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Natural Wonders of the World...
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Natural Wonders of the World
Epic Landscape Formations
From alluvial fans and massive holes, the sheer scale and splendor of certain magnificent land formations is difficult to capture in words or even images. Like stunning natural fractals on a much more massive scale, here are some of the most profound, stunning and awe-inspiring examples of "natural art" in the world. One cannot fail to appreciate the unparalleled visual wonders of our world.
Alluvial Fan, China
This stunning alluvial fan sprays across the Kunlun and Altun mountain ranges, which are located at the Southern end of China's Taklimakan Desert. Alluvial fans are defined as soft, relatively flat, gently sloping planes of loose rock and sediment, comonly found in mountains and deposited by water. This is one of the largest in the world.
Mt. St. Helens, Oregon, United States
This volcanic mountain of St. Helens, part of the Cascade Mountain range that runs through the Pacific Northwest into Canada, is famous for its violent explosion in May of 1980 that devastated the ..region.. and sent a cloud of ash and debris around the world. Over 200 square miles of forestland were flattened and turned to ash. A new lava dome has continually grown in the decades since, and with steam escaping daily and mild tremors, scientists keep a close eye on it. As you can see from the lower right image, the land has gradually begun to rebound, with light vegetation and animals beginning to return; until the next eruption.
Brandberg Massif, Africa
Like a giant, knobby mesa, the Brandberg Massif rises out of the Namib Desert in Namibia, Africa. This granite intrusion is riddled with caves full of art and is home to many unusual plants and animals that flourish in the hot, dry environment.
Shoemaker Impact Structure, Australia
Hundreds of millions of years ago; between 1000 and 600, scientists estimate; a meteor crashed into Australia and created this 30km wide basin formerly known as the Teague Ring (it was renamed after a renowned USGS scientist named Eugene Shoemaker). It is arid and harsh, full of dry lakebeds and encrusted with salt.
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
The iconic, massive and complex Great Barrier Reef is just as beautiful from the aerial view as when one is swimming near it. Home to an incredibly diverse array of sharks, fish, plants, coral and other marine wildlife, the Barrier Reef stretches over 2,600km in the Coral Sea off the coast of Australia. It's the largest reef system in the world, with 900 islands and 2,900 coral reefs. Like the Great Wall of China, this unique structure is one of the few structures made by organisms (in this case coral, not people) that is visible from space.
Grand Canyon, Arizona, United States
The famous Grand Canyon is one of the most beautiful examples of earth art. Carved over the course of 6 million years by the waters of the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, 4 to 18 miles wide and in places over a mile deep. The steep-sided gorge was once populated by Native Americans and artifacts of up to 12,000 years in age have been found. The Grand Canyon was one of the first lands to be preserved and made a national park (by Teddy Roosevelt).
This unique structure in the Sahara Desert of Mauritania can be seen from space. It is 50 miles wide and rather unusual for the fairly featureless Sahara. Though people often refer to it as an impact structure, it's actually the natural result of hundreds of thousands of years of erosion. Formed from layers of sedimentary rock, fierce winds and shifting sand dunes have worn away at the material, leaving a crater impression behind. It is also known as the Eye of Africa.
Namib Sand Dunes, Namibia
The Namib Sand Dunes are part of the Namib Desert, which is Africa's 2nd largest desert after the Sahara. The desert is famous for these massive and eternally shifting sand dunes, which are larger than any others on earth and can reach up to 1,000 feet in height. One of the oldest deserts on earth, Namib is home to unusual plant and animal species that can survive the incredibly harsh, arid conditions.
Of course no earth art series would be complete without the requisite conspiracy theory. Rock outcrops and unusual formations that seem difficult to explain away through natural phenomena are popularly held up as proof of aliens, unknown civilizations, government conspiracies and more. Usually, these rock structures; such as the ones shown here, in Oklahoma and West Virginia; can in fact be explained by geological history and even weather, intentional in design as they may appear to be.
Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
Case in point: Giant's Causeway. Though it certainly looks chiseled and hewn, this incredible rock bridge is completely natural. 40,000 interlocking basalt columns which are mostly hexagonal. These basalt rocks were formed when molten lava was pushed through cracked chalk beds. As the lava cooled, the liquid basalt contracted into the distinctive shapes that are so famous.
Barringer Meteorite Crater, Arizona, United States
The Barringer Meteorite Crater in Arizona was formed 50,000 years ago when a meteorite impacted land in what is now Arizona. Basically a giant hole, the Meteorite Crater (or Meteor Crater) has 150 rims with stones the size of houses and spans a mile. It's also 570 feet deep. Remnants of meteoric iron are scattered around the crater for miles.
The Green Bridge of Wales
The Green Bridge of Wales, in Pembrokeshire, was formed through the natural erosion of limestone, of which the arch is made. It's the largest natural arch in Wales and one of the biggest in the world, to boot. Due to coastal erosion and waves, eventually it will collapse.
Alum Bay, Isle of Wight
The gorgeous waters of Alum Bay off the Isle of Wight are distinctive enough, but the special exhibit on display here is the cliffs. Seen at certain times of day, particularly sunset, the cliffs deceive the eye and appear to be striped in diverse bright colors. In truth the cliff sands do vary in color noticeably, but certain shadows and angles heighten the difference into a dramatic display.
The Himalayas, Asia
The Himalayas, which separate the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau in Asia, are the largest mountains in the world. Mt. Everest, the tallest peak on earth, is found in this astonishing mountain range of icy, jagged peaks and soaring ridges. (Over 100 of the range's mountains are higher than 7,200m.) The range is over 2,400km long, and its water basin supports 1.3 billion people.
Cathedral Caves, New Zealand
The magnificent Cathedral Caves are found in Catlins, New Zealand on the South Island. Featuring two massive caves with distinctive narrow, tall openings, tourists enjoy exploring them from the broad, sandy beach of Catlins. The two caves are actually one cave, so you can enter through the first and exit from the second. Because the caves are in these towering beach bluffs, they can only be accessed for two hours at low tide.
Epic Water and Ice Formations and Phenomena
We all know that the Earth's surface is covered mostly in water and ice, but what is truly astonishing is how many forms this amazing life-giving element can take. From stunning glaciers and roaring waterfalls as high as a skyscraper to jagged mountainside beds of icy spikes as tall as a man, the myriad beautiful water formations and phenomena found on our planet rival the aesthetic power of human art. Here are 15 ice, glaciers, fjords, waterfalls, unusual lakes, and other stunning examples of nature's finest water and ice art.
Frozen Water: Small-Scale Ice Formations
Whether on a massive scale or smaller than the tip of your finger, from icicles to ice stars, the planet's many ice formations like its bizarre and amazing land phenomena are truly as varied as snowflakes.
From the snowflake to the icicle, few things on earth are as gorgeous as frozen formations. Ice ribbons are perhaps one of the most intriguing of ice formations, seemingly resembling frosting squeezed from a baker's press. Here you see icicles, ribbons, a rare ice star, ice columns and encased grass. The odd picture is certainly a curiosity - how did it form?
Mountain Ice Spikes
Chile is home to the rugged mountain terrain of the Andes and the severe weather extremes at different altitudes make for some stunning ice formations. The above remarkable ice field looks like daggers, but one brave climber makes his way through the Ojos del Salado.
This peak in Valle Frances is studded with distinct ice formations that resemble large boulders. Wind and fluctuating temperatures create unusual ice shapes in this famous national park called the Torres del Paine (it's an eco-tourism hot spot).
The photographer caught this fascinating ice formation shot in Huseby, Sweden. Ice takes on all sorts of interesting asymmetrical and geometric shapes, from the icy platelets above to the incredible parallel ice shelves of the Arctic. Ellesmere Island is famous for its ice shelves, but unfortunately they are diminishing rapidly in the face of global warming. Climate change caused alarming losses in summer of 2008, and scientists are concerned that this special ecosystem may soon be lost forever.
Hard to believe, but those luscious sculptured waves are completely natural - and on the ceiling. A cave in Bavaria, Germany features this unusual ice. Ice caves are common throughout the world, but some of the largest are the massive, twisting Eisriesenwelt Caves in Austria (shown above right).
Elemental Fire and Light Formations and Phenomena: Flares, Lightning, Smoke and Meteors
Continuing the quest for the most inspiring and powerful art of nature, here are over 50 images and videos depicting the most spectacular shooting sun flares, unusual fires, shocking lightning, delicate smoke patterns and stunning meteor showers. All are fierce examples of nature's artistic displays for which the price of admission is being in the right place at the right time to have your imagine sparked.
These images highlight some of the profoundly beautiful, yet ephemeral artworks created by lightning displays. Lightning, of course, is simply a discharge of electricity. Yet it is startling and stunning to behold.
Lightning can strike anywhere. View the above incredible clips of lightning striking Toronto in 2004 and a personal "art show" of lightning at a beach residence.
Even the most incredible fireworks shows cannot compare to nature's own light shows.
The famous "northern lights" are a beloved phenomenon that can startle the first time viewer with their haunting hues reminiscent of an impressionist painting or surreal watercolor.
They are created with electrically charged particles (like electrons), directed by the earth's magnetic fields, crash into gas atoms. The result is the aurora flash.
There are actually both northern and southern polar lights. Aurora, Latin for "light", are most commonly seen in the northern hemisphere ("borealis" for northern, as in the Boreal Forest) but are also displayed in the southern hemisphere ("astralis(-think Australia).
The aurora borealis displays are colorful and dynamic, but the aurora astralis are remarkable in their own right, seeming to light up the frigid southern polar expanse with their intense vibrance. Watch the slideshow below for more incredible images of nature's "paintbrush" on the skies.
Meteor showers (also known as meteor storms or outbursts) are bits of debris from space that enter the earth's atmosphere at extreme speeds. Hitting the air causes them to vaporize, which leaves the famous spark of light behind: hence the nickname "shooting star".
The Ids Above Us
No, it's not your boss's selfish demands bellowing from the office upstairs. The "ids" refer to meteor showers that can be seen each month of the year. Meteors are quite frequent, and usually very small, but some meteor showers are recurrent and well-known for their brilliant shower of blazing artistry.
The Perseids, in the images and video above, and the Geminids below are most famous, but, for example, the Orionids are coming up on October 21-22.
The Geminid meteor shower happened last fall-winter 2007, but its peak was December 13-14. Driving a few hours up into the Sierra Nevadas, away from the light pollution and in the sharp cold, and you'll see a spectacular art show.
A fireball is an especially bright meteor, typically so bright it is confused for a planet. The Leonid fireball is one of the most famous in the world.
Forest fires that spring up in nature due to weather conditions can wreak phenomenal havoc; but they can also cleanse the land and at times, create beautiful vistas and memorable images.
Bitterroot Fire Deer
This Bitterroot Fire nearly engulfed two deer. The image was thought to be Photoshopped but evidence later revealed that it was in fact real.
These stunning portraits show fires from Canada to Alaska to Africa, both during the day and in the stark contrast of night. Though wildfires can be frightening and destructive, they can also be beneficial, clearing the land for new growth by eliminating underbrush and dead trees. Native Americans learned by watching nature's self-..sustaining wisdom; they would strategically manage forests by periodically burning certain portions.
Firewhirls are simply fire tornados. They're often spawned by wild fires, though they can be caused by other elemental conditions. The look is both eerie and alive -as if made of molten glass.
Some solar flares have been large enough to easily wipe out Earth with their heat; we've luckily been missed and instead can take in the fiery beauty of the sun's flares as cosmic art. Others are powerful enough to make the sun itself quake. Funny enough, scientists declared the sun in a rather dormant cycle of minimum activity, but the sun became incredibly active in March of this year with a spate of new eruptions, flares and other bursts.
A sun dog, or parhelion, is an exceedingly bright spot on a solar halo. According to wikipedia a sundog "is an atmospheric optical phenomenon primarily associated with the reflection or refraction of sunlight by small ice crystals making up cirrus or cirrostratus clouds. Often, two sun dogs can be seen (one on each side of the sun) simultaneously......." Pretty cool to observe.
No art about nature's fiery art would be complete without a few glimpses at the at times opaque, delicate, complex and swirling beauty of fire's dissipation: smoke.
Breathtaking Natural Cloud and Color Formations
Clouds and light produce some of the most stunning yet transient works of Mother Nature: rare formations, brilliant rainbows, sprites and mirages and other gorgeous elemental air imagery. (If you are just joining this earth formations and phenomena series, be sure to catch the other elements for some truly inspiring images and information: incredible earth and land, scorching fire and light and cool water, snow and ice phenomena.)
Cloud Types and Amazing Formations
Do you know your cloud types? It starts with altitude (stratus, altostratus, and at the highest level, cirrus and cumulonimbus). But there are varying types of clouds within each "level", such as the famous low-level vertical cumulus clouds (not the same as cumulonimbus clouds at the higher level). Confused yet? It goes like this: below 6,000 feet, there are stratocumulus, stratus, and cumulus. From 6,000 to 20,000 feet there are altostratus and altocumulus clouds. At 20,000 feet and up there are cirrocumulus, cumulonimbus and cirrus clouds. Of course, if you have ever lain on a grassy patch and spent an afternoon looking for cloud formations resembling animals, objects or people, you know that clouds are beautiful, if ephemeral, artworks of nature. There are a few unusual types of clouds that are less known and eye-catching.
Named for their resemblance to mammaries (okay, breasts), these oddly bulbous clouds often form after or immediately preceding a tornado, though they cannot be considered an indicator of an impending tornado.
According to wikipedia, "ammatus are most often associated with the anvil cloud that extends from a cumulonimbus, but may also be found under altocumulus, altostratus, stratocumulus, and cirrus clouds, as well as contrails and volcanic ash clouds." Mammatus are literally the bumpy, lumpy underside of many types of clouds.
These disc-shaped clouds have graced mountains, as if they are nature's version of a snug cap. Yet they also appear singularly and seemingly out of place in blank expanses of sky.
"Lens" clouds tend to form at much higher altitudes than mammatus clouds and resemble everything from plates to discs to UFO's.
Light and Air Formations and Phenomena
The interplay of humidity conditions, sunlight, temperature and the blank canvas of air can create some incredible artistic effects, from sunbeams to the mirages of storybook lore.
Everyone can appreciate the beauty of crepuscular rays, and with good reason: they're inspiring, uplifting and often simply wondrous. Poets refer to them in their works; artists have tried to recapture them on canvas; a morning with sunbeams is the most cheerful morning of all. Sunbeams, as they're commonly called (other nicknames are sunbursts, sun rays and Jacob's Ladder).
Crepuscular refers to the hours of dusk and dawn, which is when these optical displays are most likely to appear. Crepuscular rays are often very striking when you seem them under water.
First: the famous mirages we watched in cartoons as a child ; you know, the ones where a magical oasis appeared to a weary, hot traveler in the desert. More pedestrian are road mirages. They are very common sights, frequently making the asphalt appear to have large pools of collected water. Mirages are optical illusions, caused by light rays bending and creating visible "objects" ; which, of course, are subjective. According to wikipedia: "The principal physical cause of a mirage is refraction rather than reflection. A mirage is a real optical phenomenon that can be captured on camera, since light rays actually are refracted to form the false image at the observer's location." In an inferior mirage, light is bent when it passes from cold air to warm air ; the heat waves emanating from roads and ground in direct sunlight begin to cool the higher one goes, allowing for mirages to appear both ever out of reach yet planted soundly on terra firma. In a superior mirage the temperature is inversed. Below, see an inferior mirage (top) and a superior mirage time-elapse (lower).
Mirages are famously seen in the Great Salt Lake, Mojave Desert, Farralon Islands and many other places around the world.
Colorful Light and Sky Formations
Surreal optical displays like aurora borealis, rainbows and light pillars are some of nature's most thrilling artistic works. It's simple physics at work, but the beauty is undeniable.
God's promise. The path to a pot of gold. A symbol of inclusive sexuality. The rainbow has been the stuff of legends and symbolism for millennia, and this brilliant prism of the color spectrum can be seen in everything from garden hose sprays to rainstorms and squalls.
They're stunning, yet easy to explain: rays of light refract in molecules of water, causing a prismatic display of the color spectrum. The rainbow is made up of "Roy G. Biv" (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) but the colors are actually a continuum, not distinct "stripes" of separate hues.
Light pillars are optical illusions, similar to mirages and sometimes confused with crepuscular rays. These stunning visages are created by light reflecting off horizontal planar surfaces of ice crystals. Rare, and breathtaking indeed.
The aurora borealis is a surreal combination of unusual air conditions and tempermental physics. There are actually both northern and southern polar lights. Aurora, Latin for “light”, are most commonly seen in the northern hemisphere (”borealis” for northern, as in the Boreal Forest) but are also displayed in the southern hemisphere (”astralis“…think Australia).
The aurora borealis displays are colorful and dynamic, but the aurora astralis are remarkable in their own right, seeming to light up the frigid southern polar expanse with their intense vibrance.