The disappearing Lake Peigneur

Lake Peigneur was once a shallow freshwater lake in Louisiana. Today, it is a deep saltwater lake. What happened? It’s difficult to believe. From Wikipedia:

An unusual man-made disaster on November 20, 1980 changed the structure
of the lake and surrounding land.

In 1980, when the disaster took place, the Diamond
Crystal Salt Company
operated the Jefferson Island salt
under the lake, while a Texaco oil
drilled down from the surface of the lake searching for petroleum.
Due to a miscalculation, the 14-inch (36 cm) drill bit entered the
mine, starting a remarkable chain of events which at the time turned an
almost 10-foot (3.0 m) deep freshwater lake into a salt water lake with a
deep hole.

It is difficult to determine exactly what occurred, as all of the
evidence was destroyed or washed away in the ensuing maelstrom.
The now generally accepted explanation is that a miscalculation by
Texaco regarding their location resulted in the drill puncturing the
roof of the third level of the mine. This created an opening in the
bottom of the lake, similar to removing the drain plug from a bathtub.
The lake then drained into the hole, expanding the size of that hole as
the soil and salt were washed into the mine by the rushing water,
filling the enormous caverns left by the removal of salt over the years.
The resultant whirlpool sucked in the drilling platform, eleven
barges, many trees and 65 acres (260,000 m2) of the
surrounding terrain. So much water drained into those caverns that the
flow of the Delcambre Canal that usually empties the
lake into Vermilion Bay was reversed, making the canal a
temporary inlet. This backflow created, for a few days, the tallest
waterfall ever in the state of Louisiana, at 164 feet (50 m), as the
lake refilled with salt water from the Delcambre Canal and Vermilion
. The water downflowing into the mine caverns displaced air
which erupted as compressed air and then later as 400-foot (120 m) geysers up
through the mineshafts.

Fortunately, all the miners and bystanders escaped this harrowing incident unscathed. Even this description, though, doesn’t do the event justice. Watch this brief clip from the History Channel:


Antarctica’s “Blood Falls”

Blood Falls seeps from the end of the Taylor G...

Image via Wikipedia

Talk about unnerving. Via Mental Floss:

There is a glacier in Antarctica that seems to be weeping a river of
blood. It’s one of the continent’s strangest features, and it’s located
in one of the continent’s strangest places — the McMurdo Dry Valleys, a
huge, ice-free zone and one of the world’s harshest deserts.

Discovered in 1911 by a member of Robert Scott’s ill-fated expedition
team, its rusty color was at first theorized to be caused by some sort
of algae growth. Later, however, it was proven to be due to iron
oxidation. Every so often, the glacier spews forth a clear, iron-rich
liquid that quickly oxidizes and turns a deep shade of red. Even weirder: scientists think that the bacteria responsible for Blood
Falls might be an Earth-bound approximation of the kind of alien life
that might exist elsewhere in the solar system, like beneath the polar
ice caps of Mars and Europa.

You can read more here.

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Are the Chile and Haiti quakes related?

We bring you the latest in our ongoing coverage of earthquakes. To recap what’s happened recently: An magnitude 8.8 earthquake – one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded – struck Chile on February 27. A magnitude 7.0 earthquake devastated Haiti on January 12, killing upwards of 200,000 people. And in the meantime (as we reported earlier), scientists’ fears that the Haiti quake forewarns increased seismic activity seem to have been realized. In light of the Chile quake, too, reports of the hundreds of small tremors that have been rocking Yellowstone National Park over the past few weeks are more troubling. As if all this wasn’t enough, the United States Geological Survey is reporting that it recorded a magnitude 3.8 earthquake in northern Illinois (see also the NY Times article) – an area normally free of seismic activity.

One question on everyone’s mind, then, is this: are the Chile and Haiti earthquakes in any way related? The answer is this:

They may have the same parent. Most seismologists agree that the
Haitian quake didn’t cause Saturday’s event in Chile. Earthquakes occur
when the stress on a tectonic plate overcomes the friction holding it
in place. The last stress-relieving earthquake at this location in
Chile occurred in 1835. Since then, friction has held the edge of the Nazca plate in place while the rest of it slid 10 to 12 meters underneath the neighboring South American plate.
As a practical matter, that displacement was the sole cause of
Saturday’s earthquake. But displacement isn’t the only thing stressing
a tectonic plate. Tides, dammed-up rivers,
and pressure from other shifting plates can play a supporting role.
Major earthquakes may shift plates slightly and thus increase the
stress along fault lines. If another earthquake was poised to happen at
some point soon, the added stress from a first quake could serve as a
catalyst. While the Haitian earthquake really wasn’t big enough to have
that effect in Chile, some seismologists believe the much stronger
Sumatran quake of 2004–and maybe even the 1960 Chilean quake, the most
powerful ever recorded–may have set the stage for both of them.

Unsettling (forgive the pun – it’s probably not appropriate, to be honest). You can read more here.

Edit: Update: I neglected to mention that the Chile quake altered the earth’s axis and shortened the length of the day.


The mysterious stone cairns of Susquehanna County

Susquehanna County lies in the upper northeast corner of Pennsylvania. By most accounts, it is a fairly nondescript place – roughly rectangular in shape, fairly rural, a little poorer and more Republican than average, but nothing to write home about. Or nothing, at least, besides the mysterious stone cairns that stand, silently, in the forests of Susquehanna County. You won’t see these bizarre constructs mentioned in the county’s Wikipedia page or local government website. But they’re there.

A cairn, for those unfamiliar, is a manmade pile of stones. According to Wikipedia, they are typically conical, and may mark the summit of a mountain or a burial site (you can read about cairns in great detail here). In the northeastern United States, they oftentimes delimit the boundaries of an old field turned fallow (farmers, when clearing a field, would pile all the rocks alongside it). My friend’s grandparents have a wooded property in New York, for instance, and there is a rough series of cairn-like piles of stones bordering out what once was farmland. Those stones, though, were quite obviously at one point a wall. The Susquehanna stones aren’t so easily explained: they’re too haphazard to demarcate farmland, they don’t appear to be grave markers, and they certainly don’t indicate the summit of a mountain.

The Susquehanna stones, in fact, are apparently the most extensive site of its kind in Photo credit: Brian A. MorgantiPennsylvania. Theories abound as to their origin and purpose; some suggest they were erected by Native Americans, similar to the extensive burial mounds in Ohio. But there is no clear sign as to when they were originally built – Pennsylvania author Matt Lake writes that “no literary works, letters, or paintings from the colonial period mention odd rock piles in this part of the country … the oldest reference seems to date from an 1822 travelogue about a trip across New York State.” Princeton scholar Norman Muller, though, believes that the cairns were nonetheless erected well before then.

The stones themselves provide no answers, though. They simply stand silently in the forest, intriguing and confusing the few visitors who happen upon them.

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Earthquakes in Illinois?

The United States Geological Survey is reporting that it has recorded a magnitude 3.8 earthquake in northern Illinois (see also the NY Times article). This is not unheard of; earthquakes do sometimes occur east of the Rockies (my own mother has told me of a medium-sized earthquake that was felt in Northeast Ohio a few decades ago). Nevertheless, northern Illinois is well outside of any geological hotspots (the US Geological Survey maps it in Seismic Zone 0, the zone of lowest risk). And this is especially troubling given – as we noted earlier – scientists’ fears that the Haiti quake forewarns increased seismic activity and the hundreds of small tremors that have been rocking Yellowstone National Park over the past few weeks.


The strange case of the Dyatlov Pass incident

Dyatlov Pass Accident

Image by FotoBart via Flickr

It sounds like something out of the X-Files – or at least, a low-budget Soviet knockoff of the X-Files. Ten intrepid youths set out to cross the Ural Mountains on cross country skis in early 1959. One falls ill in turns back early; he little suspects, at the time, that this would save his life. The nine remaining skiers press on. And something weird – to this day, utterly inexplicable – happens.

The nine skiers,

led by a man named Igor Dyatlov — headed to a
slope called Kholat Syakhl (Mansi language for “Mountain of the Dead,”
ahem) for a rugged, wintry trek. On their way up, they are apparently
hit by inclement weather and veer off course and decide to set up camp
and wait it out. All is calm. All is fine and good. They even take pictures of camp, the scenery, each other. The weather is not so bad. They go to sleep.

Then, something happens. In the middle of the night all nine
suddenly leap out of their tents as fast as possible, ripping them open
from the inside (not even enough time to untie the doors) and race out
into the sub-zero temps, without coats or boots or skis, most in their
underwear, some even barefoot or with a single sock or boot. It is 30
degrees below zero, Celsius. A few make it as far as a kilometer and a
half down the slope. All nine, as you might expect, quickly die.

Okay, you might say, that is odd, but surely there must be a logical explanation. But there aren’t any easy answers – and the story gets even more bizarre. Mark Morford of the San Francisco Chronicle continues:

The three-month investigation revealed that five of the trekkers
died from simple hypothermia, with no apparent trauma at all, no signs
of attack, struggle, no outward injuries of any kind. However, two of
the other four apparently suffered massive internal traumas to the
chest, like you would if you were hit by a car. One’s skull was
crushed. All four of these were found far from the other five. But
still, no signs of external injuries.

Not good enough? How about this: One of the women was missing her tongue.

Oh, it gets better. And weirder.

Tests of the few scraps of clothing revealed very high levels of
radiation. Evidence found at the campsite indicates the trekkers
might’ve been blinded. Eyewitnesses around the area report seeing
“bright flying spheres” in the sky during the same months. And oh yes,
relatives at the funeral swear the skin of their dead loved ones was
tanned, tinted dark orange or brown. And their hair had all turned
completely gray.

Wait, what?

The final, official explanation as to what caused such bizarre
behavior from otherwise well-trained, experienced mountaineers? An
“unknown compelling force.” Indeed.

There’s only one word for this: unnerving. We’ll probably never know what happened on that mountain 51 years ago. The real explanation might even be mundane – but that won’t stop the story from raising hackles or stealing sleep.

The mountain in question, of course, was renamed Dyatlov Pass.

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The 5 Creepiest Unexplained Broadcasts

Screen shot of the Max Headroom incident

Image via Wikipedia has compiled a particularly unnerving list of the five creepiest unexplained broadcasts. From their website:

As we speak, broadcast signals are moving invisibly through the air
all around you, from millions of sources. And some of them are really,
really freaking weird.

We know this because occasionally somebody with a shortwave radio, or
a special antenna or even a common household television, will capture
one of these mystery signals and suddenly start broadcasting utter

Where do these signals come from? Who the hell knows?

You can read the list yourself here. But first, I’d recommend you turn off your television and radio.