Mystery of Stone Arch Formation May Be Solved
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Wide, Wild World
With everything that progress has brought in our modern world, it's refreshing to know that there are still places on the planet that are virtually untouched -- places where humans haven't completely tainted the environment. Some areas may be on the fringe of impurity, but fortunately there are several lucky locations have been designated as conservancies, so that future generations can remember them as we have. Here are ten of these places of our wide, wild world:
Northern Territories of Canada
Sparsely populated mostly by people of native North American Indian and Inuit descent, Canada's three northern territories -- Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut -- still retain lifestyles before European colonization of the New World. Sure there is a Western influence, but locals still fish, hunt, and gather in the pristine, forested wilderness as they have been for centuries.
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Above the 50th parallel on the other side of the world lies Siberia, a place almost synonymous with desolation. Like the Canadian North, this wild expanse is also mostly comprised of taiga forest on former glaciated territory -- areas that are blanketed white during harsh, long winters.
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Tourism may be a huge draw to this Ecuadorian archipelago in the Pacific, but a lot of money collected here goes towards the conservation of its numerous islands-land its wildlife. It is here that animal species are specialized on each island's unique environments -- including marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, and frigatebirds -- that research about them became an integral part of Darwin's Theory of Evolution.
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The Seychelles may be a well-sought out islands beach destination, but tourism hasn't completed tainted them. In fact, this archipelago nation in the Indian Ocean has the largest percentage of land under conservation by law, of any country in the world -- about 50 percent -- which is good news for the over 2,000 endemic species that live there.
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Being on the bottom of the world brings forth the coldest, windiest, and driest conditions on the planet. It's no wonder most of it is untouched by man. Besides a few research bases scattered sparsely around the icy continent, Antarctica is virtually uninhabited -- except by the iconic penguins of course, who might want to leave themselves if only they had the ability to fly -- and if they hadn't been adapted for the extreme conditions already.
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The Sahara may be the second largest desert in the world -- Antarctica, with only 2" of rain per year is technically the world's biggest desert but it certainly is the biggest one you think of when you conventionally think about the desert ecosystem. With 3.5 million square miles of barren land full of wind-carved sand dunes, it brings forth daytime heatwaves and harsh dry conditions unappealing to most civilizations; it's wild because most people couldn't live there.
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7. The Gobi Desert
Situated in Mongolia, the largest desert in Asia is actually growing, with sands overtaking grasslands in northern China -- which isn't good news for Chinese farmers. Perhaps it's Mother Nature's way of taking back her sandy wilderness, making conditions uninhabitable for humans.
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It it believed that the cures for many of mankind's diseases could be found in the Amazon Rainforest -- the world's largest -- which encompasses most of northern inland South America. Plenty of conservancies want to keep it this way, for the Amazon is under constant threat of deforestation for the timber industry and cattle ranching, amongst other consequences of progress.
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Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea's environment is also its defense mechanism. Its rugged terrain of rolling volcanic hills and thick tropical rainforest have made it difficult for outside companies to exploit its natural resources. It's also made it hard to establish a transportation network, leaving the wilderness for the most part, undisturbed.
The Briny Deep
It's astounding that with everything humans have done to inhabited a lot of the landmass on the planet, about 70% of it remains uninhabited because it is water. The oceans, vast and seemingly limitless, are an innerspace full of many things that we probably don't even know about yet. It's taken centuries for humans to actually explore the deepest part of the ocean, Mariana's Trench, and we only saw a mere fraction of it. There's a whole wild world within our world, yet to be explored-or remain untouched?
Arches of stone seem to defy explanation, but a new study may have solved the mystery of how these and other strange natural stone wonders form.
The bewildering shapes apparently owe their origin in large part to how rock can strengthen when squashed from above, scientists explained.
Mysterious rock formations such as arches, bridges, pillars and mushroom-shaped pedestal rocks occur all over the world. Geologists mostly think these form due to erosion from wind and water, as well as from the weathering effects of salt and frost.
However, lead author of the new study Jirí Bruthans, a geologist at Charles University in Prague, and his colleagues did not think erosion and weathering alone could explain how many of these natural sculptures arose. They also noted that prior research did not explain how the upper parts of arches remain stable. [Images: Amazing Rock Formations Around the World]
Now, the researchers said they can help explain how these rock formations develop by accounting for the way rock can strengthen when compacted by weight from above.
"The results were shocking for me when I started to realize how simply nature carves all these shapes," Bruthans said.
The scientists conducted experiments with oven-dried cubes of sandstone that were weak enough that running water could erode them. As the sides of the cubes disintegrated from exposure to water, researchers saw that the weight of the sandstone above was held up by fewer and fewer sand grains. This increased the amount of force placed on those remaining grains from the sand above.
Experiments and numerical models revealed that once a critical weight from the higher parts of the sandstone was reached, the downward force locked the lower grains of sand together more tightly, increasing their resistance to erosion. In contrast, other parts of sandstone bearing less weight stayed vulnerable to erosion, and washed away.
The researchers also found that introducing weaknesses, such as notches or fractures, into the sandstone cubes could yield a diversity of shapes, including arches, pillars and pedestal rocks.
After enough models and experiments, "you know what it will carve — you have full control of erosion like a magician," Bruthans told Live Science. "It is like each sandstone rock is inhabited by a spirit, which by magic controls the erosion to carve the ugly rock into right, great shape. In fact, it is the interaction of hundreds of billions of sand grains, gravity and erosion, nothing more."
The scientists detailed their findings online today (July 20) in the journal Nature Geoscience.
More from LiveScience:
Photos: The World's Weirdest Geological Formations
Images: Magnificent Geological Formations of the American West
World's Most Famous Rocks