30 Amazing Natural Phenomena That Have to Be Seen to Be Believed
Some incredible natural phenomena occur in the most remote places on Earth. From Siberia to Antarctica, Death Valley to the Atacama, and Lake Maracaibo to Turkmenistan, natural phenomena can happen anywhere. Some can even be found right in your backyard.
Whether they inspire awe or terror, these 30 amazing natural phenomena must be seen to be believed.
It’s almost as if Chile’s tourism board said: “What about icicles, but bigger, and upside down?” Looking like a frozen stalagmite, penitentes are jagged formations of snow that have partially evaporated at high altitudes, leaving amazing structures that point towards the sun.
Here’s a quick science lesson: When lightning strikes, a massive amount of electricity is discharged, heating the surrounding air to around 54,000°F. This heat causes the air to expand quickly, creating a shock wave that produces the sonic boom we know as thunder. That’s the science behind your typical thunderstorm.
Though some cicadas emerge annually, periodical cicadas live their fascinating lives underground, tunneling and feeding on root moisture only to emerge in 13-year and 17-year cycles. These species stretch across vast portions of the United States, from the Midwest to the Eastern Seaboard.
As if Antarctica wasn’t foreboding enough already; you’ve endured a lengthy boat trip and/or a harrowing plane ride. You get there and you can’t flush the toilet and definitely can’t find a decent bagel. Then you look over and the glacier is bleeding. Don’t fret, it’s just iron oxide!
If you’re planning a trip to Death Valley, don’t go in July. Located in California's Mojave Desert, it broke its own record in July 2018 for the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. But if you insist on subjecting yourself to such scorching desolation, swing by Racetrack Playa to see the mysterious sailing stones.
Pink Hypersaline Lakes
In the Great Rift Valley, Tanzania’s Lake Natron are sometimes bright pink due to hypersalinity. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a refreshing dip in that Bubble Yum water? No. It wouldn’t. Because it can mummify you thanks to sodium carbonate deposits.
Though eucalyptus trees are typically found in the southern hemisphere, the rainbow eucalyptus is indigenous to the Philippines and other areas. It thrives in rainy tropical forests and grows up to 250 feet tall. They also have an aromatic oil that can be used as an insecticide.
Similar to their daytime equivalents, lunar rainbows are produced when light is reflected or refracted off water in the air. The difference is that the light source of a moonbow is the moon, while the sun provides light for a rainbow.
Tidal bores occur when a river empties into a larger body of water. The sudden deepening of the channel causes the tide to surge up against and over the river. This phenomenon can be observed around the world in places from China to Nova Scotia. But the king of tidal bores has long been in Brazil, where the Amazon River empties into the Atlantic Ocean, producing the world’s longest wave – gnarly.
Though the first freeze of the fall season signals the coming of deep winter. It also brings a beautiful gift in the form of frost flowers. They’re not actually flowers, so you can’t purchase a bouquet of them for your significant other, but at least you can find them if you know where to look.
Similar to frost flowers, snow donuts form under exactly the right confluence of cold-weather conditions. Also known as snow rollers, this unusual phenomenon has been observed all over the U.S., from Idaho and Oregon to the New England States.
Eternal Flame Falls
“Am I only dreaming, or is this burning an eternal flame?” Sang The Bangles in their song, Eternal Flame. Lucky visitors to Chestnut Ridge Park are not dreaming. The fire in the image, tucked underneath a waterfall is actually produced by a natural gas rupture in the Shale Creek Preserve. Hence, the waft of rotten eggs.
Underwater Crop Circles
Could these intricate crop circles in the sandy bottom of the ocean actually be evidence of ancient aliens living deep underwater far from the prying eyes of humans? No. These are, in fact, caused by male pufferfish as part of an incredible mating ritual. First observed by Japanese divers in 1995, it turned out to be an entirely new species of pufferfish.
Known as Klikuk to First Nations peoples in Canada and considered sacred ground, the Spotted Lake sits north of Osoyoos in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. It looks like a run-of-the-mill lake for most of the year. But during summer, the water evaporates to reveal an arresting visual of polka dots in various hues of blue, yellow and green.
Also known as a fire devil, and caused by a process similar to the one that creates dust devils, these unusual formations resemble a small tornado of flames. Often caused by brush fires, they require a unique combination of extreme heat and winds that whip up ash and flames into a frightening tangle.
Named after the Hawaiian volcano goddess, (not the Brazilian soccer legend) Pele’s hair is a very thin form of basaltic lava. It’s essentially natural fiberglass, so don’t roll around in it, as it can cause respiratory distress and severe eye injury.
Salar de Uyuni
Eat your heart out, Bonneville Salt Flats. While you’ve been busy letting racers attempt to break the land speed record, the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is 100 times larger and the ultimate lure for salty Instagrammers. Measuring more than 4,050 square miles, the vista consists of several prehistoric lakes and features countless pentagons of salt peeking up through the earth.
Humans are typically advised to avoid lightning, but if you want to buck that trend, look no further than the Catatumbo River in Venezuela where it empties into Lake Maracaibo. This location witnesses more lightning strikes than any other place on Earth. It sees a stunning 1.2 million lightning strikes per year.
Darvaza Gas Crater
If for some reason you want to visit a place dubbed the “Door to Hell,” and you also want to visit Turkmenistan, then you can stop by the imposing 230-foot-wide Darvaza gas crater. Billy Joel famously crooned that We Didn't Start the Fire, but in this case, we know who did start the fire.
Christmas Island Crab Swarms
No, Christmas Island is not where Santa Claus spends 11 months of the year. Christmas Island is an external territory of Australia located in the Indian Ocean. Once a valuable source of delicious phosphate. It’s also got crabs – lots of them, about 50 million or so.
Rain can be an inconvenience if you fail to check the weather forecast and get caught in a downpour without an umbrella. But sometimes it rains spiders. Live Science consulted retired UC-Riverside arachnologist Rick Vetter, who relayed some downright terrifying information about the phenomenon of “ballooning”, saying: "Ballooning is a not-uncommon behavior of many spiders. They climb some high area and stick their butts up in the air and release silk.”
Known to some as the "footprints of the gods," so-called “fairy circles” are bald spots in vegetation across some areas of Namibia and South Africa. These marks have baffled locals and scientists for generations. As Atlas Obscura describes it, “Rings are forming in the ground. Perfectly round, almost too-good-to-be-true rings, in fact.”
Starlings are a type of bird that weigh about the same as a Quarter Pounder. They are also known to put on a spectacular show of synchronized flight. They can also (sort of) block out the sun. A fairly common sight at certain times of the year in parts of Denmark and the United Kingdom, starling swarms are known as murmurations.
These might look like giant rolls of pennies clumped together, but they’re actually formed by 40,000 interlocking hexagonal basalt columns in Northern Ireland. They were produced 60 million years ago by cooling lava. Before Game of Thrones dominated Northern Irish tourism promotions, the Giant’s Causeway stood as the main attraction for most visitors.
The Atacama Desert in Chile is the driest place on Earth. How dry is it, you ask? Well, it’s so dry that it gets less than one millimeter of rainfall each year. Research shows that some of the Atacama's riverbeds have been dry for 120,000 years, and researchers speculate that some pockets of the South American desert have never seen water at all.
Exploding Methane Craters
When you think of Siberia, you probably imagine a desolate landscape devoid of amazing natural phenomena. However, if you want to investigate melting permafrost and mysterious craters likely caused by exploding methane, then Siberia is the place to be!
Crystal Desert Rose
Although rock legend Sting might “dream of gardens in the desert sand,” this is not what he meant. Crystal “roses” are made from gypsum or barite. According to Geology In, they “crystalize in a unique rosette growth pattern… The 'petals' are crystals flattened on the c crystallographic axis, fanning open in radiating flattened crystal clusters.”
Waterspouts are very similar to tornadoes over water. There are two types: those caused by severe storms over water, similar to land-based tornadoes, and the much scarier and harder-to-predict fair-weather waterspouts, which are not caused by a supercell system and form on calm ocean with relatively calm winds.
Frozen Methane Bubbles
You might not expect it, but a farting lake in Alberta, Canada, delivers one of the more spectacular sights in nature. At the right time of year, organic matter, such as dead plants, sink to the bottom of Abraham Lake and decompose, producing methane bubbles that rise and freeze near the surface for a stunning visual effect.