(Part 1 in a 4-Part Series on Elemental Art: Epic Natural Formations of the Earth)
From alluvial fans and massive holes, the sheer scale and splendor of certain magnificent land formations is difficult to capture in words or even images. Like stunning natural fractals on a much more massive scale, here are some of the most profound, stunning and awe-inspiring examples of ‘natural art’ in the world. One cannot fail to appreciate the unparalleled visual wonders of our world, so stayed tuned for next week’s amazing natural water and ice formations.
Alluvial Fan, China
Image via Britannica, Live Science and Fas.org
This stunning alluvial fan sprays across the Kunlun and Altun mountain ranges, which are located at the Southern end of China’s Taklimakan Desert. Alluvial fans are defined as soft, relatively flat, gently sloping planes of loose rock and sediment, comonly found in mountains and deposited by water. This is one of the largest in the world.
Mt. St. Helens, Oregon, United States
Images via Cascade Volcanoes, USGS, Thinkquest and Earth Observatory
This volcanic mountain of St. Helens, part of the Cascade Mountain range that runs through the Pacific Northwest into Canada, is famous for its violent explosion in May of 1980 that devastated the region and sent a cloud of ash and debris around the world. Over 200 square miles of forestland were flattened and turned to ash. A new lava dome has continually grown in the decades since, and with steam escaping daily and mild tremors, scientists keep a close eye on it. As you can see from the lower right image, the land has gradually begun to rebound, with light vegetation and animals beginning to return – until the next eruption.
Brandberg Massif, Africa
Image via mromeijn
Like a giant, knobby mesa, the Brandberg Massif rises out of the Namib Desert in Namibia, Africa. This granite intrusion is riddled with caves full of art and is home to many unusual plants and animals that flourish in the hot, dry environment.
Shoemaker Impact Structure, Australia
Image via UCSB
Hundreds of millions of years ago – between 1000 and 600, scientists estimate – a meteor crashed into Australia and created this 30km wide basin formerly known as the Teague Ring (it was renamed after a renowned USGS scientist named Eugene Shoemaker). It is arid and harsh, full of dry lakebeds and encrusted with salt.
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Images via Science & Soul, About.com and UITS
The iconic, massive and complex Great Barrier Reef is just as beautiful from the aerial view as when one is swimming near it. Home to an incredibly diverse array of sharks, fish, plants, coral and other marine wildlife, the Barrier Reef stretches over 2,600km in the Coral Sea off the coast of Australia. It’s the largest reef system in the world, with 900 islands and 2,900 coral reefs. Like the Great Wall of China, this unique structure is one of the few structures made by organisms (in this case coral, not people) that is visible from space.
Grand Canyon, Arizona, United States
Images via Rick Searfoss, Steven Pinker and Cedar City Tourism Bureau
The famous Grand Canyon is one of the most beautiful examples of earth art. Carved over the course of 6 million years by the waters of the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, 4 to 18 miles wide and in places over a mile deep. The steep-sided gorge was once populated by Native Americans and artifacts of up to 12,000 years in age have been found. The Grand Canyon was one of the first lands to be preserved and made a national park (by Teddy Roosevelt).
Image via UCSB
This unique structure in the Sahara Desert of Mauritania can be seen from space. It is 50 miles wide and rather unusual for the fairly featureless Sahara. Though people often refer to it as an impact structure, it’s actually the natural result of hundreds of thousands of years of erosion. Formed from layers of sedimentary rock, fierce winds and shifting sand dunes have worn away at the material, leaving a crater impression behind. It is also known as the Eye of Africa.
Namib Sand Dunes, Namibia
Images via UCSB and Photographic Arts
The Namib Sand Dunes are part of the Namib Desert, which is Africa’s 2nd largest desert after the Sahara. The desert is famous for these massive and eternally shifting sand dunes, which are larger than any others on earth and can reach up to 1,000 feet in height. One of the oldest deserts on earth, Namib is home to unusual plant and animal species that can survive the incredibly harsh, arid conditions.
Images via Mondo Vista
Of course no earth art series would be complete without the requisite conspiracy theory. Rock outcrops and unusual formations that seem difficult to explain away through natural phenomena are popularly held up as proof of aliens, unknown civilizations, government conspiracies and more. Usually, these rock structures – such as the ones shown here, in Oklahoma and West Virginia – can in fact be explained by geological history and even weather, intentional in design as they may appear to be.
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
Images via Reformation Tours, Aberfeldy, Travels in Ireland and Letter to America
Case in point: Giant’s Causeway. Though it certainly looks chiseled and hewn, this incredible rock bridge is completely natural. 40,000 interlocking basalt columns which are mostly hexagonal. These basalt rocks were formed when molten lava was pushed through cracked chalk beds. As the lava cooled, the liquid basalt contracted into the distinctive shapes that are so famous.
Barringer Meteorite Crater, Arizona, United States
Images via Satellite Imaging Corporation, PSU and National Geographic
The Barringer Meteorite Crater in Arizona was formed 50,000 years ago when a meteorite impacted land in what is now Arizona. Basically a giant hole, the Meteorite Crater (or Meteor Crater) has 150 rims with stones the size of houses and spans a mile. It’s also 570 feet deep. Remnants of meteoric iron are scattered around the crater for miles.
The Green Bridge of Wales
Image via Wikimedia
The Green Bridge of Wales, in Pembrokeshire, was formed through the natural erosion of limestone, of which the arch is made. It’s the largest natural arch in Wales and one of the biggest in the world, to boot. Due to coastal erosion and waves, eventually it will collapse.
Alum Bay, Isle of Wight
Images via BBC, Botley Leisure and Robert
The gorgeous waters of Alum Bay off the Isle of Wight are distinctive enough, but the special exhibit on display here is the cliffs. Seen at certain times of day, particularly sunset, the cliffs deceive the eye and appear to be striped in diverse bright colors. In truth the cliff sands do vary in color noticeably, but certain shadows and angles heighten the difference into a dramatic display.
The Himalayas, Asia
Images via ABC Science and Geographic Guide
The Himalayas, which separate the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau in Asia, are the largest mountains in the world. Mt. Everest, the tallest peak on earth, is found in this astonishing mountain range of icy, jagged peaks and soaring ridges. (Over 100 of the range’s mountains are higher than 7,200m.) The range is over 2,400km long, and its water basin supports 1.3 billion people.
Cathedral Caves, New Zealand
The magnificent Cathedral Caves are found in Catlins, New Zealand on the South Island. Featuring two massive caves with distinctive narrow, tall openings, tourists enjoy exploring them from the broad, sandy beach of Catlins. The two caves are actually one cave, so you can enter through the first and exit from the second. Because the caves are in these towering beach bluffs, they can only be accessed for two hours at low tide.
Sources: The Guardian, Live Science, NASA-USGS