Magnitogorsk: Russia’s Steel Heart

At the extreme southern extent of the Ural Mountains in Russia, about 140 km west of the border with Kazakhstan, there are some hills that are composed largely of iron ore. So rich is their iron content that magnetic compasses cannot function near it and birds avoid flying over it. The Russians call the mountain “Magnitnaya” or the Magnetic Mountain. It is at the foot of the Magnitnaya Mountain, on the eastern slope of the Ural mountain, lies Magnitogorsk, the second largest city in Russia that is not the administrative center of any federal subject or district. It is home to “Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works”, the largest steel plant in the country and one of the largest in the world.

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Photo credit: Philipp Hilgenberg/Flickr

The Way Sperm Whales Sleep

Swiss wildlife photographer Franco Banfi and a team of scuba divers were following a pod of sperm whales off the coast of Dominica Island in the Caribbean Sea, when suddenly the large creatures became motionless and fell into vertical slumber. This phenomenon was first discovered only in 2008, when a team of biologists from the UK and Japan inadvertently drifted into a group of sperm whales floating just below the surface, completely oblivious to their surrounding. It was only when one of boats accidentally bumped into one of the whales, did the animal woke up and the entire pod scurried off.

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The Topiary Trees of San Francisco

San Francisco residents have a particularly strong liking for topiary trees, as apparent from these photographs taken by three different photographers. One is Marc Alcock, a British photographer, who after moving to San Francisco in 2010, became interested in photographing the visual differences between the two places. One of the things that struck him about San Francisco, Los Angeles and the surrounding suburbs were the houses and the unique relationship they have with plants and nature.

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A house in San Francisco covered with meticulously pruned trees. Photo credit: Kelsey McClellan

The Giddy House, Port Royal, Jamaica

On the grounds of Fort Charles in the small town of Port Royal, Jamaica, stands a lopsided building called “the Giddy House”. Half buried in sand and tilting at nearly 45 degrees, the Giddy House is one of the few remaining relics of the 1907 Kingston earthquake which shook the capital of the island of Jamaica, and destroyed the former “sin city” of Port Royal.

Port Royal, situated at the mouth of the Kingston Harbour, in southeastern Jamaica, was once the pirate capital of the Caribbean, where English and Dutch-sponsored privateers and pirates alike would congregate to gamble, whore and drink, lending Port Royal the title of "the wickedest city on earth".

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Photo credit: Stéphane DAMOUR/Flickr

The 'Great Stink' of London

In the summer of 1858, Londoners found themselves in the middle of a big stinking problem. For centuries, the city was abusing River Thames using it as dumping ground for human excrement and industrial waste resulting in a river that was little more than an open sewer devoid of any fish or other wildlife. The stench rising from the river had been a mounting problem for some years priors to the “Great Stink” of 1858. That year, the weather was unusually hot. In the scorching heat, the sewage floating in the Thames started to ferment and gave off a stench so hideous that at the Parliament, curtains were soaked in chloride of lime in a vain attempt to defeat the fetid smell. When that didn’t work, the lawmakers even considered relocating the entire government from the Westminster area to somewhere west away from the nauseous river. Eventually they decided that rebuilding London’s sewer system was the only possible solution. Within a record eighteen days, a bill was created, passed, and signed into law.

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The ornate interior of Crossness Pumping Station in London. Photo credit: Jay Peg/Flickr

Lake Kavicsos, Hungary

Kavicsos Lake, or “pebble lake” in Hungarian, is a scenic lake about 2 km across located south of Budapest, just a 30-minute ride away from the city center. The lake sits at the site of a former pebble quarry, and hence its name.

About twenty years ago, the quarry closed and the excavated pits filled with rainwater creating the lake. Since then nature has reclaimed the area and rich wildlife has taken root in and around the lake. In 1996, the lake was sold to a private organization but there are still some unspecified legal battles among the parties involved.

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One of the numerous islands in Lake Kavicsos. Photo credit: Alexander H. Szabo / Aerial National Police

Canal du Midi, France

The Strait of Gibraltar between Europe and Africa isn’t the only waterway that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. A thousand kilometer north lies another connecting route. This route connects the French city of Bordeaux, near the Atlantic ocean, to the Mediterranean port of Sète through a series of canals collectively called Canal des Deux Mers, or the “canal of the two seas.” Lying entirely in Southern France this man-made canal is one of the most remarkable feats of civil engineering carried out in the 17th century.

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Photo credit: Gemma Llorensí Torrent/Flickr

The Model Villages of Britain

Starting from the late 18th century, many English landowners and industrialists began building villages to provide housing for their workers and their families close to their workplace. Elsewhere, such type of settlements are known as “company towns”. In Britain they are called “model villages”.

While company towns are usually associated with the mining industry, in Britain model villages are centered around all sorts of industries ranging from soap to chocolate. When they began popping up all over Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries, they sharply contrasted the overcrowded living conditions of British working-class districts of the time. Model villages had higher standards of living with high quality housing, integrated community amenities, open spaces and other attractive physical environments that British workers had seldom access to. They became models—examples for others to follow.

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Houses in Port Sunlight, a British model village. Photo credit: Jorge Franganillo/Flickr

The Mystery of The Longyou Caves

In 1992, a strangely curious man named Wu Anai, near the Chinese village of Shiyan Beicun in Longyou County, based on a hunch, began to pump water out of a pond in his village. Anai believed the pond was not natural, nor was it infinitely deep as the local lore went, and he decided to prove it. He convinced some of his villagers and together they bought a water pump and began to siphon water out of the pond. After 17 days of pumping, the water level fell enough to reveal the flooded entrance to an ancient, man-made cave, confirming Anai’s suspicion.

This cave, now called the Longyou Caves, represent one of the largest underground excavation made during ancient times. A total of 24 hand-dug caves were eventually discovered, each with an average floor area of a thousand square meters and ceilings that reaches heights of up to 30 meters. The total area covered by all the caves exceeds 30,000 square meters.

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Photo credit: Tripadvisor

The Humongous Fungus

Beneath the soil in the Malheur National Forest in eastern Oregon, the United States, lurks a very large fungus that has been slowly weaving its way through the roots of trees for centuries to become the single largest living organism known to humans.

The fungus, Armillaria solidipes, remains mostly underground, hidden from sight, but every autumn just after the rains it sends up clusters of small yellow-brown mushrooms from the bases of trees it has infected. These mushrooms, commonly called “honey mushrooms”, are the most visible part of the fungus seen by the casual observer. The bulk of the fungus lies underneath the forest floor—a vast network of black filament-like structures called rhizomorphs, that creep through the soil, feeling out new root systems to colonize. The underground growth can stretch up to several square kilometers. The specimen in Malheur National Forest covers 2,200 acres (8.9 square kilometer), and has been named the “Humongous Fungus”. Another specimen, also named the “Humongous Fungus”, resides in a forest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. That one is spread over 37 acres.

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The honey mushroom is the above-ground part of a vast subterranean fungus. Photo credit: Dan Molter/Wikimedia