Places The Earth Acts in Mysterious Ways
From man-eating voids to bouncy soil, let's explore places where the earth acts in some seriously strange ways.Places
There are plenty of mind-blowing natural phenomena in the world, and even the ground beneath our feet is subject to change. From man-eating voids to bouncy soil, let's explore some places where the earth acts in some seriously strange ways.
On March 11, 2011, a devastating natural disaster known as the Great Tōhoku Earthquake struck north-eastern Japan causing widespread damage and triggering a series of massive tsunamis which decimated coastal areas.
The earthquake is still considered one of the most powerful seismic strikes ever recorded, but the residents of Tokyo Bay in the southern Kantō region also experienced another bizarre phenomenon.
People at the Shoppers Plaza in the Urayasu suburb watched as sections of the courtyard began to rise up and heave as if some sleeping god had been awoken beneath the Earth. The pavement buckled and dark liquid began spewing from huge cracks as the slushy mud mixture covered the courtyard in minutes while manholes were pushed out of the ground, water pipes burst, and utility poles threatened to topple.
This bizarre occurrence is scientifically known as soil liquefaction which occurs when intense vibrations cause soil particles below the ground to lose contact with each other, transforming the once-solid ground into a liquified state.
As Tokyo Bay had been built on reclaimed land from the Pacific Sea since the 17th century, soil dredged from the bottom of the Bay was loosened and liquified easily during the seismic activity. As the surface shifted and sank, water and slush rose spreading the slurry for miles and wreaking havoc on nearby areas.
Workers on a construction site could hardly believe their eyes when they arrived at a job to find the soil beneath their feet behaving like an inflatable bounce house. Despite its conventionally dry and crumbly appearance, the ground continued to wobble like a water-filled balloon as the digger attempted to pierce below the surface.
The reason for this weird and wonderful happening was traced back to a previous homeowner who had filled in an old in-ground pool with clay without properly draining the remaining groundwater.
Despite becoming compacted and settling in solid stasis over time, the loose soil and clay mixture with an already-high moisture content was easily disturbed by the arrival of the heavy machinery which displaced the earth beneath its immense weight.
Dislodging this improper consolidation of clay and soil caused the particles to repel each other and become filled with water through a process of over-saturation.
The result is similar to the effect achieved when you mix sand and seawater in a bucket at the beach as the fine silt absorbs the moisture and takes on a momentary liquified state when subjected to various stresses like shaking. To regain solid equilibrium, more dry soil should be added to re-compact the earth.
In October 2018, one stunned Twitter user shared an eerie video of a section of forest in Quebec that seemed to be breathing like a sleeping giant. The footage baffled people all over the world as it was shared by millions online calling for a logical explanation.
Eventually, The Weather Network put everyone’s mind at ease by announcing that the ground coming to life in such a way isn’t as impossible as it seems. Tree surgeon Mark Van Der Wouw explained that the illusion of inhaling and exhaling has less to do with nature's consumption of oxygen through photosynthesis and more to do with the impressive force of mother nature herself.
When all the right elements align, this meteorological phenomenon can occur during an intense windstorm as the strong gusts attempt to topple the trees. In an especially marshy area or following a period of heavy rain, the soil surrounding the trees’ interwoven network of roots can become oversaturated by moisture and easy to disturb.
This loosened soil means that as the trees sway and lean in the wind, their great might is enough to pull at their roots, causing the mossy forest floor to look as if it is respiring.
Inskip Point near the coastal town of Rainbow Beach in Queensland Australia is a popular tourist spot that hit the headlines in 2018 after a huge portion of the sandy shoreline was suddenly swallowed whole.
Just a day earlier, the beach had been populated by holiday goers and walkers making the most of the weather, but in the early hours of Monday 24th September, a mysterious hole opened up as the lapping tide began consuming the earth at an alarming rate.
Videos of the bizarre event show whole sections of sand crumbling into the waves below as people watch on in amazement, and by the time the hole had reached the treeline it was estimated to be around 650-1000 feet wide.
Experts called the phenomenon a ‘nearshore landslip’ which seemed to happen suddenly after an unknown period of erosion below ground level reached breaking point. A similar incident was recorded in the same area in 2015 when a massive hole swallowed tents, a car, and even a caravan off the coast of Rainbow Beach.
Stirring tides weakened the lower levels of the ground until the gradual erosion was enough to trigger a devastating knock-on effect allowing the tide to eat away at the banks. As visitors are now advised to stay well away, the case of the disappearing beach proves that you should never underestimate the true power of nature.
A nearshore landslip is scary enough, but nothing compares to the horror of a giant sinkhole as the ground suddenly gives way, taking down any nearby cars, people, and even entire buildings. Sinkholes can appear just about anywhere and can be thousands of feet wide, and the world has been plagued with these nightmarish natural disasters over recent years.
Areas of land classed as karst terrain, which are made up of soluble bedrock like limestone or gypsum, are susceptible to sinkholes as water erosion hollows out the earth leaving only a dangerous collapsible layer of earth at the surface. A terrifying ‘cover-collapse’ sinkhole occurs when the underground hole expands to a size bigger than the sediment covering it, causing the ground to suddenly drop into the void below.
In 2010 a devastating 65ft wide 100ft deep sinkhole opened up in Guatemala City, swallowing a three-storey factory and killing 15 people.
Although excess groundwater from tropical storm Agatha and leakage from a local sewerage pipe were blamed for this particular disaster, research also shows that the world is experiencing more sinkholes due to human activity as large construction sites cause rainwater to gather on uneven ground.
The largest sinkhole currently known to man is known as the Xiaozhia Tiankeng or "heavenly pit" in China, which is reportedly over 2000ft wide and almost 2200ft deep; that’s a long way down.
In the arid grasslands of the Namib desert is 2,500km worth of land covered with millions of mysterious unexplained disks of barren soil known as "fairy circles". Each circular patch completely devoid of plant life can measure between 6-20 feet and when viewed from above looks like giant moths have eaten the ground.
No one knew for certain why these strange formations exist, but several theories were proposed during fierce debates between experts hoping to explain the weird phenomenon. Some believed the circles were a result of termite colonies as the insects make the earth porous in order to establish a permanent reservoir of rainwater some 50cm below the ground.
However, this doesn’t explain the surprising honeycomb-like regularity of the circles. Another theory suggested that the fairy circles are a result of a turf war between native plants which assist their neighbors by creating shade and maintaining water on the surface but hinder those further away by growing long roots to extract water from the soil.
Surprising new research from Princeton University has discovered that these miniature crop circles are actually a result of both proposed theories simultaneously at work. While termite nesting is responsible for the large circles, smaller, 20cm-wide formations in the vegetation are a result of competition for water.
It’s easy to forget just how much the earth beneath our feet has changed in the 2 million years since humankind first evolved and it’s increasingly unlikely that the world we now know will remain the same. In 2005, a massive 35-mile seismic crack formed in Ethiopia over the space of a few days, tearing through the landscape and leaving scientists dumbfounded.
No earthquake was recorded to explain the huge fissure, but its sudden appearance was linked to an earlier eruption of the nearby Dabbahu volcano. Although seafloor ridges are created by an intrusion of magma into a rift in a similar way, researchers were not aware that volcanic boundaries (such as the African and Arabian plates meeting in Ethiopia) could suddenly crack in such a way.
The 20ft wide fissure is now believed to be an early indication of an entirely new ocean that will eventually swallow the red sea within the next million years. In October 2011 another huge crack extending some 360 feet and 5 feet deep appeared near Birch Creek on Michigan’s anti-seismic upper peninsula after residents reported hearing a loud boom.
The gaping ‘Menominee’ zigzag resulted in a strange upheaval of forestland as it separated trees from their roots after a bedrock of limestone violently heaved upward to displace the overlying clay layer. With climate change on the rise, it’s likely geological anomalies like these could become increasingly common.
Exploding Methane Craters
On the morning of June 28th, 2017, reindeer hunters near the far-north village of Seyakha in Siberia reported hearing a loud boom followed by a torrent of fire and smoke. Scientists investigating discovered a huge crater freshly blown into the riverbank, unlike anything they’d seen before, which was followed by a second of its kind in the Tyumen region in July.
As the Arctic warms at alarming new rates, the thaw of permafrost each spring reaches deeper than ever before, allowing whatever is locked below to release flammable gases. A new study found that around 100 craters of this kind were formed on the Arctic sea floor around 11,600 years ago as the ice sheet retreated, destabilizing mounds of frozen methane trapped beneath.
The mysterious cause of these exploding craters is likely a result of permafrost melting, which causes any organic matter like dead plants or animals preserved within the sediment to suddenly decompose, releasing enough methane gas to blast through the earth.
Scientists investigating these oozing methane holes in the Siberian Tundra have suggested that they might not be such isolated examples as the globe continues to warm. Hopefully, the idea that the Earth could suddenly start exploding around us should be enough to change our damaging environmental habits.
Everyone has an image of some intrepid explorer becoming stuck in deadly quicksand while trekking through the desert, but this bizarre natural phenomenon is far more versatile than you might think. Quicksand can appear anywhere in the world where the ground can possess excess water, which is most likely near a body of water or in marshy swampland.
When sand, clay, or silt becomes over-saturated with water and is agitated by movement, the level of friction between two neighboring sand particles is reduced, forming a liquified soil that can no longer support any weight.
The surface may appear solid or even bouncy for some time, but enough kinetic stress will eventually cause the ground to be displaced in all directions under pressure, swallowing the weight-bearing object.
As the human body is less dense than quicksand it’s impossible to drown (unless you happen to land in it face-first) but it’s important to remain calm to stay afloat to avoid being sucked further in. It might look hella fun to play with, but this natural phenomenon is probably best enjoyed from afar.
Most people have a lawn, but it’s highly unlikely you’ve ever experienced this next phenomenon in your backyard. The incredibly satisfying grassy bubbles in the video below are officially known as "lawn blisters", which occur when a pocket of trapped water forms below the grass surface, usually between plastic lawn sheeting and the turf itself.
This is generally a result of accumulated heavy rainfall or a burst underground pipe, although in polar regions like Siberia (where 15 lawn blisters were recently reported on the remote Belyy island), melting permafrost and methane release can have a similar effect.
Although some domestic lawn blisters have been recorded, most occur on golf courses, and Greywolf course in Canada even reported a lawn blister 18 inches high at its peak which was caused by a broken pipe in the fairway.
Where possible, these uber-satisfying underground bubbles should be safely drained from an easily repairable point to prevent the ground itself from becoming sodden. But if you don’t live in an area with extended adverse weather conditions, it’s unlikely you’ll ever see one for yourself.
I hope you were amazed at these places the earth acts in mysterious ways. Thanks for reading!