World War 2 Wrecks of Solomon Islands

In the remote South Pacific, east of Papua New Guinea, and not far from Australia, lies a string of about nine hundred islands that make up the nation of Solomon Islands. Between 1941 and 1945, this swath of ocean witnessed some of the fiercest fighting between the United States and the Empire of Japan during the Second World War. At that time, the islands were under British rule, but were occupied by the Japanese and it became strategically important for the Allied forces to recapture them if the war in the Pacific was to be won.

The allies launched an offensive against the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy by swarming ashore the islands of Tulagi and Guadalcanal. The Battle of Guadalcanal became bloody as tremendous warfare waged on land, on sea and in the air. The Japanese suffered great losses: more 36,000 killed, missing or captured. Eventually, it wore the Japanese down and they withdrew completely in early 1943.

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Photo credit: Kelsey Schwenk/Flickr

Pozzo di S. Patrizio

Pozzo di S. Patrizio, or the St. Patrick's Well, is a historic well in Orvieto, Umbria, central Italy, built between 1527 and 1537 at the behest of Pope Clement VII who had taken refuge at Orvieto during the sack of Rome by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Fearing that the city’s water supply would be insufficient in the event of a siege, the Pope assigned the task to architect-engineer Antonio da Sangallo, who had worked extensively in Rome during the Renaissance.

Hailed as a masterpiece of hydraulic engineering, the cylindrical well plunges down more than 50 meters in a double helix design, carrying two one-way staircases one going up and another going down. This allows people and donkeys loaded with water vessels to move without obstruction. At the bottom is a bridge where people could walk on and scoop out water. Large windows, placed diametrically opposite to each other, light the staircases naturally. This design was unique at the time, because there are no other wells like it anywhere in Europe.

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Photo credit: orso/Panoramio

The Ghosts of St. George’s Church in Lekova

For nearly fifty years, St. George’s Church in the village of Lukova, in Czech Republic, lay abandoned. The last congregation held in this 14th century church was in 1968, when a funeral service was in progress and the ceiling and part of the roof collapsed sending everyone running outside. The terrified locals took it as a bad omen and never ventured inside. The church slowly crumbled away while sermons and services were held outside. The communists looted everything of value that was inside —paintings, statues, the church bell and the clock tower. The church organ was damaged.

Cut to 2014. A professor at the Department of Design and Fine Arts at the University of West Bohemia asked his third-year Bachelor students to a find a suitable but dilapidated church for an installation artwork. Each student was to find for themselves their own church. Some students found churches that had only the foundation or a few walls, but Jakub Hadrava, knew exactly where to find an abandoned but nearly intact church.

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Photo credit: Yahoo

The Birth Of An Ocean: The Afar Rift of Ethiopia

In the remote Afar depression in northern Ethiopia, the African Continent is slowly splitting apart and a new ocean is forming. Normally geological processes such as the formation of rivers, seas and mountains is a painfully slow process, but in the Afar Triangle near the Horn of Africa, this is happening at a staggering rate.

In 2005, an eruption at the Dabbahu volcano followed by a period of intense seismic activity started a crack on the earth’s crust that rapidly propagated south like a zipper opening. The fissure was 60 km long and 8 meters wide, while the ground between them sank by 2 meter. All this happened in a matter of days. Over the course of the next few months, hundreds of crevices were seen splitting in the desert floor and the ground slumped by as much as 100 meters. At the same time, scientists observed magma rising from deep below as it began to form what will eventually become a basalt ocean floor.

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A 500-meters long volcanic vent that opened on September 26, 2006. Photo credit: Julie Rowland, University of Auckland.

The Remarkable Story of St Kilda’s Residents

The remote archipelago of St Kilda, off the west coast of the Scottish mainland, is truly an isolated place. Located some 64 km west of the Outer Hebrides, it is the most remote part of the British Isles. The island is full of jagged granite boulders and towering cliffs that bear the full force of the wild North Atlantic weather. The wind is so strong here that trees refuse to grow.

In this hostile climate, a small community had clung to their most basic existence, surviving largely by eating sea birds and their eggs. This extraordinary group of men, women and children lived in a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, scaling sheer cliff faces to catch gannets, fulmars and puffins, and farming meager crops, right into the early decades of the 20th Century. After thousands of years of isolation, the entire population of the island evacuated to the mainland to escape the failing harvests, the lack of communication and the lack of medical care. The story of these islanders and their gradual loss of self-sufficiency have been the object of enduring fascination for the rest of Scotland and the wider world.

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The abandoned Village Bay, on the island of Hirta, St Kilda. Photo credit: CaptainOates/Flickr

The Strange Victorian Dinosaurs of Crystal Palace Park

Inside an enclosure at the Crystal Palace Park in London, is a collection of over thirty concrete sculptures of dinosaurs. Built more than one hundred sixty years ago, these sculptures were the first ever attempt anywhere in the world to model dinosaurs as full-scale, three-dimensional creatures. Although the sculptures are wildly inaccurate by modern standards, they are still an important part of history because they show how the Victorians viewed prehistoric life.

These concrete beasts were designed and built by sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse-Hawkins in collaboration with Professor Richard Owen, a celebrated biologist and paleontologist of the time, best remembered today for being the one who coined the word “dinosaur”, meaning “terrible lizard”. Hawkins and Richards were asked to build a total of thirty three models of dinosaurs, as well as other extinct animals, in 1852 as part of a new attraction at the recently relocated Crystal Palace Park in Sydenham in south London. The trouble was, Hawkins didn’t have enough fossil evidence to begin with. For instance, for the Iguanodon, the largest and the most impressive of the sculptures, Hawkins had no more than a handful of teeth and a few bones. So he did what anybody with a contract and a looming deadline would have done —he used his imagination.

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A Megalosaurus model at Crystal Palace Park. Photo credit: Peter Reed/Flickr

The Toxic White Beaches of Rosignano Solvay

The dazzling white sand of “Spiagge Bianche”, or “white beaches”, in the town of Rosignano Solvay, in southern Tuscany, has been luring tourists by the thousands for years. But this beautiful stretch of shoreline by the Tyrrhenian sea and its uncharacteristic Caribbean-look hides a dark secret that very few of the sunbathers and swimmers who flock to Spiagge Bianche every summer seem to be aware of. The stunningly white sand here is not natural. It’s chemical waste, and its source stands right next to the beach —an enormous complex of towering chimneys and cooling towers spewing smoke and steam into the air. This is the Solvay chemical plant.

Solvay is a Belgium company founded in 1864 by industrialist and politician Ernest Solvay. It came to Italy in 1912 and opened its first plant —and one of its largest production site— near the town of Rosignano Marittimo, located some 25 km from Livorno. Within a short time, with the Solvay factory driving the development, a new town was born with houses, streets, and places for recreation. This new town was named Rosignano Solvay.

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Photo credit: Simone Wreath/Flickr

A Blast From The Past: Episode 30

From the archives of Amusing Planet.

The Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca, on the border of Peru and Bolivia, is notable for a population of pre-Incan people called Uros who live on artificial islands made of floating reeds called totora. The purpose of the island settlements was originally defensive, and if a threat arose they could be moved. The largest island even retains a watchtower almost entirely constructed of reeds.

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The Witches' Weigh House in Oudewater

In medieval Netherlands, weigh houses were a common feature in many markets up and down the country. They were run by the local authorities, and traders were required to weigh their goods before they were sold. The authorities would then levy a tax on the goods transported through or sold within the city.

Many a times, people accused of witchcraft would be dragged to a weigh house to be weighed. It was believed that a witch weighed next to nothing. After all, how could they fly on a broomstick? The Heksenwaag (Witches' scale) in the town of Oudewater became famous for such witch trails.

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A witch trial at the Heksenwaag, in Oudewater. Photo credit: Memory of the Netherlands

This Rocky Wall Was Created By The New Zealand Earthquake

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that stuck the South Island of New Zealand on November 14, 2016, have changed the geography of the region, particularly around the epicenter. In the countryside around Waiau, about 30km east of Hanmer Springs, where the shaking was the highest, a section of the earth has lifted vertically forming a long rocky wall, fifteen foot tall.

These impressive pictures were captured by Dr. Kate Pedley, of University of Canterbury's Department of Geological Sciences, when she and her colleagues encountered this massive fracture in the landscape as they were surveying countryside for evidence of faulting.

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Photo credit: Dr Kate Pedley