From disappearing rivers to mummifying lakes, here are 8 of the strangest natural phenomenon in the world!
- Lake Natron, Tanzania
In Tanzania, there is a lake that turns animals into stone. The alkaline water of Lake Natron has a pH as high as 10.5. This makes it so caustic it can burn the skin and eyes of animals that aren’t adapted to it. Sodium carbonate and other minerals in the surrounding hills, which flow into the lake, creates the high alkalinity. Sodium carbonate has another interesting feature: it was once used in Egyptian mummification. Any animal that dies in the water of Lake Natron turns into a natural mummy. Photographer Nick Brandt took the little animal mummies the lake creates and used them to create a haunting collection of photos that he put into a book titled Across the Ravaged Land. The book paints the picture of a desolate lake, though this couldn’t be further from the truth. Lake Natron does support an ecosystem of salt marshes, freshwater wetlands, fish, algae, and a breed of flamingos. During breeding season, more than 2 million lesser flamingos use the shallow lake as their primary breeding ground in Africa. The flamingos build nests on small islands that form in the lake during the dry season. Unfortunately, a proposed hydroelectric power plant on the Ewaso Ngiro River, the main river feeding the lake, threatens Lake Natron and its flamingos. Because of how isolated the lake is there are no protections in place for the lake or its threatened flamingo population.
- Light Pillars
Light pillars are an optical phenomenon caused when flat, hexagonal ice crystals refract lights. These lights tend to take on the color of the light source and are usually produced by streetlights. However, any light source, under the right conditions, can create a light pillar. And what, exactly, are those conditions? To create light pillars, you need ice crystals. For these crystals to form, temperatures must be below zero degrees Fahrenheit. In most light pillar cases, temperatures are minus ten, twenty, or lower. There also must be no wind and the crystals need to be near the ground. Oftentimes, this means high pressure without a storm present. In fact, a storm system can disrupt pillar formation. In January 2017, in Ontario, Canada, residents were treated to the gorgeous sight of dozens of vertical shafts of blue, white, and orange lights hanging in the sky. The lights were even seen by residents in neighboring towns. At the time, temperatures minus 18 degrees Celsius or minus 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit. The lights hung in the sky for at least forty five minutes before fading away.
- Flammable Ice Bubbles
Methane bubbles form in bodies of water when dead organic matter, like leaves and animals, falls into the water and sinks to the bottom. The bacteria in the lake bed consumes the matter and releases methane. The methane floats to the surface of the water and disperses. But what happens when subzero temperatures turn that lake into a skating rink? Then you get flammable ice bubbles. Every year, people come out to skate on Lake Abraham in Canada, where the methane bubbles can be seen just below the surface. This isn’t the only lake, however, to sport these bubbles. Lake Vernon and Lake Minnewanka also show these frozen wonders. In some places, however, the methane bubbles up so continuously that ice cannot form. It can create a watery pothole large enough to be seen from the air. While beautiful, these bubbles hint at a dangerous trend emerging in the frozen north. Because of climate change, decreasing permafrost means more and more methane is being released into the atmosphere. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, more so than carbon dioxide, and directly affects the environment.
- Lenticular Clouds
Lenticular clouds get their name from their lens or saucer-like shape, which also explains their nickname “flying saucer clouds”. In fact, they are sometimes mistaken for UFOs. Other nicknames for lenticular clouds include “cloud ships”, “clouds of heaven”, and “lennies”. Lenticular clouds are stationary clouds that form at high altitudes in the sky, aligned at a right angle to the direction of the wind. This is why they often form over mountain ranges, when stable humid air blows over the top of the range. If the temperature is low enough on the downwind side of the mountains, the moisture in the air will condense into a saucer shaped cloud. And, if the conditions are right, groups of lenticular clouds can form what scientists call a “wave cloud”. Another unique feature of this natural phenomena is that lenticular clouds can be brightly colored along their edges. Lenticular clouds can also form over flat land if there is shear wind. Airplane pilots try to avoid flying near lenticular clouds. The waves of air that form them can cause turbulence, turning a beautiful sight into a bouncy, scary experience. However, that same reason to avoid them is the reason why people flying gliders love them. Those same air currents allow gliders to sail to great heights and long distances.