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New Zealand's Frying Pan Lake Is As Hot As It Sounds

In photos, the steam emanating from New Zealand’s Frying Pan Lake looks similar to a low-hanging fog—the kind that shows up in the early morning hours of an autumn day. In those cases, the steam is formed when cool air moves over a warm lake, but the “Frying Pan" has its own special flair. The lake is always piping hot at 113 to 131 degrees Fahrenheit, and releases carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide to give the appearance of a large boiling cauldron.

Mount Tarawera, a volcano near the town of Rotorua, exploded in 1886 and was New Zealand’s most destructive volcanic eruption of the modern era. The natural disaster killed over one hundred people and formed a large crater—known as Echo Crater—which then became the world’s largest hot spring. The acidic waters in the Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley sometimes get as hot as 160 degrees Fahrenheit or more, and the body spans more than 400,000 square feet.

The pool is relatively shallow, averaging a depth of only about 20 feet (maximum depth is around 65 feet). While not exactly a welcoming temperature for humans, Frying Pan Lake is home to thermophiles, organisms like bacteria that thrive in extreme temperatures—just one of the reasons they’ve been on Earth practically since life here began.

But that doesn’t mean humans haven’t ventured in. In the 1970s, Ron Keam from the University of Auckland did a thorough bathymetric survey of Frying Pan Lake, with a specially-designed wooden boat called Maji Moto.


Watch the steam of Frying Pan Lake snake off the surface below.

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Human Activity Has Permanently Altered Earth, for Better or Worse (Mostly Worse)
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Modern humans have roamed Earth for just a few hundred thousand years. In the grand scheme of things, that's a very short period. But in that time, we’ve triggered mass extinctions of plants and animals, polluted the planet, and developed nuclear weapons—and our legacy will linger in both nature and the geologic record long after historical records have been lost, according to Ted-ED’s video below.

Modern humans have altered the Earth’s landscape and atmosphere so profoundly that some scientists say we’ve ushered in a new epoch called the Anthropocene, or "new age of humankind," from anthropo (human) and cene (new). Before this, we were living in the Holocene (meaning “entirely recent”), which began around 11,700 years ago and faded sometime around 1950.

The 1950s ushered in both the plastics revolution and the atomic age, both of which permanently introduced chemicals into Earth’s fossil record. Meanwhile, humans have also shaped long-term plant and animal evolution with agriculture, fishing, and hunting. In short, our actions have long-term consequences, even if the human species ends up being a blip on the geologic time scale. Remember that the next time you drink from a plastic bottle, or see a cloud of smoke billowing through the sky.

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Spelunkers Discover New Caverns in Montréal's Ancient Cave Network
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An ancient cave system beneath a Montréal park is much more vast than experts believed, the National Post reports.

In 1812, a farmer discovered a cave underneath his property in Montréal’s present-day Saint-Léonard borough. Once used to stockpile ammunition and conceal soldiers during the Rebellions of 1837, the Saint-Léonard cave system in Parc Pie XII is today a tourist attraction and historical landmark. But some speleologists (cave experts) suspected there was more to the natural wonder than met the eye.

Beginning in 2014, two amateur explorers named Daniel Caron and Luc Le Blanc began searching for undiscovered passages in the Saint-Léonard caverns, according to National Geographic. By 2015 they had some leads; in October 2017, they used drills and hammers to break down a cave’s wall to reveal a new cavern.

The stalactite-filled chamber has soaring 20-foot ceilings, and it's connected to a serpentine network of underground tunnels. These passages formed during the Ice Age around 15,000 years ago, when glacier pressure splintered underground rock.

So far, Caron and Le Blanc have explored between 820 to 1640 feet of virgin cave passage, and expect to find even more. They believe the vast network sits atop an aquifer, and ultimately leads to the Montréal water table.

Spelunking the Saint-Léonard cave system is challenging—some passages are filled with water or require special climbing or rock-breaking equipment. The explorers hope that the caves will be easier to investigate during the dry season, and that the receding waters will allow them to reach new depths below Montréal’s surface.

[h/t National Post]

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