Saturday, November 1, 2014

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks is a unique group of rock formations located in the foothills of the Jemez Mountains, north-central New Mexico, U.S., between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, about 40 miles southwest of the latter. The area features large, tent-shaped rocks hugging the steep cliffs of Peralta Canyon, the product of powerful forces of vulcanism and erosion, which have built up and then torn down this landscape.

The cone-shaped tent rock formed out of pumice, ash, and tuff deposits over 1,000 feet thick that escapes from volcanic eruptions from Jemez volcanic field that occurred 6 to 7 million years ago. Over this, “pyroclastic flow” composed of rock fragments and searing hot gases blasted down slopes in an incandescent avalanche. Over time, wind and water cut into these deposits, creating canyons and arroyos, scooping holes in the rock, and contouring the ends of small, inward ravines into smooth semi-circles. As a result, the tent rocks cones have cores composed of soft pumice and tuff beneath harder caprocks. Some tents have lost their hard, resistant caprocks and are disintegrating. While fairly uniform in shape, the tent rock formations vary in height from a few feet up to 90 feet.

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Friday, October 31, 2014

Azerbaijan: The Land of Fire

Azerbaijan, located within the South Caspian Sea basin, is among the world's oldest oil producers. The petroleum industry in Azerbaijan produces about 800,000 barrels of oil per day and 1 billion cubic meters of gas per year. There is so much oil and natural gas reserve under the Absheron Peninsula that the ground practically leaks all over.

Throughout Azerbaijan, numerous fires have been burning since antiquity and these were reported on by historical writers such as Marco Polo in the 13th century, and later by the famed writer Alexandre Dumas, who described a Zoroastrian fire temples built around a natural fire. This phenomenon of spontaneous fire caused by gas seepage have given Azerbaijan the moniker "Land of Fire." It also created a cult of fire worshippers – the Zoroastrians, which first appeared in this region over 2,000 years ago before the Islamic rule came into effect. Numerous references to fire can also be found in Azerbaijan’s folklore and culture.

There are at least three places where one can observe Azerbaijan’s famous fires.

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Yanar Dag, the burning mountain, in Azerbaijan. Photo credit

The Sarcophagi of Karajia

About 60 km northeast of the city of Chachapoyas, in Luya Province, in Peru, lies the archaeological site of Karajia, where the funeral tombs of the “ancient wise men” are located. Perched high on a ledge by the side of a limestone cliff, the six sarcophagi (coffins carved in stone and displayed above ground) resembling six limbless torsos with large heads and enormous jaw lines, stand proud with their chin up and facing the abyss. Some of the headpieces are embellished with horns, imitating deer antlers, while others have encrusted human skulls, which are presumed to be trophy heads. Each sarcophagus is 2.5 meters tall.

The sarcophagi were built by the Chachapoya people to house the remains of important individuals in their culture, about 600 years ago. Originally, there were eight sarcophagi but two were destroyed by earthquakes and other natural elements.  Their inaccessible location high above a river gorge has thankfully preserved them from destruction by looters.

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Blue Grotto of Capri, Italy

The Blue Grotto is a sea cave located on the coast of the island of Capri, in southern Italy, famous for its otherworldly blue glowing waters. The grotto's fluorescent glow comes from a large underwater cave opening beneath the entrance used by visiting boats that illuminates the grotto's water from below, like neon lights in a pool. Known since the days of the ancient Romans, the Blue Grotto’s intense and brilliant blue has been fascinating visitors ever since.

The Blue Grotto is 60 meters long and 25 meters wide. The clear blue waters go down 150 meters until it reaches the sandy bottom. Light into the cave comes from two sources: one is a small hole in the cave wall, precisely at the waterline, that is a meter and half in diameter, and used as the entranceway. The second source of light is a larger submerged hole lying directly below the entranceway, which is responsible for most of the lighting.

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Torghatten - The Mountain With A Hole Through It

Torghatten is a mountain on the island of Torget in Brønnøy municipality, in Norway, famous for its characteristic hole that goes right through the mountain. This hole, which is 160 metres long, 35 metres high and 20 metres wide, was created during the Ice Age as ice and water gradually eroded away the loose rock, while the harder rock around the top of the mountain remained. The hole is a massive tourist attraction, and its possible to walk up to the tunnel on a well-prepared path, and through it on a natural path. The view from the top is said to be incredible, and a real opportunity to see the Helgeland coast and its hundreds of tiny islands.

According to legend, Torghatten was formed when Hestmannen, the troll, was chasing the beautiful girl Lekamøya. As the troll realized he would not get the girl, he released an arrow to kill her, but the King of Sømna threw his hat into the arrow's path to save her. The hat turned into the mountain with a hole in the middle.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Flower Laden Patios Festival of Cordoba

Every spring, in the beginning of May, the city of Cordoba, in southern Spain, bursts into bloom with special festivities as the city launches into its spring celebrations. It starts off with a parade known as the “Battle of the Flowers”, followed by the much anticipated Patio Contests called “Los Patios de Córdoba” or “Fiesta of the patios”. During the next two weeks, the people of Cordoba throw open the doors to their private patios as a fierce competition for the most beautiful patio ensues. Patio owners decorate their ornate iron grills and balconies with plants and flowers, mainly jasmine, geraniums and carnations. Carpets of flowers, handmade Islamic mosaics, and striking water features adorn the courtyards. Normally the patios are privately owned and unavailable for public viewing, but during the festival the beautifully decorated patios are open for all to see. The best conserved and most beautiful patio is voted on and the winner is recognized not only with a monetary prize but also with the prestige and admiration of having the best patio in the city.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Travertine Chimneys of Lake Abbe

Lake Abbe is a salt lake, the largest and last of a chain of six connected lakes on the Ethiopia-Djibouti border. The lake lies on a basin called the Afar Depression at a point where the Arabian, Nubian, and Somalian plates are pulling away from each other. The strain caused by the splitting Nubian and Somalian plates has created a strange landscape around Lake Abbe. As the two plates drift apart, the crust above them thins until it cracks. Magma pushes to the surface through the thin spots and warm underwater springs. As the boiling water bubble up to the surface, they deposit the dissolved calcium carbonates creating towering chimneys, the same way water trickling down the roof of limestone caves create stalactites and stalagmites. Some of these chimneys reach heights of 50 meters, and puffs of steam vent from the top. The otherworldly landscape inspired Charlton Heston to shoot his classic 1968 film, "Planet of the Apes", on the shores of Lake Abbe.

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Photo credit: George Steinmetz

Friday, October 24, 2014

Sculpture By The Sea: An Outdoor Exhibition at Bondi Beach

Sculpture by the Sea is an annual outdoor sculpture exhibition, the largest of its kind in Australia, that takes place at the beach in Sydney and Perth. Initiated in 1996, the exhibition, currently at its 18th year, is spread over two kilometers from Bondi Beach to Tamarama Beach featuring over 100 sculptures by artists from 16 countries. Some of this year's highlights include Geoffrey Drake-Brockman's Counter, an interactive arch which counts viewers as they walk through it, and Andrew Hankin's giant frying pan on Tamarama beach named “We're fryin' out here.”

The 2014 Sculpture by the Sea exhibition celebrates the 1000th artist to have featured in the event.  The exhibition will run from October 23 to November 9.

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'We're fryin' out here' by Andrew Hankin, on Tamarama Beach. Photo credit: Cameron Spencer

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Moss Balls of Lake Myvatn and Lake Akan

Moss Balls or marimo (Japanese for "ball seaweed"), also known by various names such as Cladophora ball and Lake ball, is a species of filamentous green algae named Aegagropila linnaei that grow into large green balls with a velvety appearance. These balls grow to sizes of 12 to 30 cm across, depending on where you find them. Marimos are rare and is known to occur only in Iceland, Scotland and Japan, primarily Lake Akan in Japan and Lake Mývatn in Iceland. Recently, moss balls appeared in a large numbers on Dee Why Beach, in Sydney, the first such spotting of this algae in the southern hemisphere.

Marimo doesn’t grow around a core, such as a pebble. Instead, the algal filaments grow in all directions from the centre of the ball, continuously branching and thereby laying the foundation for the spherical form. Surprisingly, the ball is green all through, although light only reaches very short distance into the ball. The chlorophyll inside the ball remains dormant in the dark, but becomes active when exposed to light if the ball breaks apart. Moss balls are found submerged in the lake’s bed where the gentle wave action frequently turns them over maintaining its spherical shape, at the same time ensuring that they can photosynthesize no matter which side is turned upwards.

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Marimo in a tank in Hokkaido, Japan. Photo credit

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pantanal, The World’s Largest Freshwater Wetland

In the center of the South American continent, south of the Amazon basin and east of the Andes, lies an immense landlocked river delta called Pantanal. It lies mostly within Western Brazil but extends into portions of Bolivia and Paraguay, covering an estimated 140,000 to 195,000 square kilometres. Between November and March annual floods, fed by tropical rains, inundate this region by up to several meters transforming Pantanal into the world’s largest freshwater wetland ecosystem, half the size of France. With a variety of ecological sub-regions, nursing hundreds of species of aquatic life, birds and other animals. Pantanal is one of Brazil's major tourist draws.

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