Earth got two new islands this year.

A few days ago, a new island began to appear south of Japan. This volcano is exploding like crazy.

In September, an earthquake in Pakistan caused a volcano of mud to erupt off the country’s southern shore. You can set fire to the gases bubbling out of it.

Over the past decade, an island has been slowly building up off the coast of Germany. This one had nothing to do with volcanoes: The island of Norderoogsand is basically a giant sandbar in the sea. The waves have pushed sand and silt into a crescent shape that in recent years finally became a respectable island.

Any of these new islands could disappear again soon. The Japanese island is the only one that has a chance of lasting. New islands like these typically sink back beneath the waves within a few years. Even the Hawaiian islands will eventually descend into the ocean again. In a sense, they’re all temporary.

Those aren’t the only ways that islands are made, though. Dubai has some awesome man-made islands:

What would you do with your own private island?


So I stepped on a giant prehistoric snail on the way to work.

Cities around the world have the fossilized remains of ancient life embedded in their infrastricture. The builders usually didn’t even know it.


People just walk over this cross-section of a giant snail in the floor of the Smithsonian Arts & Industries building without even thinking about it. (Photo credit: Christopher Barr)

If you look closely at the stones of certain buildings in your area, you might find fossils stuck in the walls or floors. Or in a bridge or paving stone or any other stonework. We use huge amounts of rock in constructing our cities, and often they just happen to have fossils embedded in them.

Sometimes it’s deliberate, but sometimes it’s only later that we notice that some of the stones have fossils. There’s probably many times more hidden beneath the surface.


The floor of the National Gallery of Art is full of these weird extinct nautiloids. (Photo credit: Christopher Barr)

There’s fossils built into the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. Not just that, of course. They’re everywhere. You just have to look for them. A good geologist can often tell a sedimentary rock (the kind more likely to have fossils) just by looking.

Christopher Barr, a geology expert in Washington, D.C., has been hard at work obsessively cataloging the fossils you can find just by walking around in public in the nation’s capital. No museum required.

The BBC has video showing these ancient treasures hidden in plain sight in London.

Here’s where to find a few in Manhattan. They can also be found in a bathroom in Florida, a church in England, and a department store in Tokyo.

They’re everywhere!

Have you ever seen a fossil hidden in plain sight? Keep an eye out and maybe you will.

Let us know if you do.

Mount Etna, hot and blowing volcanic smoke rings

I thought blowing smoke rings was something only people did, but it turns out the Earth sometimes has a whimsical puff now and then, too.

eats shoots 'n leaves

The largest of Italy’s three active volcanoes, the Sicilian peak is active more than it’s not.

One of the most spectacular of Etna’s phenomena is the the mountain’s habit of blowing smoke rings, as in this example captured earlier this month by vlogger Omer Orda:

Spectacular, incredible, amazing rarely seen smoke rings at Mt Etna

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Money does grow on trees after all.


The deep roots of eucalyptus trees have been found to be especially good at lifting traces of precious metals from deep underground. But other trees can do it too. (image source)

Australian scientists just discovered that eucalyptus trees, which can have roots more than 130 feet deep, sometimes have gold in their leaves. They suck up water from deep underground, and if there’s gold ore nearby, microscopic pieces of gold come up with it. That doesn’t make the trees a source of riches, but it does make it possible that prospectors could have a new way of locating gold. The same method will probably soon be applied to other valuable minerals in other parts of the world.

It also sounds like it offers a new reason to destroy forests to get at the stuff underneath them, which is a little less exciting.

Permanence is an illusion.


Carlos Nicanor

Art blogger Krisi Metzen recently shared her discovery of an impressive artist named Carlos Nicanor. His art explores the interplay of the temporal and the permanent. He makes solid things appear liquid. It got me thinking.

I work in an auto shop. I was changing oil recently and as I watched the glistening amber liquid pouring into the reservoir, I thought about the way the oil took that certain spout shape for the brief time it was pouring. We consider a river to be a specific thing, but like that oil spout, a river is only a shape that a substance assumes for a time.

In fact, everything is.

Once I was reading outside and I paused to think, looking up. I realized that if I was patient, I could tell that those high, wispy cirrus clouds that usually don’t seem to be moving were drifting and changing shape before my eyes. You know that all clouds are always moving, but it’s something different to actually see the motion of something that you normally perceive as stationary.

One morning I watched a sunrise. There were some telephone lines hanging high above and in front of me, and I moved to just the right spot and sat very still. I watched the planet Venus get closer and closer to one thin wire, briefly pass behind it, and emerge from the other side. It’s awesome to realize you can perceive the spinning of the globe you’re sitting on.

Everything we normally think of as permanent, like the shape of the continents or appearance of species, is only a snapshot of an ongoing process of change.

The way we normally perceive time isn’t the only way to perceive it. Like I said before: Your pet, and most other animals, perceive time very differently than you do.

America has a real-life Atlantis.


The state of Hawaii is entirely made out of volcanoes.

It’s a unique thing on this Earth. Hawaii might be the strangest place in America. It started being formed 30 million years ago by a hotspot of lava rising from beneath the Pacific. Each island is a mountain of cooled lava rising from the bottom of the sea. Mauna Kea on the southwesternmost island is taller than Mount Everest, measured from its peak to its base at the ocean floor.

As the Earth’s tectonic plates slowly slide around, the lava tubes that formed one island break, and another set forms and slowly builds up a new island.


Most of Hawaii’s volcanic vents are extinct, and some of them are open to tourists.  The others you can only enter if there’s nobody watching.


Hawaii is prone to earthquakes, so there’s always the possibility of a cave-in.  When my fiancée and I went exploring one of these lava tunnels with her family, we found a huge stone that had recently fallen from the ceiling.


In parts the ceiling and cave walls look like something organic because they froze in mid-flow, letting only the hottest lava inside make it out of the tunnel to wreak destruction on the land.

Hawaii 2012-2013 Set 2 187

It’s awesome, but you don’t want to stay down there too long.

Hawaii 2012-2013 Set 2 215

The youngest, biggest island (named Hawaii, also the state’s name) is the most active.  Mount Kilauea’s oozing lava destroyed most of the community of Kalapana in 1990.  Three years ago, some truly dramatic pictures were captured of Kilauea claiming one of the community’s last remaining homes.

Right now an undersea volcano is forming a new island off the southeast coast of the Big Island, but it probably won’t peek above the waves for at least 10,000 years.

Once a Hawaiian island is formed, it doesn’t stay there forever.  Each once-mighty volcano erodes and slowly sinks back into the sea over millions of years.  This is still happening today: You can see the path that the volcano chain has taken over the eons.

It’s another example of the kinds of things going on all the time that we don’t notice because they occur on time-scales we’re not used to.

Hawaii has dozens of these “Atlantis” islands filled with the fossils of long-lost species that may never be found.  Like the mythical city of Atlantis that’s said to have disappeared into the sea, Hawaii’s smaller Western islands are the last remnants of islands drowned by time.


Because the motion of the plates over that deep-Earth hotspot has formed so many volcanoes over time, the few Hawaiian islands you usually see on a map are only part of the picture.  Most maps only show seven of Hawaii’s islands, but the state has about 137 islands and atolls stretching across much of the Pacific.  Hawaii is by far the longest state in America.  It’s about as wide east-to-west as the contiguous U.S. is tall from north to south.

I’ve always been proud to be an American.  Why is America awesome?

Well, Hawaii, for one thing.

Impossible Earth Part 1: Fly Geyser, the best mining accident ever

The Link: Fly Geyser

The Story:

A recurring theme of this blog is that the world is more awesome than you think, full of impossible-seeming things.

On a private plot of land in Nevada is a scene that looks like something from an acid trip or 1970s science fiction book cover.  But it’s real.


Man, what am I even looking at here? (image from Wikipedia)

Not quite natural, not quite man-made, it’s the result of the landowners drilling a well and accidentally hitting a huge geothermal water pocket.  The area has been erupting with mineral-rich steam for nearly a century, forming those bizarre rainbow-hued shapes.