10 Extreme Oddities of Earth’s Physical Geography



While it is fairly familiar to us as our home, the Earth is apparently anything but your everyday planet. That is why we are habituated to Earth as our home in the universe; but in fact, this planet is the definition of exotic. In this account, we look at the most bizarre aspects of the Earth’s physical geography that may appear to defy natural order or human logic.

10. Island in a Lake on an Island in a Lake on an Island

Canada is the second largest country in the world by land area, yet with a low population density and number in most of the country, many geographical regions remain mostly unexplored. Anomalies may take time to be discovered, and due to remoteness, some of the stranger geographical features may be noticed from satellite photos. In the remote territory of Nunavut, the enormous Victoria Island presents a classic example of geographical intrigue. The distinctions between land and water may seem fairly clear in most cases, even if there is a long boggy transition zone.

But sometimes the logic may get more complicated. In some cases, a lake will form in an island that is within a lake. An example that is contending for the title of largest island in a lake within an island, that is itself located within a lake that is on an island, is located on Nunavut’s huge and desolate Victoria Island, a bleak place with few inhabitants. Seen clearly in NASA photographs taken on August 21, 2014, the island in the lake within the island in the lake on Victoria Island is unnamed, so is the lake it is within, and so is the island that the lake is within, and so is the lake that the island is within, only the huge Victoria Island bearing a name.

9. Mount Erebus, Antarctica

What happens when extreme volcanic heat meets Antarctic extreme cold? Giant volcanic towers of pure ice. Yes, Antarctica is volcanically active, and Mount Erebus is graced by weird, enormous towers of ice that form in an extraordinary way. Considered an ultra-prominent peak, Mount Erebus rises 12,448 feet above the frigid Antarctic landscape of Ross Island, a volcanically formed island within New Zealand’s Ross Dependency. Active for 1.3 million years, Mount Erebus is not going to quiet down anytime soon in all likelihood. The mountain remains the southernmost active volcano on the planet and that juxtaposition of extreme cold and the extreme high temperatures associated with volcanic activity creates dramatic phenomena that defy the imagination of most geologists and adventurers.

When geothermal activity on the volcano’s fumeroles release steam, the rising steam freezes right into ice. As a result, the mountainsides of Erebus hold an ice tower forest consisting of towers numbering in the hundreds. Incongruously, molten lava bombs may fly past the freezing landscape, pitting the volcano’s roiling fury against the biting cold. At the center of the mountain is an open crater with a lava lake, not covered in rock like many volcanic craters. Instead, here there are 1,700 degree Fahrenheit lava bubbles in the molten lake that is potentially several miles deep.

8. Giant Crystal Cave, Mexico

As humans we grow accustomed to a certain sense of scale to feel comfortable in our communities and in nature. When that sense of scale is challenged, we may regulate architecture, but sometimes our common experience of scale is turned upside down by the enormity and power of nature. And that power includes the growth of sci-fi scale — but very real — mega crystals below the Earth’s surface. Chihuahua, Mexico is home to a sci-fi worthy natural wonder, known as Giant Crystal Cave, extending nearly 1,000 feet below the Earth’s surface that defies imagination. Instead of dismal dark depths and grotesque stalagmites and stalactites, the defining feature of this exceptional cave is the collection of gigantic, perfectly formed and shiny crystals that line its layout.

The giant crystals are formed out of gypsum, which is a calcium sulphate mineral compound frequently used in crystal growing experiments and household products. The largest crystals measure over 36 feet in length, with a diameter of more than 12 feet, dwarfing humans who explore the Giant Crystal Cave. Opaque and whitish in color, the prismatic crystals rise, stretch and interlock in fascinating grid patterns and striking angles. Each crystal is formed with distinct habit and identity, while connecting to others and emerging mysteriously from the comparatively ugly surrounding rock.

7. Sailing Stones, Racetrack Playa, Death Valley, California

Stones are inanimate and stationary, especially massive stones sitting in the midst of flat ground. You should be able to come back to the same place again and again and, reasonably, expect the rocks to look as they did before. Yet, the Sailing Stones in Death Valley, California actually move across the desert floor, leaving behind tracks. Mysterious? Check. Bizarre? Double check. Is there a scientific explanation? Certainly.

On the flat, valley bottom ground such as Racetrack Playa in Death Valley, freezing water in exceptionally shallow pools may form ice sheets of significant size and cumulative mass due to their area, despite being only fractions of an inch thick. Harsh winds rocketing through the valley push the ice sheets forward, advancing like tiny, super thin glaciers. As the ice moves forward, stones are moved along, seemingly in an impossible way. Upon visiting such a site later on, all that an explorer may find is dry, flat ground and tracks across the desert floor, suggesting that the stones have sailed or walked all by themselves. In efforts to track the rocks, large stones have been documented in one place, only to disappear from their original location, reappearing hundreds of feet away. Just the right combination of substrate and wind is required for stones to set sail.

6. Natural Bridges National Monuments

Challenging bridge construction projects may epitomize human engineering ability, but in some examples of geological formation, nature has spectacularly beaten us to it. In the arid landscapes that typify much of the western United States, rock formations can reach awe-inspiring forms due to the forces of erosion in such a setting. While spires and hoodoos may draw enough attention, there is nothing quite like a set of seemingly man-made and planned out natural bridges to astound viewers.

Resembling carefully engineered bridges with their typical bridge shape, the stone bridges originating from sandstone at Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah are defined by three incredible bridges of stone named Owachomo, with a span of 55 feet, Kachina, which is 62 feet across, and Sipapu, spanning 68 feet. While the shortest and lowest, Owachomo is noteworthy as it is only 9 feet thick, making it particularly resemble a manmade bridge in its unique proportions. The Kachina and Sipapu bridges are extremely thick in comparison at 93 feet and 53 feet, respectively. Due to its thin form, the Owachomo bridge is also at potential risk of collapse, which could be disastrous if anyone were too close at the time.

5. Wave Rock

Appearing like a tsunami frozen in time, petrified upon being turned to stone by a perhaps benevolent deity intent on averting disaster, Wave Rock in Australia is a striated, concave formation that extends over 360 feet and rises consistently to a height of about 40 and 46 feet along its highest points. Positioned within an area of importance to native species in Australia known as the Hyden Wildlife Park, the gigantic rock that looks akin to a cresting wave is formed of granite and is actually a side of a small hill known as an inselberg.

An inselberg is classified by Earth scientists as a mountain or hill that is small in size and appears in contrast to the surrounding flat or nearly flat landscape. The term is a loanword from German that means “island (insel) mountain (berg).” Many visitors come to the site, even riding bikes along parts of the wall and attempting to walk partway up the concave surface. One can only hope that the spectacular site is treated with care. The spectacular striations in the formation add significantly to the feeling of motion that one gets from looking at the wave of stone. Due to the hard composition of the granite rock that makes up this face, the feature has resilience to erosion.

4. Giant’s Causeway

Ireland and Northern Ireland may be known for legends of Leprechauns, which capture our imagination with their stories of mischievous tiny people. However, a natural phenomenon that appears to be the work of enormous, engineering-talented giants is a famous yet astounding landmark of Northern Ireland. Well known, bizarre and worth a closer look, Giant’s Causeway is weird, but to a geologist, understandable. Consisting of around 40,000 basalt columns that perfectly interlock while remaining beautifully distinct, Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland is a famed international monument that looks as engineered as Stonehenge or the Egyptian pyramids but is entirely natural.

The “paving” is formed by the roughly hexagonal columns which were created by rapidly cooling volcanic basalt rock. The causeway is made especially dramatic by its location at the sea’s edge, where waves sharply contrast with the dark pillars of rock standing bunched together. Resembling dense groups of skyscrapers, the taller, more intact columns rise as far as 39 feet in height, while those more affected by erosion over time may give the appearance of nearly flat interlocking paving stones. Created as volcanic basalt quickly cooled down, the causeway is said to be the handiwork of giants in traditional legendary account.

3. Mount Roraima

While an island is familiar as a piece of land separated from the mainland by water, a de facto island can also form when geological activity creates a section of land that is perched in the sky, set apart from all surrounding land far below by sheer cliffs.  Located in the remote wilderness of Venezuala is the remarkable Mount Roraima, a formation and world in of itself that is alternatively known as “Tabletop Mountain.” The mountain is at the triple border point with Brazil and Guyana and consists of a bizarre geological formation that is so separated from the rest of the Earth in dramatic and abrupt manner that it could be considered a true “sky island.” If it looks familiar, that might be because it was apparently the inspiration for the location of Paradise Falls in the movie Up.

Sheer cliffs surround the mountain on all sides, but unlike a normal mountain, a vast expanse of completely flat land defines the structure from cliff edge to cliff edge. Its own waterfalls stream from the flat land right off the edges of the cliff to the rainforest below. Hosting rare and diverse natural habitats home to unique wildlife species, the extraordinary plateau covers nearly 12 square miles and reaches a height of over 9,000 feet with 20 percent of the plateau surface covered by water.

2. Desert Beaches of Peru

Water and deserts do not typically come to the imagination as a pair. At the same time, coastal zones and their wave-splashed beaches are usually assumed to be bordered by relatively lush conditions, once you get past the surf, salt spray and dunes. Yet the two opposites of seaside and barren desert come together in some unusual and incongruous sections of Western South America. The geographically and biologically diverse country of Peru has extensive sections of coastline where the Pacific Ocean meets its opposite in the form of pure desert, making this desolate stretch of Pacific coast look almost as if a giant engineer simply dumped an ocean in middle of the Sahara.

High levels of erosion, wind storms and extremes of temperature are of course the defining factors here in this mix of climate conditions. Mist from the ocean blows in over the desert, where it faces evaporation in the parched environment. At the same time, desert sands form beach sand, tossed by the waves and scoured by the wind, acting harshly on seashells and rocks present among the surf. While a wide range of wildlife species can forage along the coast, the desolate conditions on the shore and inland certainly limit the occurrence of certain wildlife species associated with coastlines due to the lack of vegetation.

1. Fairy Chimneys of Cappadocia, Turkey

Legends of mythical creatures such as fairies might have been given credence by the existence of curious rock formations that look at first to be peculiar stone domes and spires, complete with windows and hollowed out sections added by humans. Yet, the “Fairy Chimneys” of Cappadocia in Turkey are in fact natural formations. In some cases, the strange structures adjoin human construction in the bizarrely attractive landscape. Positioned on the high plateau of Anatolia in Turkey, the bizarre pointy structures are dotted and clustered on the landscape at varying heights in positions.

Some towers rise as high as 130 feet, while shapes range from that of mushrooms to chimney lookalikes and miniature towers or, frequently, upside down ice cream cones. The structures are located in an area that once formed the exclusive land connection between the Greek Empire and Persian Empire, making the formations strategic places to hide in cases of armed conflict. The structures were created as a result of the natural consolidation of intense fallouts of volcanic ash. This activity created the rock material “tuft,” which then weathered into the shapes that exist today. Soft and easy to work, the tuft towers were hollowed and adorned with doors and windows by humans over time, to the point where they blend with entirely human-built structures in some sections.

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10 Extreme Oddities of Earth’s Physical Geography

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