10 Stunning & rare natural phenomena on Earth explained

Feb 1, 2017 | Science

Natural phenomena are natural, observable events that happen around us. Unlike man-made events, these phenomena stem from biological, chemical, geological or meteorological processes in nature. Common examples of natural phenomena include sunrise, thunder, waves, erosion, germination, fermentation, volcanic eruption, rainbow and aurora.

We see and experience many of these phenomena during our lifetime depending on which part of the world we stay in. However, there are some unique and rare natural phenomena that are rather localized and showcase the unpredictability and diversity of nature. From blue volcanos to sailing stones to everlasting storms, we look at some of these examples of rare and amazing natural phenomena in this article. We will also try to understand the science behind and explain the occurrence of these phenomena. So, here goes!

Most Amazing & Rarest Natural Phenomenon Explained using Science

1. Blue Volcano (Kawah Ijen, Indonesia)

Phenomenon: The Kawah Ijen volcano in Indonesia is the location of a rather out-of-the-world phenomena. Rather than red-colored lava flows that we normally associate volcanic eruptions with, this volcano is characterized by electric-blue fire streaming down the mountain slope!

Cause: The reason behind the blue flame is the presence of extremely high quantities of sulfuric gases that combust with the oxygen in air at temperatures above 3600 C. These sulfuric gases emerge from cracks in the volcano at high pressure and temperature (sometimes exceeding 6000 C) along with lava, giving rise to blue flames up to 5m in height. Kawah Ijen is considered to be the largest blue flame area in the world.

Most amazing natural phenomenon explained: Blue Volcano

2. Turquoise Ice (Lake Baikal, Russia)

Phenomenon: Lake Baikal is the oldest (25 million years old) and deepest (maximum depth of 1642m) lake in the world. It is also the world’s largest freshwater lake, accounting for about 20% of total freshwater on Earth! Here, the water is so clear that you can see up to a depth of 130 feet! In winters, the lake transforms into a picturesque landscape with large turquoise ice bodies.

Cause: In winter, the lake freezes and shifts in temperature, wind, frost and sunlight cause the frozen lake to crack. The slow, uneven pressure within the transparent ice bodies result in large, uneven broken-glass type turquoise ice forms. The view is so amazing that photographers from all around the world journey long and hard just to capture this beautiful scenery.

Rare natural phenomenon explained: Turquoise Ice

3. Everlasting storm (Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela)

Phenomenon: Picture this: Thunder and lightning strikes on 260 days a year, 10 hours a day and up to 280 times an hour! We aren’t talking about a place from outer space; rather, the location of this fiery phenomenon is where the Catatumbo River empties into Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. Nearly 1 million thunder strikes a year has earned this phenomenon names such as Catatumbo Lightning, Lighthouse of Maracaibo and more dramatically, the Everlasting Storm.

Cause: Although not completely understood, the storms are suggested to be the result of high winds blowing across Lake Maracaibo that inevitably meet the Andes, Perija Mountains, Cordillera de Mérida- 3 mountain ranges that surround the lake on 3 sides and form storm clouds. The abundance of methane gas boosts the air conductivity above the lake and contribute to the high-frequency lightnings. The storms are at their peak during the wet season around October and ease off during the months of January and February.

Most beautiful and unique natural phenomenon: Everlasting Storm

4. Polar Lights (Arctic and Antarctic regions)

Phenomenon: Polar lights or auroras are natural displays of lights of different colors in the sky that are seen in the high-latitude Arctic and Antarctic regions, which make for a surreal spectacle. While pale green and pink are the most common colors that are seen but shades of red, yellow, blue and violet have also been observed.

Cause: These lights are caused by solar-charged particles released from the Sun’s atmosphere and blown towards Earth on the solar wind. These particles are largely deflected by the Earth’s magnetic field but at the poles, where the magnetic field is weaker, they enter the Earth’s atmosphere and collide with gas particles such as oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen, thereby exciting them. This excitation results in emission of light of different colors depending on the atom. For example, green is due to oxygen while blue or red colors are caused by nitrogen.

Science behind the most amazing natural phenomenon: Polar Light

5. Sailing Stones (Death Valley, USA)

Phenomenon: Death Valley is one of the hottest and driest areas in the world and it is characterized by rocks that are about 1.7 billion years old. It is also home to a strange phenomenon- the sailing stones, also called sliding rocks or rolling stones, in which rocks slide along a smooth valley floor without any kind of human or animal intervention!

Cause: The phenomenon, that occurs largely in winters, is caused by ice sheets that cover the dry lake bed. On sunny days, the ice begins to melt and starts to break up. These floating ice panels, driven by light winds, cause the rocks to be pushed and the rocks slide over the valley floor at up to 5m per minute, leaving a trail behind as they do so.

Most beautiful natural phenomenon explained using science: Sailing Stone

6. Mummifying Lake (Lake Natron, Tanzania)

Phenomenon: Lake Natron in Tanzania is a highly alkaline lake characterized by high temperatures and salinity. In fact, the name of the lake comes from natron, a mineral referred to as sodium carbonate decahydrate. A peculiar feature of this lake is that perfectly preserved or “mummified” remains of birds and animals lay strewn along the shores of the lake.

Cause: The excess amount of soda and salt in the alkaline lake are responsible for the mummification of these creatures. In fact, natron was also used by ancient Egyptians to mummify corpses and preserve human bodies for as long as possible. The red color of the lake is due to crystalized soda and salt-loving algae that have made the lake their home. While it is not very clear why animals take a plunge in this deadly lake, the lake serves as a “safe” breeding location for flamingoes because the caustic environment of the lake detracts their predators.

Unique natural phenomenon explained using science: Mummified Lake

7. Light Pillars (Arctic region)

Phenomenon: The Arctic region is home to different types of light plays. In addition to polar lights, another optical phenomenon called light pillars is also seen here. Light pillars are enchanting bands or columns of light that appear to extend above a light source on the ground. However, there is no physical light source from which these pillars emanate and the fact that they seem so is an optical illusion!

Cause: This effect is caused by reflection of sunlight or moonlight from numerous, tiny ice crystals that are suspended in the atmosphere or clouds. The ice crystals are flat plates whose collective surfaces act as large mirror that reflect the light into an elongated light column. This effect is also observed in Northern Canada and Alaska.

Unique natural phenomenon explained: Light Pillars

8. Ice Bubbles (Abraham Lake, Canada)

Phenomenon: Abraham Lake is a man-made lake in Canada where temperatures fall to as low as -300 C during winters, making the lake freeze. This results in a spectacular sight of numerous “frozen bubbles” that has made the lake popular.

Cause: The frozen bubbles are actually bubbles of methane gas that are formed as a result of microbes decomposing organic material on the lake bed. As the bubbles rise up, they get frozen because of the colder temperatures at the lake’s surface, which results in this beautiful natural phenomenon of ice bubbles.

Science behind unique natural phenomenon: Ice Bubbles

9. Fairy Circles (Namib Desert, Namibia)

Phenomenon: Namib Desert, stretching for more than 2000 km, is thought to be the world’s oldest desert and contains some of the world’s driest regions. An interesting feature of the Namib Desert are “fairy circles”- circular patches of barren land (varying between 2-15m in diameter) surrounded by grass. The circles are not permanent and have a lifecycle of 30-60 years, after which they are invaded by grasses.

Cause: The circles have long been a puzzle for scientists, who have come up with 2 theories to explain the circles. The first theory is that the circles are created by sand termites that clear the area around their nests, making the sand porous and enabling them to store water in sand. The second theory is the “plant competition theory”, which suggests that plants organize themselves along the outer edges of the circles to maximize access to scarce resources. Water captured by the circular patches flows to the ring edges where the long roots of the plants extract the water.

Most amazing natural phenomenon: Fairy Circles

10. Glowing Waves (Maldives)

Phenomenon: Maldives is known for its beautiful beaches, lagoons and reefs. At nights, the beaches are home to a spectacular phenomenon when they are lit up with sparkling blue waves, which glow like jewels under the moonlight.

Cause: The biological light, known as bioluminescence, is generated by marine microbes called phytoplankton. A sub-group of phytoplankton, known as dinoflagellates, contain special enzymes that when mechanically or electrically stimulated, emit a blue-green light and make the waves glow like jewels. Bioluminescence is often used as defense mechanism by these microbes against predators by startling them or by attracting attention, which make the predators more vulnerable to attacks by higher predators.

Most amazing natural phenomenon around the world: Glowing Wave