9 lousy places for a vacation

1. Buford, Wyoming
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Formerly sporting a bustling population of two, Buford now only has a single resident.

2. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
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The Patch is a basically immobile, gigantic mass of trash out in the middle of the Pacific. Most estimates put its size—composed entirely of plastic bottles, chemical sludge, and basically any other kind of debris you can imagine—larger than the state of Texas. You’d probably rather go to Texas.

3. Alnwick Poison Garden, England
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The Alnwick Poison Garden is pretty much what you’d think it is: a garden full of plants that can kill you (among many other things). Some of the plants are so dangerous that they have to be kept behind bars. It’s not exactly your typical stroll through a botanical garden.

4. Ramree Island, Burma
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Ramree Island may be in the beautiful Burma, but nothing about this place is beautiful. It’s actually just a giant swamp full of thousands of saltwater crocodiles—which are the deadliest in the world—plus mosquitos loaded with malaria, oh, and venomous scorpions. Also, there was a six-week long battle here during WWII, in which only twenty Japanese soliders survived… out of 1000. And most were killed by the wildlife.

5. The Zone of Alienation, Ukraine
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Although you probably wouldn’t want to vacation in Pripyat either, the Zone of Alienation is the 19-mile decommissioned perimeter surrounding the grounds of the Chernobyl incident. It’s administered by a branch of government specifically so that no-one is allowed into it, but there are a few hundred residents who refused to move. What’s wrong with those people? You probably don’t want to know

6. Ilha de Queimada Grande, Brazil
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Sorry to tell you this, but Ilha de Queimada Grande isn’t a fantastical island getaway. It’s actually an island full of thousands of snakes. Its name literally means, “Snake Island.” It has the highest concentration of snakes in the world, with 1-5 golden lanceheads per square meter—oh, and they’re very poisonous: when designs were drawn up to build a plantation on the island, all the scouts were killed.

7. St. Helena
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If you somehow end up in the same place where Napoleon was imprisoned and spent his final days, things are probably going wrong. Oh yeah, and there’s no functioning airport, either. The only way you can get on or off the island is via container ships from South Africa. Which only come every few months.

8. Izu Island, Japan
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The Izus are a group of volcanic islands located off the southern coast of Japan’s Honshu island. They’re technically part of Tokyo, except because they’re extremely volcanic, the air constantly smells of sulfur and residents have been evacuated twice—in 1953 and 2000—because of “dangerously high levels of gas.” Although allowed back in 2005, inhabitants are now required to carry gas masks on their person at all times.

9. Mud Volcanoes of Azerbaijan
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Sure, mud volcanoes aren’t nearly as dangerous as their cousins of the magmatic variety, but when they do actually erupt, it’s not exactly a pretty sight. In 2001, a new island grew out of the Caspian Sea, due to an increase in volcanic activity—right nearby where hundreds of these bad boys are. Generally, they go off every twenty years, and when they do, they shoot flames “hundreds of meters into the sky” and deposit tons of mud into the immediate area.


Largest volcano on Earth discovered lurking beneath Pacific Ocean and named after Texas A&M University


The world’s largest volcano lurks beneath the Pacific Ocean, researchers announced Thursday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Called the Tamu Massif, the enormous mound dwarfs the previous record holder, Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, and is only 25 percent smaller than Olympus Mons on Mars, the biggest volcano in Earth’s solar system, said William Sager, lead study author and a geologist at the University of Houston.

“We think this is a class of volcano that hasn’t been recognized before,” Sager said. “The slopes are very shallow. If you were standing on this thing, you would have a difficult time telling which way was downhill.”

Tamu is 400 miles (650 kilometers) wide but only about 2.5 miles (4 km) tall. It erupted for a few million years during the early Cretaceous period, about 144 million years ago, and has been extinct since then, the researchers report.

Like other massive volcanoes, Tamu Massif seems to have a central cone that spewed lava down its broad, gentle slopes. The evidence comes from seismic surveys and lava samples painstakingly collected over several years of surveys by research ships. The seismic waves show lava flows dipping away from the summit of the volcano. There appears to be a series of calderas at the summit, similar in shape to the elongated and merged craters atop Mauna Loa, Sager said.

Until now, geologists thought Tamu Massif was simply part of an oceanic plateau called Shatsky Rise in the northwest Pacific Ocean. Oceanic plateaus are massive piles of lava whose origins are still a matter of active scientific debate. Some researchers think plumes of magma from deep in the mantle punch through the crust, flooding the surface with lava. Others suggest pre-existing weaknesses in the crust, such as tectonic-plate boundaries, provide passageways for magma from the mantle, the layer beneath the crust. Shatsky Rise formed atop a triple junction, where three plates pulled apart.

Tamu Massif’s new status as a single volcano could help constrain models of how oceanic plateaus form, Sager said. “For anyone who wants to explain oceanic plateaus, we have new constraints,” he told LiveScience. “They have to be able to explain this volcano forming in one spot and deliver this kind of magma supply in a short time.”

Geochemist David Peate of the University of Iowa, who was not involved in the study, said he looks forward to new models explaining the pulses of magma that built Shatsky Rise. Tamu Massif is the biggest and oldest volcano, and the cones grow smaller and younger to the northeast of Tamu. Sager and his colleagues suggest that pulses of magma created the volcanic trail.

“It seems that in many oceanic plateaus the melting is continuous, but here you have a big shield volcano,” Peate told LiveScience. “Understanding the source of the volume of that magma, the rate of production of the magma and the time interval between those pulses will help give better constraints to feed into those models,” he said.

Sager said other, bigger volcanoes could be awaiting discovery at other oceanic plateaus, such as Ontong Java Plateau, located north of the Solomon Islands in the southwest Pacific Ocean. “Structures that are under the ocean are really hard to study,” he said.

Oceanic plateaus are the biggest piles of lava on Earth. The outpourings have been linked to mass extinctions and climate change. The volume of Tamu Massif alone is about 600,000 cubic miles (2.5 million cubic km). The entire volcano is bigger than the British Isles or New Mexico.

Despite Tamu’s huge size, the ship surveys showed little evidence the volcano’s top ever poked above the sea. The world’s biggest volcano has been hidden because it sits on thin oceanic crust (or lithosphere), which can’t support its weight. Its top is about 6,500 feet (1,980 meters) below the ocean surface today.

“In the case of Shatsky Rise, it formed on virtually zero thickness lithosphere, so it’s in isostatic balance,” Sager said. “It’s basically floating all the time, so the bulk of Tamu Massif is down in the mantle. The Hawaiian volcanoes erupted onto thick lithosphere, so it’s like they have a raft to hold on to. They get up on top and push it down. And with Olympus Mons, it’s like it formed on a two-by-four.”

Sager and his colleagues have studied Shatsky Rise for decades, seeking to solve the puzzle of oceanic plateaus. About 20 years ago, they named Tamu Massif after Texas A&M University, Sager’s former employer, he said.


Thriving bacteria discovered at the deepest point in the ocean


Hollywood director James Cameron found little evidence of life when he descended nearly 11,000 metres to the deepest point in the world’s oceans last year. If only he had taken a microscope and looked just a few centimetres deeper.

Ronnie Glud at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, and his colleagues, have discovered unusually high levels of microbial activity in the sediments at the site of Cameron’s dive – Challenger Deep at the bottom of the western Pacific’s Mariana Trench.

Glud’s team dispatched autonomous sensors and sample collectors into the trench to measure microbial activity in the top 20 centimetres of sediment on the sea bed. The pressure there is almost 1100 times greater than at the surface. Finding food, however, is an even greater challenge than surviving high pressures for anything calling the trench home.

Any nourishment must come in the form of detritus falling from the surface ocean, most of which is consumed by other organisms on the way down. Only 1 per cent of the organic matter generated at the surface reaches the sea floor’s abyssal plains, 3000 to 6000 metres below sea level. So what are the chances of organic matter making it even deeper, into the trenches that form when one tectonic plate ploughs beneath another?

Surprisingly, the odds seem high. Glud’s team compared sediment samples taken from Challenger Deep and a reference site on the nearby abyssal plain. The bacteria at Challenger Deep were around 10 times as abundant as those on the abyssal plain, with every cubic centimetre of sediment containing 10 million microbes. The deep microbes were also twice as active as their shallower kin.

These figures make sense, says Glud, because ocean trenches are particularly good at capturing sediment. They are broad as well as deep, with a steep slope down to the deepest point, so any sediment falling on their flanks quickly cascades down to the bottom in muddy avalanches. Although the sediment may contain no more than 1 per cent organic matter, so much of it ends up at Challenger Deep that the level of microbial activity shoots up.

“There is much more than meets the eye at the bottom of the sea,” says Hans Røy, at Aarhus University in Denmark. Last year, he studied seafloor sediments below the north Pacific gyre – an area that, unlike Challenger Deep, is almost devoid of nutrients. Remarkably, though, even here Røy found living microbes.

“With the exception of temperatures much above boiling, bacteria seem to cope with everything this planet can throw at them,” he says.

Journal reference: Nature Geoscience, DOI: 10.1038/ngeo1773