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12 Odd Scientific Names for Bodies of Water You've Never Heard Of

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The world's surface is about 71-percent water-covered, so it's no wonder there are weird names for bodies of water that plenty of people have never heard even heard about. We all know about oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, and ponds, but there are also obscure and strange names for bodies of water that are only used by scientists (phytotelma?!) or small, relatively isolated populations (ask the Scottish about their non-Colin firths!).

Other funny body of water names you may not know about describe the very small (rill), the very shallow (mere), and the very Australian (billabong). Read on for more weird body of water types they probably didn't teach you about in science class (it may even help your Scrabble game!).

  • Tarns Are the Coziest Kind of Mountain Lake

    What in tarnation is a tarn, you ask? It's a mountain lake nestled cozily in an amphitheatre-like valley called a cirque that forms when a massive glacier melts. The word tarn comes from the Old Norse tjǫrn, ‎meaning “a small mountain lake without tributaries.” Confusingly, tarn is also broadly used to refer to any small lake or pond in certain parts of Northern England. Notable American tarns include Verdi Lake in Nevada and the clinically depressed Lousy Lake (pictured at the lower left) in Washington.

  • Barachois Is Just a Fancy Word for Lagoon That Is Cut Off from the Ocean

    Barachois Is Just a Fancy Word for Lagoon That Is Cut Off from the Ocean
    Photo: Evan Gamblin / via Wikimedia / Public Domain

    A barachois is a term used mainly in Newfoundland for a coastal lagoon cut off from the ocean by a sandbar. It comes from the Basque word "barratxoa," meaning "little sand bar." Locals pronounce it "barasway" and sometimes spell it that way, too (see the towns of Big Barasway and Little Barasway). The water is brackish, meaning it's a mix of saltwater and freshwater; you can see in the picture of Dark Harbour, New Brunswick, that there's only a small "passage" to allow the water to intermingle, but high tides contribute to the brackishness. A barachois is formed when sand is deposited in a delta following the melting of a glacier.

  • Phytotelma: Because Plants Didn't Want to Be Left Out of the Fun

    The picture above is correct: that's water pooling in a tree hollow, which scientists call phytotelma. That's right: there's a name for the puddles of water that gather on or in a plant! Whenever any terrestrial plant "holds" water for long periods of time, in fact, the body of water is known as phytotelma, which is Greek for "plant pond." Besides tree hollows, there are also certain "pitcher plants" that collect water this way, as well as "tanks" of water that gather on the leaves of bromeliad plants.

  • Roadsteads: The Parking Lots of the Sea

    Think of a roadstead as like a watery parking lot for oceangoing ships just off-shore from a port of call. Roadsteads (or just "roads") are safe zones for ships, sheltered from extreme currents or tides, meaning an anchor can be safely dropped. Some, such as Cherbourg Harbor in France, are artificial, while others are natural, such as the roadstead pictured above outside the harbor village of Ormos Ammoudi, in Santorini, Greece.