The Most Extreme Environments on Earth

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No matter what kind of climates,  landscape, scenery, or conditions you enjoy there is probably a place somewhere on Earth that will meet your needs, environmentally speaking. And while one Canadian forest may not look too much different from another, and one chunk of desert in Africa may not look too much different from another, when you take it as a whole the world is full of diverse and interesting places. Nestled in amongst the normal, everyday ones are some of the most extreme places that you could ever hope to visit.

10. Hottest Place

Some people absolutely abhor the cold weather. The idea of being trapped in the snow is utterly offensive in every way so they seek out the hottest climates that they can. And, truly, there are plenty of sunny destinations around the world that you can probably name off the top of your head. From Hawaii, to São Paulo, to Bali and more, there are lots of tropical, toasty warm places that you can visit or live if you so choose. But if you truly crave the heat in a way that most people would find uncomfortable, then you need to head to the hottest place on Earth.

Back in August 2020 Death Valley, California  hit a record high temperature of 130 degrees Fahrenheit. That counts as the single hottest global temperature ever recorded by the World Meteorological organization. Of course there is some anecdotal evidence of hotter days in other parts of the world, including even Death Valley itself or supposedly got to 134° back in 1913. But when we are using modern and reliable methods of temperature measurements, the 2020 mark of 130° takes the cake. 

What makes Death Valley the winner? Well, they don’t call it Death Valley for nothing. The valley gets less than two inches of rainfall every year and, sitting 282 feet below sea level surrounded by mountain ranges, it’s essentially just a big bowl to absorb the rays of the sun.

9. Coldest Place

If the opposite side of the spectrum is more your speed and you’re looking for the coldest place on Earth, you may be tempted to think of the Arctic reaches of Canada, or maybe somewhere in Russia. And while Canada’s record low temperature was -62.8 degrees C, or about -81 F, and Russia’s coldest temperature was -67.7 degrees C, or almost  -90 degrees F, the crown for the absolute coldest place on Earth is way down south in Antarctica.

 In 1983 at Vostok Station in Antarctica, the deadly low temperature of -89.2 degrees C was measured. That’s -128.6 degrees F. In 2010, satellite readings indicated that another location very close to Vostok station called Dome Fuji measured -93.22 degrees C, or -135.8 degrees F. The reason there’s a little contention between which one is the most reliable is because the Vostok temperature was a measurement of the local air while the Dome Fuji measurements was actually of the surface ice itself. But between the two you can rest assured that you won’t find anywhere colder in the world. It’s estimated that you could probably survive for about three minutes in temperatures that cold. 

8. Driest Place

There are plenty of deserts around the world, and many of them are still hospitable enough to be habitable if some preparations are made. But if you’re looking for the absolute driest place in the world, then you need to head to Chile and the Atacama Desert. There is a corner of the desert known as Arica up in the north that holds the record for the longest dry streak in the world after going 173 months with no rain at all.

In 2015, El Nino brought with it the heaviest rain the desert had seen in years: 0.96 in of rain fell in March, which worked out to about 14 years’ worth of rain in a single day. 

7. Wettest Place

Places like Seattle and London are famous for having to endure lots of mist and rain over the course of a year. If you’re not a fan of a damp climate, you probably wouldn’t adapt very well to either of these places. And you especially wouldn’t last long in Mawsynram, India, which holds the title of the wettest place in the world .

Surrounded by mountain terrain that helps funnel the annual monsoon winds, Mawsynram endures about 467 inches of rain every year. For comparison, Seattle’s annual rainfall is about 38 inches, and London gets around to 23 inches of rain per year. Even the Amazon rainforest only gets around 80 inches of rain per year.

Amazingly enough, despite these wet conditions, people do still live here. They’ve just adapted to life in a place where it’s constantly raining and make covers out of reeds that will block their heads while they’re working in the fields.

6. Steepest Cliff

If you’ve ever been to a place like the Grand Canyon or even the observation deck of a very tall building, you may have been struck with a curious sensation. There’s a real phenomenon known as the Call of the Void. It affects many people, and it’s characterized by the bizarre urge to just leap off of something very high. Literally throw yourself into the void. Obviously most people don’t do it, and it’s a scary thought, but the impulse does exist and many people have experienced it. And there are few places in the world where you can experience it as profusely as you would if you headed to Northern Canada to visit Baffin Island.

Not many people head up to Baffin Island in Canada because it’s remote and cold and extremely inhospitable. But it is home to a national park called Auyuittuq, which is riddled with cliffs and mountains, including one known as Mount Thor. Named for the Norse God himself, Mount Thor is the steepest cliff in the world. The West face of the mountain is the longest vertical drop on Earth at 4,101 feet straight down. And if you want to be a little nitpicky, it’s technically not straight down; it’s even steeper than that because the angle is a 105° overhang.

Numerous would-be climbers failed to get to the top of the cliff until a four-man team of Americans managed to master it back in 1985. It took them 33 days to do it. 

5. Hottest Water


Most people who enjoy going for a swim would prefer warm water rather than cold, members of the Polar Bear Club excluded. However, there does come a point when warm water becomes a little too uncomfortable and you need to balance things out again. They say that the hottest a bath or shower should get is 112 degrees F or 44 degrees C, at the most. So how does that compare to the hottest water you will naturally find on Earth?

If you head down to a certain point deep in the Atlantic Ocean, you’ll find a pair of black smokers known as Two Boats and Sisters Peak. Black smokers look a bit like underwater volcanoes and they belch water as well as various other chemicals from deep in the Earth’s core. The water that comes out of the smokers is so hot it actually exists in a state that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Remember, water is supposed to boil at 100 degrees Celsius and become a gas. But when you have extreme temperatures and extreme pressure like you’ll find at the bottom of the ocean, what you get is gas and liquid existing simultaneously in what they call a supercritical fluid. That makes the water denser than vapor, but lighter than liquid water.

 The water that comes out of these two vents is around 407 degrees C and has gotten up to 464 degrees C. It’s also heavily saturated with all kinds of elements ranging from gold to copper to sulfur.

4. Most Remote Place on Earth

If you’re in the market for a little solitude, then you may want to head to the most remote place in the world. Once upon a time, there were countless places that humans hadn’t even been to in recorded history. The tallest mountain peaks, the densest forests and jungles, the most vast deserts. Nowadays it’s much easier for us to get around and the entire world is connected in one way or another. Still, geography being what it is, there has to be at least one place in the world that is more remote than everywhere else. A place that is not only difficult to get to, but simply extremely far away from everywhere else.

There is an island called Tristan da Cunha that is located 1,739.8 miles from the nearest mainland, which is the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. This little archipelago is the most remote inhabited location in the world. 270 people live there, and once a year somebody drops by to deliver some mail.

The island is about 30 square miles and is classified as a United Kingdom overseas territory. An optician and a dentist visit once a year for the United Kingdom and residents of the islands sustain themselves mostly by fishing.

3. Most Electric

Few natural phenomena are more impressive to watch than a lightning storm. Most of us only experience one a few times a year at best. But if you headed to Venezuela at a place called Lake Maracaibo then you’re going to experience what some people call the Everlasting Storm.

Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela  is fed by the Catatumbo River. Where these two bodies of water come together, you can see a nearly endless display of lightning that lasts most of the year. There are an average of 260 storm days per year at this location, and any given storm can produce literally thousands of lightning strikes every single hour. At nights, you can watch lightning flash for nine straight hours.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Lake Maracaibo features 250 lightning flashes per square kilometer every year. You’ll get the least amount of lightning during the dry season in January, but it will peak in October when 28 lightning strikes occur every single minute.

The precise reason why this particular location is more fertile ground for lightning than other places in the world isn’t fully understood yet. It’s possible that the air is more conductive because there is methane being produced in oil fields below, but that hasn’t been proven. It’s likely a mixture of factors including the terrain around the lake that features mountains, coastlines, and the appropriate climate.

2. Deepest Place

Of all the places that you can go in the world, the hardest to get to is arguably the deepest place. More people have walked on the moon than have visited the bottom of Challenger Deep, the lowest point in the ocean 35,814 feet below sea level. The first people who made it there had to go down in a specially designed submarine that had five-inch thick steel walls. It took five hours to travel the whole 6.7 mile journey to the bottom.

Believe it or not, there are still actually fish at that depth, even though the pressure is eight tons per square inch. That’s about a thousand times more pressure than you’ll get at sea level. 

1. Most Toxic

There are more than a handful of places in the world that you’d be better off never visiting, if for no other reason than they are so dangerously polluted that you put your life at risk just being there. Things like Chernobyl come to mind, where leaked radiation from a nuclear disaster have made the area extremely inhospitable. Still, if you’re going to rank the most toxic places in the world, Chernobyl does not top the list.

The most toxic place in the world is Agbogbloshie in the country of Ghana. About 80,000 people live in and around the slums here, which are heavily polluted by e-waste. That’s things like old phones and computers and other pieces of technology. While at first it doesn’t seem like that kind of waste should be toxic, you have to consider what goes into making modern electronics. And then you have to consider what the people who live here do with that waste.

Many locals make a living by harvesting valuable metals from the waste material. That requires not just breaking into plastic cases, but extracting the metals through dangerous means. Any given day you’ll see a number of fires from people who are attempting to extract metals from wires and circuit boards. This ends up releasing toxic byproducts like brominated dioxins and furans. Samples of free range eggs from chickens that live in the area were found to contain staggeringly high levels of chemicals that have actually been outlawed all around the world. If you were to eat one egg from a free range chicken that had been grazing in the scrap yard area, you’d get a dose of chlorinated dioxins that is 220 times higher than what is considered safe.

The eggs also contain PCBs, PBDE flame retardants, and more. There’s some debate about whether new material is still being dumped in this area and who dumped it there in the first place, but none of that affects the amount of toxins that are currently in the area.


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