Earth Science - Other

7 Wonders of the Natural World the Grand Canyon the Great Barrier Reef Harbor of Rio De Janeiro

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CNN (Cable News Network) has compiled a list of natural wonders to be considered as the seven wonders of the natural world. These places are of uncompromising beauty or of incredible wonderment. The list recognizes these sites as places worthy of extraordinary preservation.

* Maybe the most incredible place within the confines of the United States is the Grand Canyon. It is 277 miles in length, four to 18 miles across and over a mile deep. This is where the Colorado River has carved it's way straight through the earth, laying open the history of the earth and exposing Proterozoic and Paleozoic strata. One can see the development of the planet, and layers upon layers of growth. It is said that one tributary of the Colorado River began to cut through the layers of rock in the west, while another began in the east. The Colorado plain lifted up, and suddenly the canyons met, in what is described as the 'Grand Canyon Event.' That was 5.4 million years ago. The Canyon was developed over 40 million years, and continues to evolve as the earth continues to erode.

Prior to discovery by Europeans, caves along the Canyon walls were settled by Native Americans. The Anasazi, or Ancient Ones, considered this holy ground, and the Hopi made pilgrimages here. There is a vast history of exploration that includes characters like John Wesley Powell, the one armed cartographer who led the first American expedition down the Colorado River, and Captain Garcia Lopez de Cardenas who sought the Seven Cities of Cibola for the Spanish in North America. President Teddy Roosevelt cared enough to make the property about the Grand Canyon into park land so that we can all explore it.

* The Great Barrier Reef is one of the few anomalies that can be seen from space. It is located off of Queensland Australia. It is composed of 2,900 reefs, 900 islands and is the largest conglomeration of living organisms on earth. It is 133,000 square miles. It is made up of billions of coral polyps, and supports a wide variety of life.

The Great Barrier Marine Park contains a large part of the reef. It was set aside in order to protect it from destruction caused by human habitation. After us, the greatest threat to the reef is coral bleaching caused by global warming.

This is a place that is revered by the aboriginal Australians and by the Torres Strait Islander People. It is also a great tourist attraction.

* The harbor at Rio de Janeiro, although named the River of January, is not a river at all, but a bay opening into Brazil from the Atlantic Ocean. When Portuguese explorer Gaspar de Lemos discovered Rio de Janeiro on January 1st, 1502, he left the presumed river for later exploration. The first colony in that area was formed by European settlers as a place where they could meet and deal with local tribes. On March 1st, 1565, the City of Rio was founded. This became a capitol city and a major port. Sugar, diamonds, gold, narcotics, etc. were exported from Rio. Seven municipalities, including the City of Rio de Janeiro, Niteroi, Sao Goncalo, surround the bay, and there are 130 islands. The diverse geography includes city scapes, beaches, mangrove and tropical forests, oddly shaped rocks and peaks, as well as mountains. There are two airports, an array of bridges and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, which occupies an artificial island. It is simply one of the most beautiful places in the world.

It is threatened though, by byproducts of human habitation, including deforestation and pollution caused by sewage, garbage and oil spills. Attempts to rescue the area are currently underway.

* Mount Everest is the highest mountain on earth, rising to 29,029 feet above sea level. It is located on the border between Sagarmatha Zone, Nepal, and Tibet, China, and is part of the Himalayas Range of Asia.

Both Nepal and Tibet feared foriegn intervention and halted visitors at their borders for many years. Because of that, a true estimation of height was unattainable. In fact, it was hard to establish the native names for the mountains. Early explorers, while waiting permission from either country, were doubly threatened because of the proclivity of malaria. At best, the British Surveyor General of India estimated the highest peak at 30,000 feet. Naming it was next. Chomolungma was one of several names considered by the British Surveyor General. It was there practise to use native names for mountains they measured and charted. There were other names though, and without being allowed to explore the mountain and talk to the people of either country, it was decided that another name would have to be found. George Everest was a former Surveyor General at that time. Against his protests, the mountain was named for him.

Because of its height, climbers of all levels of ability have attempted it. The Southwest Ridge from Nepal and the Northeast Ridge from Tibet are the two main routes up the mountain. The route from Nepal is more commonly used as the Chinese closed the Tibetan border in the 1950's. After nine previous attempts, the first in 1921, the New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay from Nepal successfully made it to the summit of Mt. Everest on May 29, 1953. They used oxygen left behind by teammates, Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans who attempted the climb earlier that week. Bourdillon and Evans came within the last 100 meters of the summit. Since then quite a number of people have tried. Some succeeded, while others failed. Several have died.

Life at the furthest reaches include the Euophrys omnisuperstes, a minute black jumping spider, which lives as far up as 22,000 feet. It is thought that they live in crevices and feed on frozen insects carried on the wind. Birds, like the bare headed goose, feast on carrion at the highest reaches, including corpses left behind after unsuccessful attempts to scale Everest.

* The Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Polar Lights, and the Aurora Australis, or the Southern Polar Lights, are most often seen at night, around the time of the equinoxes. That means they are more often visible in either March and April, or September and October. The closer to the polar regions, the more likely one will see blue/green lights, sometimes tinged with red in the sky. The red is said to look as if the sun is rising in the sky from an odd angle. Typically they look like curtains or arcs, and constantly evolving.

The auroras are caused by photon emissions in the earth's upper atmosphere, and are driven by solar winds. Nitrogen atoms regain lost electrons; and oxygen and nitrogen atoms are returning from an excited state to ground state.

* Paricutin is a wonder because it is the first volcano in which modern day humans watched as it formed. It began in 1943 as a fissure in a Mexican corn field in state of Michoacan. As Dionisio Pulido, his wife and son, tilled the soil on February 20th, of that year, they saw the first burst of ash and stones. Over the period of a week, their land grew into a cinder cone five stories tall. Within a year, the volcano grew to 1,102.36 feet tall. It remained active for about ten years. It has buried two towns in the area, including Paricutin, the town the volcano was named for. Thankfully only two people have lost their lives. Others affected by lava and ash were able to relocate. The last eruption occurred in 1953, and the final height is 1,319.8 feet. It is what is known as a monogenetic cinder cone. That means it is defunct. If it were to erupt again, it would be in a new random location. This particular volcano is part of the Michoacn-Guanajuato Volcanic Field, which covers much of west central Mexico

* The Victoria Falls is neither the tallest nor the widest water falls in the world, although when one takes the width, 5600 feet, and multiply it by its height, 360 feet, one will come up with 2,016,000 square feet. That gives Victoria Falls the largest single sheet of flowing water in the world. It is located on the Zambezi River, between Zambia and Zimbabwe, in Africa.

The Zambezi River flows for quite a while over shallow basalt valley. Although surrounded by distant sandstone hills, there are no mountains as one would expect. Islands covered in trees sit in the midst of the water, more so by the falls. There are three at the very edge. A fracture in the basalt causes the water to drop to a new level.

During the annual flood season, that is February through May, the mist rises up to 1300 feet in the air. In places, it seems like an inverted rainfall. Rather than the mists creating a rainbow in the sun, one can see a rainbow in the moon glow. The dry season lasts the rest of the year. That's when the islands in the river appear to be broader and it is possible at times, although not safe, to walk across the edge of the falls.

If we are mindful of not just these precious spaces, but of our environment everywhere, we will hopefully not only guarantee our future existence, but we will ensure that our grandchildren will enjoy these places as much as we do.

More about this author: Jude Coyle

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