10 Rare and Strange Occurrences Around the World
By Adrian Chirila, Toptenz, 20 August 2017.
By Adrian Chirila, Toptenz, 20 August 2017.
For the many achievements made by our men and women of science in understanding the world and everything in it, there are still a lot of things we don’t know, or we’re not completely sure about. Other things, while more logical for our level of understanding, are so rare that, when they do happen, they seem out of this world. So, with this in mind, let’s look at 10 such cases of rare or strange anomalies around the world.
10. Poisonous Spiders Invade Indian Village
Back in 2012, during an annual festival in Sadiya in northeastern India, a swarm of spiders descended upon the town out of nowhere, creating a panic and biting people at random. The spiders even ended up killing two in the process - one of those victims being a schoolboy. Scientists from Dibrugarh University and Gauhati University later came on the scene, but were unable to identify the arachnid attackers. The problem is that there are no known species of spider in the area that would do such a thing, let alone on such a scale. The spiders were were reported by witnesses to look similar to tarantulas.
One professor of zoology from Cotton College in the city of Guwahati believes that the spiders may have been the Black Wishbone or Aname atra, a species native to South Australia. Unfortunately, however, the two people that died because of the attack were cremated before an autopsy was performed on either of their bodies. If this was the case and the spiders were native to Australia, it is important to note that their venom isn’t necessarily deadly, but can kill if people develop allergic reactions to it and it is not treated immediately. Whatever the case may be, venomous spiders are not native to the region, and the sudden infestation can be a serious cause for concern. While such swarms are rare, they can nevertheless happen if, for some reason, the spider population suddenly surges, or there are some floods that force them to reach higher ground.
9. The 1962 Tanganyika Laughing Epidemic
This might seem innocent enough, but the epidemic was no laughing matter. Well, it was, but not in the fun way. Anyway, back in 1962, when Tanzania was known as Tanganyika, a girl’s school was hit by a laughing epidemic, and the whole thing that lasted for more than a year. At first, there was nothing out of the ordinary, but then a girl suddenly started laughing out of the blue. Soon enough others joined in and the whole thing began spreading like wildfire. Soon enough, the laughter epidemic spread to their families, as well as the neighboring communities. All in all, more than 1,000 people were affected and 14 schools were closed down throughout this time.
The cause for the strange phenomenon remained unknown. Then, Christian Hempelmann of Texas A&M University looked into the matter and concluded that the laughing epidemic was a severe case of mass sociogenic illness. The phenomenon often times presents itself in ongoing periods of stressful situations in which people feel powerless to act. In this case, Hempelmann theorizes that because the girl that started it all was exposed to an unfamiliar setting and previously unknown expectations of the British-run school, coupled with the uncertainties of the country’s recently acquired independence and high levels of poverty, it lead to her uncontrollable reactions. She was only the catalyst that fueled the mass hysterics that followed.
This sort of sociogenic illness is fairly common around the world and it’s not just limited to laughter. While young girls are more susceptible to it, people of both gender and all ages can get affected. When people are experiencing the same levels of ongoing stress, they tend to mimic each other’s uncontrollable reactions, of which laughter is just one. Sociogenic illness can present itself in different forms, such as respiratory distress, various pains, vomiting, fainting, or even rashes. There are no obvious external factors that cause them and the whole thing is psychological.
8. The Disappearance of an Entire Canadian River in 2016
While on a fieldwork expedition to the Slims River basin in early 2017, in Canada’s remote Yukon Territories to the Northwest, a team of geologists from the University of Washington Tacoma came upon an incredible discovery. When they got there, they discovered that the 1,575-foot wide river had simply disappeared. The once mighty river that flowed through the region had “barely any flow whatsoever. It was essentially a long, skinny lake.” Not knowing what to make of it, they took the helicopter upriver in an effort to find the source of the problem. For the past several centuries, at least, the Slims River was fed by the Kaskawulsh Glacier. But because of the increasing global temperatures, the glacier was shrinking and the water was able to punch a hole through the ice in a different direction. On further investigation it was revealed that the water that once fed the Slims River was now flowing into Kaskawulsh River instead.
Known as ‘river piracy’ or ‘stream capture’, this phenomenon, though not unheard of, is extremely rare, having never been observed in recorded history. This is when water from a river is diverted from its own bed and then starts flowing down a neighboring waterway. This can happen either due to tectonic movements, erosion, landslides, or like in this case, because of glacier retreat. What’s particularly interesting about this case is that, while other cases of river piracy can take hundreds, if not thousands of years to happen, this time it took it just four days. It was, as the geologists put it, “geologically instantaneous and…likely to be permanent.” According to their examinations, the event took place between the May 26-29, 2016.
Now, since the area is remote, the effects on humans were minimal. However, the ecosystem that surrounded the now-extinct Slims River will suffer, and so will the ecosystem on the Kaskawulsh River. Since this new water has a different chemical composition, the ecosystem around the river mouth will most likely change. Many communities around the world depend on rivers fed by glaciers, and if this phenomenon were to happen in those areas, it could spell disaster for the people living there.
7. The 1986 Lake Nyos Catastrophe in Cameroon
On the morning of the August 22, 1986, people living in settlements surrounding Lake Nyos in Cameroon woke up to a grisly sight. During the night, some 1,700 people and over 3,500 livestock got asphyxiated within just minutes. Only a handful of people managed to survive, surrounded everywhere by the bodies of animals and of their loved ones. Not even the insects managed survive. Described as “one of the most gut-wrenching natural events in recorded history,” the 1986 Lake Nyos Catastrophe is still not fully understood, even though it happened more than 30 years ago.
What we do know is that the lake is located on an old volcanic crater. And on the night of the disaster, the lake eliminated somewhere between 300,000 to 1.6 million tons of carbon dioxide at speeds of 30 miles per hour and with a thickness of 165 feet, covering an area of about 16 square miles around the lake, asphyxiating almost everyone in the area. Volcanic gasses that seep through the ground end up at the bottom of the lake, being dissolved in the water. The tropical temperatures keep the surface water warm all year round, acting like a lid over the colder water and the gasses below. Unfortunately, however, something happened on the night of August 21, 1986 to upset that balance. Something that we still can’t answer.
Whatever the cause was, it was silent. It could have been a mild earthquake, an underwater landslide, a volcanic eruption, or even a heavy rainfall strong enough to shift the water and ‘break the lid’. What happened next is known as a ‘limnic eruption’ in which the gas-saturated water from below found its way to the surface, creating a chain effect and sending water jets 300 feet into the air, resulting in a tsunami, as well as a dense blanket of carbon dioxide. It’s like shaking a can of soda really hard and then poking a hole in one of its sides - the effects are more or less the same. In order to counter this from ever happening again, engineers have since installed pumps and pipes in the lake, in order to filter the water and thus not allow the gasses to build up at the bottom.
6. Rats Invade Northern India Every 48 Years
If spider attacks weren’t enough, northeastern India is plagued by another, equally scary phenomenon. Every 48 years, almost like clockwork, the region of Mizoram bordering Bangladesh and Myanmar is invaded by millions of rats. When it happens, these rats descend upon the countryside like a Biblical plague of sorts, devouring pretty much everything in their path. If for whatever reason the crops aren’t harvested and stored safely away by the time it happens, they are lost. And since it only takes place twice every 100 years, scientists didn’t really believe it was real, thinking it to be mere rumors or local legends. That’s until they actually observed it firsthand in 2008.
The reason behind this rare yet regular occurrence is a 10,000 square mile bamboo forest located relatively close by. Throughout the rest of the time, this bamboo forest is a godsend for the locals since it provides them with construction materials, food, and even clothing. But every 48 years, the bamboo blossoms and the flowers turn into fruit. Usually, bamboo grows from a single stem, being connected by the roots to each other. When they flower, however, they do so all together, after which the entire forest dies and is replenished by the next generation. But when the entire forest drops their fruits to the ground at the same time, there’s suddenly an abundance of food to be had - an abundance that the local rat population takes advantage of to the fullest.
A single female rat can have up to 200 offspring over a period of six months, and each of them reaches sexual maturity in just 5 or 6 weeks. These new rats will have babies of their own. This means that by the time the fruits are gone, there are millions of starving rats. They then turn to the local human settlements for food, often times bringing with them famine and disease.
5. Tasmania’s Glowing Water
What else could be more romantic than to stroll down the beach with your significant other after sunset and all of a sudden, the water is glowing blue? Well, you can experience this in Tasmania, among other places. And it’s so beautiful, some have even gone as far as calling it the aurora borealis of the sea. What causes it are billions of single-celled algae that flash every time they are disturbed by waves, currents, or any other movement. Also known as the ‘sea sparkle’, this single-celled organism is officially called Noctiluca scintillans. Marine biologists believe that this bioluminescence is a self-defense mechanism with which the sea sparkle either scares away predators, or attracts its predator’s predators. But while it’s not dangerous to humans in any way, the phosphorescent plankton does have a voracious feeding tendency. Scientists oftentimes call it ‘the vacuum’ since it literally sucks up all nutrients from the water, leaving the other marine organisms to starve.
Its presence on Tasmania’s beaches is somewhat new. The first time the sea sparkle was seen here was in 1994, and it has since become an almost permanent resident. The reasons for this are troublesome, however. This bioluminescent plankton is fond of warmer waters and is usually found in the tropic regions of the world, being a common sight in the Maldives, for instance. But its presence in Tasmania can mean two things. For starters, it means that the waters have become richer in nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous, which are a direct result of a fertilizer-rich and intensive agriculture. Secondly, its presence here means that the oceanic waters have warmed enough to make it suitable for the sea sparkle’s survival. In fact, the Noctiluca scintillans is one of the few species on Earth to see an extensive increase in its habitat over the past 20 years.
4. The 1948 Donora Killer Smog
Air inversion is a pretty straightforward natural phenomenon, common pretty much all over the globe under the right circumstances. Basically what we have is a valley or a depression surrounded by mountains or hills. Usually air temperatures are higher closer to the ground, but in some circumstances cooler air gets trapped in a valley and is kept there by warmer air above. This phenomenon can last from a few hours to several days, being usually accompanied by mist. And this exactly what happened in the small industrial town of Donora, Pennsylvania in October 1948. The region was already prone to these kinds of natural phenomena, but what made this case different, however, was the duration. This time, the air inversion lasted for five days.
The biggest problem here was the fact that Donora was a heavily industrialized town and over the course of the following days, the residents became ill due to the high levels of pollutants in the air. By the time the authorities realized what had happened, 22 people had died and another 6,000 became seriously ill. Unbeknownst to them, for several days they had been breathing in large quantities of sulfur dioxide, fluorides and soluble sulphants, 20 times over the admissible limit. Since the air was no longer circulating, all of these increasing airborne chemicals remained in Donora, killing off the residents. Later, a settlement was reached with the victim’s families for $256,000, even though the factory owners kept claiming that the events were ‘an act of God.’ The story did make it all around the country, sparking a national debate and leading to the enactment of the Clean Air Act. This eventually made way for the Environmental Protection Agency to be created.
3. The Guatemalan Sinkhole of 2010
What we see here is nothing more than a piping feature. Though not official, this is the only name this phenomenon has at the moment. It was given by Sam Bonis, a geologist at Dartmouth College, who analyzed this sinkhole that appeared suddenly and without warning right in the middle of the street in Guatemala City, that country’s capital, back in 2010. It almost looks man-made, as if someone took one of those tunnel boring machines and pointed it straight down. And even though that scenario might sound cool, what really happened is even stranger. As it turns out, leaking pipes are mainly to blame here. Bonis suspects that the city’s poor infrastructure led to water seeping into the ground over a long period of time and slowly eroding it.
The proverbial nail in the coffin came when a severe tropical storm hit the region. The ground became saturated with water and finally collapsed. The soil itself also had a role to play here. The city is located in a volcanic region and the soil beneath Guatemala City is made out of pumice - a very light and porous material. Given enough time, this pumice gets compacted and becomes harder, but the city was built before that could happen, and coupled with the leaking pipelines, the 60-foot wide and 300-foot deep chasm was formed. As for the name, we can’t simply call it ‘a sinkhole,’ since sinkholes are 100% natural, whereas in this case, this was partially man-made.
2. The Tunguska Event of 1908
In 1908, a remote part of Siberia was struck by something that researchers believe to have been either a meteor or a comet. To be fair, the Earth is struck by meteorites on a daily basis, but in this particular case things were different. Unfortunately, people weren’t able to reach the site until years later in 1927, when a Russian expedition finally made it. The reasons for this delay were mainly political since Russia was going through some internal strife, with both WWI and the Bolshevik Revolution taking place shortly after the event. Not even the press covered the incident, appearing only in some local Siberian publications.
In any case, the explosion was huge, with some estimating it to be 185 times more powerful than the atomic bomb at Hiroshima, and with seismic rumbles felt all the way to the UK. Windows were even shattered in a town 35 miles away from the incident. Given the remoteness of the area, only one person, a reindeer herder, was killed when he was flung against a tree. Many reindeer and other wild animals were reported to have been killed with locals finding many charred carcasses.
When the expedition did finally manage to arrive at the scene, the signs of the incident were still there. In a butterfly-shaped area of about 830 square miles, over 80 million trees were completely flattened to the ground. But there were no signs of a crater whatsoever. The scientists then concluded that the comet or meteorite must have broken off in the atmosphere and then explode about six miles above the surface. They did find some traces of a carbon mineral called lonsdaleite at the site, which is consistent with meteor impacts. But since not all the details are there, the research into the Tunguska Event is still ongoing. For instance, back in 2007, a team of Italian scientists suggested that a lake located five miles from the explosion is the actual crater. Part of their reasoning is that the lake didn’t appear on any maps before the incident. The theory is still debated, however.
Whatever the case may be, these kinds of impacts are predicted to happen once every one or two centuries. And even to this date, we are completely powerless to do anything about them. The only thing that stands in the way of a city being completely obliterated by one such comet or meteorite is the huge size of the planet, making it unlikely to happen over a densely populated area.
1. A Blooming Sahara Desert
A blooming desert is truly an amazing sight to see. A simple thing like a freak storm can kickstart plants and flowers blooming in places that would otherwise seem completely devoid of life. Nevertheless, this phenomenon, though beautiful, is only temporary and soon enough the landscape will inevitably turn desolate once again. But in some situations, this doesn’t happen. The Sahara Desert, for instance, has seen three major periods in which sand dunes turned into lush savannah grasslands over the past 120,000 years. And interestingly enough, this trend seems to be happening again.
Hotter air, it seems, can carry more moisture, which in turn can generate more rain. And, according to satellite images (like the one above, which was taken by NASA), this is actually happening. According to images collected between 1982 and 2002, there is evidence of extensive re-greening in regions like the Sahel, a semi-desert zone to the south of the Sahara, and stretching over a distance of about 2,400 miles from Senegal to Sudan. Similar evidence can also be seen in Chad, as well as in southwestern Egypt. And it’s not just seasonal grass either, but trees such as acacias, growing there for years now - a clear sign that the effects have been somewhat stable for more than 20 years.
Some scientists predict that by 2080, precipitation in the area will increase by up to two millimeters a day. However, this trend, though longer than just a simple desert bloom, could still be temporary. As temperatures continue to rise even further, it is possible that precipitations will start decreasing again as time goes on. Martin Claussen from the Max Planck Institute, and who is looking into the issue said that “half the [computer] models follow a wetter trend, and half a drier trend,” referring to how the climate will turn out for the Sahara Desert in the future.
Top image: Vegetation in the Sahel region of Africa. Credit: Daniel Tiveau/CIFOR/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
[Source: Toptenz. Top image added.]