Thursday, 28 June 2018


10 of the strangest public transit systems
By Josh Lew,
Mother Nature Network, 18 June 2018.

Public transit systems are usually quite predictable. Large cities generally have subways or elevated trains supplemented by bus service or street-level trams, while smaller metro areas rely on bus or streetcar networks (or both). In a few cities, however, public transportation does not take a typical form.

These unusual transportation networks can range from outdoor escalators to upside-down elevated trains to ski lifts in the middle of dense urban neighborhoods. You may even find yourself on a tiny train without a driver. Despite their uniqueness, these offbeat transit options usually reward people who take the time to figure them out because they are almost always the cheapest and easiest way to get around.

Here are several examples of unusual-but-useful public transportation systems.

1. Norry (Cambodia’s bamboo train)

Photo: Henry Flower/Wikimedia Commons

Cambodia’s norry trains ride on rail tracks, but they are unlike any other passenger trains in the world. Most are merely raised platforms with train wheels. They do not look that different from hand cars featured in Old West movies. In fact, the original norries, which ran near the city of Battambang, were powered by hand. As they became more popular, however, the owners added motorcycle or tractor engines and drive belts, which they connected to the axles.

Norries, nicknamed "bamboo trains" because the platforms are made of bamboo, once provided public transportation for local people because the regular rail service was unreliable, and trains were often attacked by armed rebels. More recently, tourists have been attracted to the tracks near Battambang by the novelty. After the most accessible lines were shut down, several new routes sprung up near tourist attractions. The future of norries is unclear as Cambodia tries aggressively to modernize its rail service.

2. Monte toboggan, Madeira

Photo: Koshelyev/Wikimedia Commons

Madeira is a Portuguese archipelago off the coast of West Africa. Besides being the birthplace of soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, the four-island chain is best known for its steep topography. Funchal, the largest city in the region, sits on the coast, but the historic town of Monte, though only three miles away, is 3,300 feet above sea level. Madeira has aerial trams and cable cars, but for more than a century, Monte’s residents (and now tourists) have been using a bizarre form of transport for the trip downhill to the provincial capital: wicker baskets with toboggan runners on them.

Today, locals rely on the bus line that runs between Funchal and Monte. Even with this more-modern (and safer) option, wicker sleds still ply the roads. The passengers these days are almost always tourists. Each sled has two drivers who use their weight and rubber-soled boots for steering and braking.

3. Chiba Urban Monorail

Photo: Shadow Fox/Wikimedia Commons

The Chiba Urban Monorail looks like it might belong in a sci-fi film. The train’s cars are attached to the monorail track from above, so they hang down with nothing between them and the ground below. Other hanging monorails exist, but this is the longest one in the world at 9.4 miles total. It has two lines and eighteen stops in all.

Chiba is a city of about 1 million in the seemingly-endless Tokyo metro area. The Urban Monorail sees about 50,000 passengers every day, but there are other train and bus public transit options in the area because one of Japan’s busiest airports, Tokyo Narita International, is located in Chiba. Though the monorail is accessible to anyone who is curious, it is not one of the transit options for people looking to get to Tokyo from the airport.

4. Wuppertal suspended railway

Photo: JuergenG/Wikimedia Commons

The Wuppertal suspension railway is another "upside-down" train. It runs for 8.3 miles past 20 stations. The Wuppertal might seem futuristic, but it is actually more than a century old. It was started in 1901 in its namesake town in North Rhine-Westphalia. The system’s history and strange design make it a target for tourists, but many of the people who ride the railway, referred to in German as the Schwebebahn, are local commuters.

The age of the elevated structure once caused concern amongst experts. This worry led to a major modernization project, which took place in 2012 and 2013. The service was closed during most of the work. The train cars themselves were updated in 2015 and 2016. A trip on the line from end to end takes about 30 minutes. The train passes over the River Wupper, a tributary of the Rhine and also over a roadway that runs along the floor of the river valley.

5. Hong Kong outdoor escalators

Photo: WingLuk/Wikimedia Commons

Hong Kong proves that escalators are not just for shopping malls. An outdoor escalator system stretches up some of the steepest hills on Hong Kong Island. The moving staircase rises approximately 500 feet in elevation and is 2,600 feet long. It is the longest outdoor escalator system in the world.

Does this really qualify as a form of public transport? Locals use the escalators to commute between the residential neighborhoods in the Mid-Levels and the business district known as Hong Kong Central. The system, which consists of 18 escalators and three moving walkways, runs downhill until 10 a.m., and then uphill for the rest of the day. CNN named it one of the world’s seven coolest commutes a few years ago. There are even bars and shops at the “stops” between escalator sections. Daily usage tops out at around 80,000 people.

6. Metrocable Medellin

Photo: Jorge Láscar/Wikimedia Commons

Aerial trams, or gondolas, are common in mountain resort areas, at ski slopes and even at theme parks. They are rarely used as mass transit, except in Central and South America. One of the best examples of mass-transit aerial trams is in Medellin, Colombia. It was the first such gondola system built specifically for transit and operated on a fixed schedule. The system has been extremely popular with residents in the densely-populated hillside boroughs, who may wait in line for 30 minutes or more for a ride during rush hour.

The Metrocable has helped connect the informal hillside "barrios" with the city center. These neighborhoods were once extremely dangerous because of the drug trade, but they have improved in recent decades. Since the city bus system does not reach up the narrow roadways on the valley walls, the tram is the only non-private commuting option for residents.

7. O-Bahn Busway

Photo: Beneaththelandslide/Wikimedia Commons

How can you best describe Adelaide’s O-Bahn system? It is not a tramway or streetcar network, and it is not a dedicated "bus lane." The O-Bahn is a seven-mile “guided busway” track with three interchanges. Only specially modified buses can use the system. These vehicles have separate guide wheels in front of the regular wheels, The guides steer the bus when it is on the track. Once they leave the track, the buses can operate as normal city buses on standard roadways.

The O-Bahn is less intrusive than a dedicated rail network, and the track leaves space for tree planting projects and other conservation efforts. Furthermore, the system allows buses to use natural gas and biodiesel instead of regular diesel. The O-Bahn has brought economic benefits as well. Commercial areas and major services such as hospitals have developed at its interchanges.

8. Carmelit Railway

Photo: Martina Nolte/Wikimedia Commons

Funicular railways are common in areas with extreme elevations changes. In Haifa, Israel, a funicular called the Carmelit climbs 900 feet up Mount Carmel. The route is only 1.1 miles long. Unlike most funiculars, which cling to tracks on the side of the hill, the Camelit is completely underground. Its relatively short length and small number of stations (six) make it one of the world’s most modest subways. For tourists and locals alike, the train is quite practical because it allows them to avoid a strenuous climb up steep terrain.

This is an old system. It was built in the 1950s, but it has been renovated several times, most recently in 2017 after a fire. A similar underground cable car, the F1, is in Istanbul, Turkey, but it only has two stations.

9. Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit

Photo: Antony-22/Wikimedia Commons

Personal rapid transit features automated trams, usually only big enough for a few people, that run on rails. These autonomous train "pods" are popular in airports, but the largest and oldest PRT system in the world is in a rather unexpected place: Morgantown, West Virginia.

The 3.6-mile Morgantown PRT system has several dozen cars and connects the three University of West Virginia campuses and Downtown Morgantown. The system first went online in 1975, and it reached its current size in 1978. The PRT mainly serves the 30,000 students who study at WVU. The cars operate during the week and also occasionally on weekends during football games and other sports events.

10. Terra Bus

Photo: Dene' Miles/Wikimedia Commons

Snow coaches are specialized buses that carry passengers over ice and snow in places without paved roads. They are mainly used in Canada. The first snow coaches were produced by airplane manufacturer Bombardier, but the latest versions, known as Terra buses, are made by a specialty company called Foremost.

The highest concentration of Terra buses is in the Columbia Icefield in Alberta. These vehicles transport passengers, 56 at a time, to sites such as the Athabasca Glacier. Operators keep the tires at low pressure so that they can grip slippery surfaces. Terra buses might look powerful, but they are quite slow. Though they usually only drive at 10 to 25 miles per hour, they rarely get stuck.

Top image: The Chiba Urban Monorail in the Tokyo metro area. Credit: Rog01/Flickr.

[Source: Mother Nature Network. Some images added.]

Monday, 25 June 2018


Top 10 Weird Feats And Facts About Water
By Jana Louise Smit,
Listverse, 24 June 2018.

Water may look placid, but its capacity for strangeness seems unlimited. Unique among Earth’s liquids, water has quirks that make scientists and weathermen love their jobs.

It inspires awe with massive and bizarre storms, swirls, clouds, and even stranger molecules and quantum secrets. From the oldest water ever found to the mystery of where H2O originally comes from, this life-giving liquid can be scary and magnificent enough to belong to the realm of fantasy.

10. Fire Clouds

Photo credit:

Flames and water do not mix, but a rare kind of cloud forms over fiery events like wildfires. Most recently, these so-called pyrocumulus clouds appeared during Hawaii’s 2018 Kilauea volcano outburst.

They are cut from the same cloth as most other dynamic weather systems. Hot air rises to condense into clouds. But the scarcity of pyrocumulus clouds makes them difficult to study.

The Kilauea batch was even more peculiar. While they retained their normal thunderhead appearance, the clouds preferred to manifest over fissures. Usually, fire clouds only hover around the actual eruption or in the vicinity of a scorching wildfire. Hanging around volcanic vents adds a sting that pyrocumulus clouds do not usually have.[1]

Sulfur dioxide from the fissures can cause acidic rain that damages delicate plant life. For people, there is the issue of “vog,” or volcanic smog. The presence of the clouds at the vents could boost the levels of this haze and cause health issues, including irritated skin and eyes.

9. The Mpemba Effect

Photo credit: Live Science

The Mpemba effect has blown educated minds throughout history, including Aristotle and Francis Bacon. They observed what seemed like a freak of nature - that hot water freezes faster.

This phenomenon was named after Erasto Mpemba, a Tanzanian high school student, whose studies confirmed the ancient thinkers’ observations in 1963. He showed that the effect happens when hot and cold bowls were left in identical subzero temperatures and the warm water turned to ice first.

There are several theories to explain this madness. In the 1980s, Polish physicists attempted (and failed) to prove that warmer water might have less heat-retaining gas. A more likely reason could be that when hot water steams, evaporation reduces the mass that needs to be cooled.[2]

Another factor might be warm water’s coolest point. In a container, cold liquid sinks to the bottom and pushes the hottest layer to the surface. This creates a current that speeds up freezing. However, the precise process that enables hot water to chill quicker than its colder cousin remains a mystery.

8. Water Is Native And Extraterrestrial

Photo credit:

One of H2O’s greatest enigmas concerns its origins. Nobody really knew where all the seas and lakes came from. One popular theory suggested that water was seeded on our world as comets and asteroids smacked into the surface. As to when, it supposedly began after The Giant Impact - the collision with another planet that nearly wrecked Earth but formed the Moon.

This celestial horror show happened 4.5 billion years ago. But a 2018 study showed that water was likely already present before the catastrophe. When terrestrial and lunar rocks were compared, their oxygen signature was nearly identical.[3]

This does not sound like much, but it could prove that Earth had its own water long before the event. Water alters a rock’s oxygen isotopes, and since the Moon formed out of the Earth, it makes sense that they have the same “water mark.”

The same researchers also found that impacts did bring more water afterward, accounting for 5–30 percent of Earth’s water.

7. Pulse Storms

Photo credit:

On July 17, 2016, Rick Geiss was relaxing near an Alabama beach when he noticed a bizarre cloud. He took a picture of the puffy cone but only shared it two years later. When the massive, upright thunderstorm hit social media, it looked so unreal that some called the photo a fake.

It did seem odd - a white triangle pouring dark rain only from a small central point. But the keen eye of weather experts knew an authentic pulse storm when they saw one. Cited as one of the best examples ever seen, the cloud itself is called a cumulus congestus, or “heaped-up cloud.”

Pulse storms form differently than bigger showers. Usually a thunderstorm is triggered by a cold front. But in this case, only heat is needed. A rapid updraft pulls enormous amounts of water vapor into the air and the trademark shape. Within 20 minutes, rain falls.

It only rains from one spot because the water plunges back out the updraft tube. The cloud kills itself as the downdraft cancels out the updraft, and the whole storm collapses within half an hour.[4]

6. Snowball Earth

Photo credit: BBC

A scary theory claims that the Cryogenian period (710–635 million years ago) froze the world over completely. Ice covered everything. The land and even the oceans were under frozen water for millennia. This event was dubbed “Snowball Earth.”

Something like this is possible. If glaciers cover enough ground, more of the Sun’s heat will be reflected back into space. Temperatures drop, more ice forms, and more heat is blocked. It is a vicious cycle that results in the opposite of global warming - runaway cooling.[5]

Among the strongest evidence that Earth’s ice went berserk is that glaciers reached the equator. Despite this sign of an extremely cold world, experts are openly divided.

The anti-Snowball faction agrees that Earth faced its worst glaciation during the Cryogenian. They even admit that every continent saw its share of these frozen mountains.

However, they found rocks with water-induced weathering, showing that the Cryogenian experienced warmer times with liquid surface water. This meant that the planet never fully became a Popsicle. If the anti-Snowballers are correct, it leaves a mystifying riddle. Faced with its greatest freeze, what stopped Earth from going out of control?

5. The First Modons

Photo credit:

Huge ocean whirlpools are not something that happens only in fantasy pirate movies. They are real and can span a frightening diameter of hundreds of miles. Another fun fact for the nervous sailor: These eddies are common.

For decades, scientists theorized about whirlpools traveling in pairs. Called modons, they were seen for the first time in 2017. The two newly discovered swirls stayed friends for six months and crossed the entire Tasman Sea together.

They represented bizarre fluid dynamics. Single eddies usually go west. But when these mammoth vortices teamed up, swirling in opposite directions, they went east at 10 times the normal speed.

The Tasman couple was discovered via satellite photography. Incredibly, when researchers combed through old images, they found nine more modons since 1993. For some reason, eight spawned around Australia.[6]

It remains unknown how modons merge, but their tails fuse into a single U-like funnel that allows the phenomenon to stay active for months. Coupled with their extreme speed, modons might also act like watery subways, shuttling nutrients and ocean life to new places.

4. Water Cannot Decide On Density

Photo credit: Live Science

An experiment in 2017 added another bizarre fact to the almost 70 ways that water is unlike any other fluid. The inspiration for the test came from ice. More specifically, its ability to exist in two forms while solid, where molecules are random or in a neat pattern.

The haphazard version is the world’s most abundant type of ice and can shift between states of high and low density. Scientists wondered if liquid water retained this ability in some way.

Using X-rays, H2O molecules were tracked to map their progress from an icy state to room temperature. The water morphed from a frozen condition to a thick liquid. Almost instantaneously, it then moved on to another lower-density liquid.

The end result was fascinating. Apparently, at room temperature, water cannot settle as either a high- or low-density liquid and fluctuates in and out of both. Technically, this makes water two liquids instead of one.[7]

3. A Quantum Double Liquid


In 2018, scientists discovered a really unusual thing. At the quantum level, water is also a double liquid. When a person takes a swig, he or she is actually drinking two kinds. They taste and look the same. But at a chemical level, there is a clear difference.

H2O describes water’s molecular build - two hydrogen atoms clinging to an oxygen atom. Duality begins at the direction the hydrogen atoms’ quantum particles spin. When they twirl in the same direction, something called “ortho-water” is born. “Para-water” results when each hydrogen atom spins in its own direction.

During a first-of-its-kind experiment, an electric field separated the two waters before exposing them to supercooled diazenylium molecules. The para-water reacted about 25 percent faster to form H3O+ (water with an extra proton). This proved that the two kinds were not only separate but also behaved differently.[8]

2. Oldest Water In The Universe

Photo credit:

When the most ancient pool was located in 2011, it was not on Earth. The vapor hovered 12 billion light-years away and was 12 billion years old. Additionally, the largest mass of H2O ever detected was mind-bendingly huge. If all the oceans on Earth were multiplied by 140 trillion, only then would they equal the single space cloud.

The Milky Way also came in second. The vast expanse was calculated to contain 4,000 times less water vapor than this thing. However, size was not its only surprise. The cloud’s age is evidence that water existed for almost as long as the universe itself.

But that’s not all. The vapor surrounds a black hole worthy of its presence. APM 08279+5255 is a supermassive quasar, one of the most powerful and brightest objects in space. APM 08279+5255 could swallow 20 billion of our Sun at once, and it radiates more energy than a quadrillion suns.

The cloud also revealed that there was enough gas present to swell the black hole into a true monster - about six times bigger than its current size.[9]

1. Water’s Behavior Solved

Photo credit:

No liquid beats water when it comes to weirdness. While other fluids become denser as they solidify, water becomes lighter. It is the reason why icebergs float and lakes do not freeze all the way to the bottom. Water has an unusually tough surface tension and high boiling point. Compared to most liquids, a surprising number of chemicals dissolve in water.

In 2018, scientists discovered the elusive answer to what makes water unlike any other liquid. Water molecules like to stick to each other in such a way that they resemble a pyramid. It takes five molecules to make a pyramid cluster, which can stick to others to form larger pyramids.

Amid the Egypt festival is a chaotic arrangement of other molecules. Bizarrely, it is the dual nature of pattern and chaos that allows water to have its unique properties.

Researchers proved this when they adjusted the molecules and made ice sink. Messing with the pyramids also canceled out water’s other special properties. However, “normal” water is deadly to life. Without its weird properties, blood cannot flow and nutrients cannot be absorbed.[10]

Top image: Water drops. Credit: brenkee/Pixabay.

[Source: Listverse. Top image added.]