By Husna Haq
Majestic mountains and sparkling seas always attract travellers – but sometimes nature has a bigger trick up her sleeve. To track down some of the world’s strangest sights, we turned to question-and-answer site Quora, asking: What are some of the best rare natural phenomena that occur on Earth?
From Australia’s bubblegum-pink lake and a blood-red waterfall in Antarctica to a secret beach-in-a-hole in Mexico and a US valley where stones eerily move, these seven spots are Mother Nature’s eyeball-popping sideshow.
Frozen methane bubbles, Canada
They look otherworldly, like flying saucers that dropped into the water and froze, or ancient, ice-encapsulated jellyfish. In fact, these icy circles are frozen methane bubbles – pockets of gas that, when trapped underwater and frozen, form a spectacular landscape.
Found in winter in high northern latitude lakes like Lake Abraham in Alberta, Canada, these gas bubbles are created when dead leaves, grass and animals fall into the water, sink and are eaten by bacteria that excrete methane. The gas is released as bubbles that transform into tens of thousands of icy white disks when they come into contact with frozen water, Quora user Mayur Kanaiya explains.
It’s a stunning, but potentially dangerous sight. This potent greenhouse gas not only warms the planet, but also is highly flammable. Come spring, when the ice melts, the methane bubbles pop and fizz in a spectacular release – but if anyone happens to light a match nearby, the masses of methane will ignite into a giant explosion.
Curious travellers can see these gassy hiccups in lakes across Canada’s Banff National Park, or in the Arctic Ocean off Siberia, where researchers have found gargantuan gas bubbles as large as 900m across.
Blood Falls, Antarctica
The name says it all. Blood Falls, in East Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys, looks like slowly pouring scarlet-red blood, staining snowy white Taylor Glacier and Lake Bonney below. It’s a surprising – and creepy – sight to behold.
The trickling crimson liquid isn’t blood, however. Nor is it water dyed by red algae, as early Antarctica pioneers first speculated. In fact, the brilliant ochre tint comes from an extremely salty sub-glacial lake, explains Quora user Aditya Bhardwaj.
About two million years ago, a hyper-saline body of water became trapped beneath Taylor Glacier, isolated from light, oxygen and heat. As the saltwater trickles through a fissure in the glacier, it reacts with the oxygen in the air to create this spectacular, rust-hued cascade.
It’s a visual and scientific wonder, and Taylor Glacier – accessible only by helicopter from McMurdo Station or Scott Base, or cruise ship in the Ross Sea – is the only spot on Earth to see it.
Sailing Stones, US
When visitors stumbled upon scores of heavy stones that appeared to have moved across the dried lake bed of Racetrack Playa in California’s Death Valley National Park, leaving a tell-tale trail in their wake, scientists were baffled. How had so many boulders, some weighing 300kg, moved as much as 250m across this remote part of the valley, asks Quora user Farhana Khanum?
Adding to the mystery, some trails were gracefully curved, while others were straight with sudden shifts to the left or right. Who, or what, had moved the stones? A slew of theories emerged, from magnetic fields to alien intervention to dust devils to pranksters.