Anyone who has traveled around could tell you that Earth is full of geological oddities. The sheer variety of terrains and ecosystems found across the planet lend to some pretty bizarre and fascinating natural formations. Some of them are so weird that they may as well exist on an alien planet with completely different conditions than ours.
Apart from being great traveling destinations, these bizarre geological features found around the world also give us a glimpse into the planet’s dynamic and rapidly-changing past.
10. The Bolton Strid, England
On first look, the Bolton Strid in Yorkshire, England doesn’t come across as anything frightening. In fact, it doesn’t come across as anything at all, as it’s easy to completely overlook it as a small, totally crossable stream of water on a casual hike in the English countryside. Try to cross it, however, and that may just be the last stream you ever cross without properly checking what’s inside.
The Bolton Strid is actually a very large river, only turned on its side. The seemingly-harmless brook on the surface turns into entire networks of vast caverns inside its vast depths, and it’s impossible to escape once you go in. According to local legend, the brook has had a 100% kill rate over the years, making it perhaps one of the most dangerous places in the world.
9. Siberian Sinkholes
We’ve heard about the Earth opening up and swallowing entire swathes of lands in both apocalyptic fiction and academic climate change reports. In the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia, though, exactly that seems to have been happening for the past few years.
Huge holes have been appearing in the permafrost since at least 2013, mostly reported by locals in the remote region. Until 2016, scientists had located about 15 of them, though a 2017 report counted more than 7,000 across the landscape. They’re made due to trapped methane and other greenhouse gases under the permafrost. As it gets weaker and thinner over time, the gases have an easier time escaping, leaving massive, life-threatening sinkholes behind..
8. The Kelimutu Volcano, Indonesia
From afar, the Kelimutu volcano in Indonesia looks like any other one of the many volcanoes found across the region. It is, too, except for the three lakes found inside its crater. On first look, they look like normal lakes formed inside a volcano’s mouth over time. If you track them over time, though, you’d see that their color changes almost consistently, and in no discernible pattern. According to satellite images taken over time, the colors range from various shades of white to turquoise blue to blood red.
The changing hues are a result of something called fumaroles – volcanic vents that continuously release minerals and gases into the lakes. There may be some microbial processes involved in the process, too, though due to the remoteness of the region, the volcano has never been regularly monitored.
7. Blood Falls, Antarctica
Antarctica is home to quite a few bizarre geological features. As the ice cover melts due to the rising temperatures, researchers have found quite a few natural formations that are unique to the continent in the past few years. Perhaps the most startling of them all, though, is Blood Falls.
Located in a glacier called the Taylor Glacier, Blood Falls are exactly what you’re imagining them to be – a natural formation that looks like a waterfall of blood. It may look weird, though the explanation is even weirder.
Studies have found that the color comes from microbes living in an ancient lake trapped underneath the glacier, as they convert ferric iron into its soluble form to break down organic matter. It’s a separate, understudied class of organisms that uses sulfates to survive rather than oxygen, as they had to evolve in an environment completely devoid of oxygen or light.
6. Fly Geyser, USA
Fly Geyser falls inside a private property called the Fly Ranch in Nevada. While the region, known as Hualapai Geothermal Flats, is full of geysers of varying shapes and sizes, this one is unique because of its peculiar look. It’s a large, multicolored – almost cartoonish – structure made out of cones protruding out of the Earth, with multiple streams of hot springs erupting out of them. It looks like something straight out of an over-the-top space fiction movie, even if it’s almost completely man-made.
The geyser was artificially made in 1916 for agricultural operations, though its water was found to be unsuitable. It was abandoned when other, better geysers were found nearby. While the geyser remained officially shut, the water still always found a way to reach the surface. As the high mineral content of the water deposited calcium carbonate at the site, it accumulated into a colorful, 10-12 foot tall cone over time.
Then, in 1964, a drilling company decided to dig at the same site for hot water, though again, it was found to be unsuitable. The site was abandoned, though with many new openings than before. Over the years, many new cones at the site have added to the look of the structure, and it looks like the process is still ongoing.
5. Danakil Depression, Ethiopia
You don’t have to go to the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia to know that it’s one of the weirdest and most extreme places on Earth – just take our word for it. Lying a bit over 330 feet below sea level, it’s one of the world’s lowest and most inhospitable environments. The landscape is dotted with numerous acidic ponds and geysers, along with two highly active volcanoes that occasionally spew ash into the air to complete the ‘apocalypse’ look.
As we already said, it’s hardly the best destination for a vacation, though the Danakil Depression remains an active site for biologists and other researchers. The acid pond and lakes are, surprisingly, teeming with an array of micro organisms not found anywhere else on Earth.
4. The Cave of Crystals, Mexico
The Cave of Crystals in Chihuahua, Mexico was first discovered in 1910 during a mining dig, as the region had been a mining hotspot since the early 19th century due to its ore deposits. Back then, it was named the Cave of Swords, as it was full of large, three-foot long crystals of gypsum not found anywhere else at the time.
In 2000, however, a group of miners stumbled upon another, even larger system of caves nearby. The gypsum crystals here can grow as long as 40 feet long and three feet wide, and we have no idea if there are other caves with even bigger crystals if we dig deeper.
These crystals are formed after years and years of mineral-rich waters seeping into the caves due to high seismic activity in the region. That allows calcium sulphate to accumulate, and that reacts with various elements to form a range of minerals, gypsum being one of them.
Due to its many unique geological features, the caves attract experts like crystallographers and geologists from all over the world.
3. The Gate To Hell, Turkmenistan
The Karakum desert in Turkmenistan is a sparsely-populated region, mostly due to its extreme weather. It’s known for the Darwaza gas crater, named after a nearby village of the same name. To the locals, the crater is also known as the gate to hell, and not without reason. It’s about 230 feet wide, and has been on fire for over 50 years now due to all the gas that’s still trapped underneath.
The hole came into existence in 1971, when Soviet drilling machines accidentally dug through a natural gas cavern. That caused the ground to collapse, along with all of their drilling equipment. To plug the hole and stop poisonous games from further polluting the area, the rig operators decided to set them on fire and let them burn out. As you can tell, that plan didn’t quite work out, as they massively underestimated the amount of gas inside that hole. The hole has been continuously on fire ever since.
2. Cotton Castle, Turkey
If you travel to the southwest part of Denizli province in Turkey (which we’d highly recommend), you’ll find a distinct structure dominating the landscape. Known as Pamukkale – Turkish for ‘cotton castle’ – it’s a set of seventeen natural thermal pools on the side of a steep hill, arranged in the form of steps. The ‘cotton’ part comes from their pure white color, making them shimmer if the light is right.
While it looks artificial, the ‘cotton castle’ is actually a result of thousands – possibly millions – of years of natural geological processes. As the hot water from the springs recedes, it leaves behind a lot of calcium carbonate. Over the years, that hardens into a white stone called travertine, which is what gives Pamukkale its unique look.
1. Hydrothermal Vents
Traditional scientific and evolutionary wisdom suggests that life should get scarcer in the more extreme parts of the world. However, mounting research during the past few decades points to the exact opposite. Life, it seems, doesn’t just exist in what we consider inhospitable conditions – it’s more diverse and thriving there than most other places we know of.
Just take hydrothermal vents. Found near active volcanoes, these are openings in the ocean floor that release a wide variety of chemicals and minerals. They also produce a lot of heat,, making them a source of energy for many organisms that rely on it for survival.. According to a growing school of evolutionary science, life didn’t originate in space, but near hydrothermal vents inside our own oceans.
While they’re definitely one of the most fascinating geological formations on Earth, hydrothermal vents remain poorly studied, as we still find entirely new vents with new colonies of microbes we’d never seen before.