Earth never stops surprising us. Every corner of the planet offers some sort of natural peculiarity with an explanation that makes us wish we’d studied harder in junior high Earth science class.
Some of these sites are challenging to get to; others are busy tourist destinations. They keep natural scientists searching for answers and the rest of us astounded by the secrets and mysteries the world continues to reveal.
Blood Falls, Antarctica
Most people won’t see Blood Falls in person, but even in photographs, the sight is arresting: a blood-red waterfall staining the snow-white face of Taylor Glacier. Glaciologists and microbiologists have sought to determine what causes the mysterious red flow. They’ve concluded that the source is a subterranean lake rich in the iron that gives the water its red hue. Stranger still, recent research has revealed microorganisms living 1,300 feet beneath the ice, sustained by the iron and sulfur in the water.
Magnetic Hill, Moncton, New Brunswick
What could possibly cause an automobile to roll backward uphill without power? A magnetic force from within the Earth? Something even more fantastic? Since the 1930s, when the phenomenon of Magnetic Hill was discovered (and almost immediately promoted as a tourist attraction), people have been trying to figure out its riddle.
When people try to convince you there’s nothing new under the sun, direct them to the Icelandic island of Surtsey. Before 1963, it didn’t exist. Then, an underwater volcano in the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar) erupted, and when the activity settled down in 1967, what remained was an island where no island had been before.
Moeraki Boulders, New Zealand
Large spherical boulders — some measuring 12 feet in circumference — are scattered on Koekohe Beach on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island. They formed millions of years ago on the ancient sea floor, collecting and hardening sediment and minerals around a core such as a fossil or a shell similar to the way oysters form pearls.
They’re not the world’s only examples of what geologists call septarian concretions. You can also visit the Koutu Boulders near HokiangaHarbour on the northwestern coast of New Zealand’s North Island, for example. Yet the Moeraki Boulders are some of the world’s largest. The particulars of their origin and what caused the distinctive cracks inside them are still being studied.
From April 20 to August 23, the sun never sets over Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago that lies north of Greenland in the Arctic Sea. The phenomenon plays havoc with everyone’s body clocks. Is it noon? Is it midnight? After a day or two, it’s hard to tell.