• Weird Nature

How 14 Natural Wonders Of The World Were Actually Formed

List RulesVote up the most incredible monuments nature ever created.

Thousands of natural wonders exist in the world. But have you ever wondered about the history behind them? Some of these amazing formations and events date back millions of years, while others are less than 100 years old. There are legends and theories attached to how some of them came into existence, but what are the actual scientific explanations? And while climate change is a major topic in the 21st century, what role did this play in the formation of these natural wonders, and how has it affected them in the years since they were formed?

These are the stories about how some of the most amazing natural wonders came into existence.

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  • On the north coast of Northern Ireland, about 3 miles northeast of the town of Bushmills, stands a structure of around 40,000 interlocking black basalt columns, most of which are hexagonal in shape. The tops of the columns serve as steps that lead from the cliff to under the sea.

    One legend holds that this causeway was built by an Irish giant by the name of Finn MacCool as a way to allow him to cross into Scotland so he could confront one of his rivals. Sadly, the scientific explanation for how the structure came to be isn't as fanciful.

    According to researchers, the Giant's Causeway was formed between 50 to 60 million years ago when molten lava flooded through fissures in the earth. Scientists knew at that time in history, this area of Northern Ireland had experienced heavy volcanic activity. And they were aware when the lava cooled and contracted, it cracked and formed the columns that formed the causeway. 

    But for centuries, no one knew at what temperatures this phenomenon occurred. Until 2018, when scientists re-created the process and determined the basalt would have fractured and formed columns at between 840 and 890 degrees Celsius (between 1,544 and 1,634 degrees Fahrenheit).

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  • The Sahara in North Africa is the world's largest nonpolar desert. For many years, the consensus among scientists was the desert had been formed some 2 to 3 million years ago. But in 2014, researchers at Norway's Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research ran simulations of the climate changes that have taken place in North Africa over the last 30 million years, and the findings suggested the Sahara is probably at least 7 million years old.

    Using data involving changes in the Earth's orbital position, the ratio of land to ocean as caused by tectonic action, and atmospheric chemistry, the simulations showed the level of precipitation in North Africa dropped by more than half about 11 million years ago, which caused the region to dry out. By process of elimination, the conclusion reached by the researchers was that it had been tectonic forces that had caused this change.

    Some 250 million years ago, a gigantic body of water called the Tethys Sea had separated the supercontinents of Laurasia and Gondwana. But as those supercontinents broke apart and the African tectonic plate collided with the Eurasian one, this closed off much of the Tethys Sea. And this once huge body of water continued to get smaller and smaller as the tectonic plates continued to move and shift.

    The movement of these plates led to the western arm of the Tethys Sea to be replaced by the Arabian Peninsula somewhere between 7 to 11 million years ago. With land replacing water, the precipitation levels in the region declined drastically, which in turn resulted in the Sahara being created.

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  • 3

    The Eruption Of Parícutin Allowed Scientists To See The Entire Life Cycle Of A Volcano In Just Nine Years

    Photo: K. Segerstrom, U.S. Geological Survey / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    "When night began to fall, we heard noises like the surge of the sea, and red flames of fire rose into the darkened sky, some rising 2,600 feet or more into the air, that burst like golden marigolds, and a rain like artificial fire fell to the ground."

    That rather poetic account is how a local farmer named Celedonio Gutierrez described the events of February 20, 1943, when ground near the village of Uruapan, Mexico, rose more than 6 feet, spewing ash and vapors into the air. As the night went on, a cone of ash began to form on the site of the eruption. This marked the birth of the volcano known as Parícutin. 

    Named after a nearby village, Parícutin eventually rose to a height of 1,391 feet. After the ash had formed a 1,000-foot-high cone, lava began to pour out, burying the village of San Juan Parangaricutiro so thoroughly the only thing left visible was a church steeple poking out of the rocks. Luckily, the area was evacuated without anyone perishing.

    The birth of Parícutin attracted enormous attention: Flights from Los Angeles to Mexico City would divert from their routes in order to give passengers a glimpse of the ongoing activity. Scenes for the 1947 film Captain from Castile were filmed in the area around the active volcano. And William Foshag, a mineralogist working for the US National Museum, documented the growth of Parícutin one month after its emergence.

    The volcano continued to erupt until March 1952, when its activity halted just as abruptly as it had begun. 

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  • 4

    When The Indian Subcontinent Charged Towards Asia At A Great Speed, The Two Tectonic Plates Began To Form Mount Everest

    More than 250 million years ago, what we now know as India, Africa, Australia, and South America were all part of one large continent known as Pangea. Over the next many millions of years, Pangea began to break up into separate continents.

    For at least 80 million years, India moved northwest at a rate of as much as 15 cm/year, carried along by a tectonic plate sliding along the surface of the Earth, driven by the internal heat found deep inside the planet. Around 60 million years ago, India collided with the continent of Eurasia, which was traveling on its own tectonic plate. When the two plates collided, the sinking ocean floor led to volcanic activity in southern Tibet, which caused the rock at the top of the descending plate to melt.

    Then 25 million years ago, the Indian continent had nearly entirely closed over the ocean between it and Eurasia, squeezing the sediments on the floor of the ocean. But because these sediments were lightweight, they did not sink along with the tectonic plate. Instead, they ended up forming the mountain range now known as the Himalayas - which, of course, includes the majestic Mount Everest.

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