21 percent increase in cancer incidences, a 25 percent increase in birth defects, and a 41 percent increase in leukemia in the surrounding region of Chelyabinsk. Much like we saw with the Chernobyl disaster, the Soviet Union tried to cover up and downplay the dangers of what was happening. Doctors were simply not allowed to diagnose patients with radiation poisoning. Instead, they were diagnosed with the “special disease”. In the 1990’s, when Russia opened itself to the world, this lake was declared the most polluted part of the world. The lake is covered in concrete blocks, but making the place 100% safe again is almost impossible.
Our next stop is at Yellowstone National Park. While this looks like something photoshopped or a work of surreal art, this is what the Grand Prismatic Spring genuinely looks like. Grand Prismatic Spring is Yellowstone National Park’s largest spring, and more than 35 meters deep. This spring was first officially discovered during an expedition by Ferdinand Hayden. According to the Smithsonian, he wrote: “Nothing ever conceived by human art could equal the peculiar vividness and delicacy of color of these remarkable prismatic springs.” Hot springs are caused by heated water emerging from the Earth’s surface. Water at the center of this spring reaches 87 degrees Celsius, which is too hot to sustain any lifeforms. As a result, the water is incredibly clear and results in the profound blue color in the center. As the water spreads out, it cools and gives it the shape of concentric circles. While there are no lifeforms at the center, bacteria live in the cooler parts of the spring. The concentric circles have their own unique temperature and different types of bacteria flock to each different ring. These different bacteria give rise to the different colors and the amazing appearance of this spring.
Our next feature brings us back to where we began: The Philippines. On the island of Bohol is a rather striking set of the so-called “chocolate hills”. On this island, there are 1,776 mounds spread over 32 kilometers and go up to 122 meters in height. The chocolate hills are only “chocolate colored” during the dry season and grow grass for large parts of the year. The only similar set of mounds can be found on the island of Java in Indonesia. The legend surrounding the hills is that two giants fought for several days and began hurling stones and rocks at each other. They eventually became friends, but these hills remained. Another legend tells the story of a broken-hearted giant whose tears dropped to form these mounds. Geologists, meanwhile, think that the weathering of marine limestone is the reason behind its appearance.
From chocolate hills to pink lakes, our last stop takes us to a mysterious Salt Lake in Western Australia. The first official account of this lake was in 1802, when the British Navigator Mathew Flinders was wandering through Western Australia through an uninhabited archipelago of islands and couldn’t believe his eyes. This lake became an extremely useful source of salt, and in later years has become a tourist attraction. It is safe to swim in this lake, and the extremely salty water means that there is little or no lifeforms living in these waters, and it is incredibly easy to float. Tourists are strongly not advised to drink the water because of the high salt content. It was as recent as March 2022 that Scott Tighe at the University of Vermont in Burlington discovered why the water is pink. The water is inhabited by bacteria and algae, which contain purple, red, and orange carotenoids, which help protect them against the extreme saltiness. It is the mix of all these colors which results in its bubblegum pink state.