The Giant Waves at Nazare, Portugal

The pretty seaside town and resort of Nazaré on the west coast of Portugal remains crowded throughout the summer with tourists who flock to its long sandy beaches to relax, swim and surf. But when winter arrives, only the most serious thrill seekers stay. At this time, the beaches are dangerous. Massive waves up to 100 feet high regularly break along the rocky coastline.

Nazare’s monster waves attract big wave surfers from all around, but until very recently, the town and its surfing potential was relatively unknown outside Europe. Nazare hit headlines only in November 2011 when Hawaiian surfer Garrett McNamara surfed a record breaking giant wave measuring 78 feet from trough to crest. In January 2013, McNamara returned to Nazare and broke his own record by successfully riding a wave that was estimated to be 100 feet tall. Later in October the same year, Brazilian big-wave hero Carlos Burle rode a wave that appeared to be even bigger. Nazaré on the Atlantic coast has now become a legendary spot in the world of big wave surfing.

A massive wave breaks at Nazaré in Portugal. 

How does Nazaré manage to generate waves of colossal size with such regularity? The answer lies in Nazare's rare undersea geography. Just off the coast of Nazare is the biggest underwater ravine in Europe called Nazaré Canyon. This huge canyon runs 125 miles from the abyssal plain of the Atlantic Ocean to less than half a mile from the coastline, pointing towards the town like an arrow. At its deepest point, the canyon floor is more than 3 miles beneath the surface and it rises rapidly to a canyon “headwall” that rises to between 100 and 150 feet just off the coast of Praia do Norte beach, which is where some of the biggest waves has been known to occur.

The swells originate in the North Atlantic from giant storms in wintertime, and as they arrive near Nazare their energy gets focused and amplified by the narrow canyon just like a magnifying glass focuses the suns energy into a small region. From the headwall to the coastline, the seabed rises abruptly that enables the waves to climb really big all of a sudden. Just before it reaches the coastline, the sea becomes shallow enough for the now amplified swells to break in gigantic waves.

All other big wave spots around the globe — Teahupoo in Tahiti, the Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii, and Mavericks off northern California — have similar undersea geography.

Surfer Sebastian Steudtner from Germany rides a big wave, while above a crowd watches from the cliffs at Praia do Norte in Nazaré. 

A surfer drops in on a large wave at Praia do Norte, in Nazare December 11, 2014. Praia do Norte beach has gained popularity with big wave surfers since Hawaiian surfer Garrett McNamara broke a world record for the largest wave surfed here in 2011.

Crowds seen watching on the cliffs at Praia do Norte. 

Waves reaching the lighthouse in Nazaré as the first big swell of the year arrives. 

Crowds seen watching surfers from the cliff at Praia do Norte.


The Elephant Foot Glacier

The Elephant Foot Glacier in northeastern Greenland, looks like a bowl of batter that has been poured over a pan. The sheer pressure of the zillion-ton ice has broken through the mountain and spilled into the sea in a near symmetric, fan-shaped lobe. Such glaciers are known as piedmont glaciers, and the Elephant Foot Glacier is a perfect example of it. Its shape is so distinct that it stands out dramatically from its surroundings when viewed from high above.

Glaciers are one of the most extraordinary of the earth’s natural phenomena. These rivers of frozen snow accumulated over centuries of precipitation are so densely packed that it exceeds its overall ablation. They are in a constant state of flux, flowing down in the direction of the slope towards a valley or a water body. You can’t really tell if it’s moving but come back in a few decades and you will be able to see the dramatic change in the landscape.

The Elephant Foot Glacier is located on the Kronprins Christian Land peninsula. It is not connected to Greenland’s main ice sheet. Rather, it’s part of a network of glaciers and ice caps that hangs around the periphery of the island. Research has shown that as a whole, these outlying glaciers and ice caps account for 5 to 7 percent of Greenland’s total ice coverage, but they are responsible for 20 percent of its contribution to sea level rise.

Another example of piedmont glaciers is the Malaspina Glacier in southeastern Alaska. 65-km long and 45-km wide, it is the largest piedmont glacier in the world. The glacier arises where several valley glaciers, primarily the Seward Glacier and Agassiz Glacier, spill out from the Saint Elias Mountains onto the coastal plain facing the Gulf of Alaska.

Malaspina Glacier.


Hand of Hercules in Amman, Jordania

Towering over Amman's modern skyline is the Temple of Hercules, located at the peak of a hillside in one of the ancient city's oldest quadrants.

Constructed between 162–166 A.D. during Marcus Aurelius' Roman occupation of Amman's Citadel, the great temple is larger than any in Rome itself. Its portico faces east and is surrounded by six 33-foot-tall columns. Measuring 100 feet long by 85 feet wide with an outer sanctum of 400 by 236 feet, the fact that the rest of the temple remained unadorned by columns suggests to scholars that the structure was never completed, for reasons history has yet to reveal.

During the excavation process, few clues were left to help scholars unlock the mysteries of this massive half-finished, abandoned temple. But the ones that did exist were huge—albeit ambiguous. From just three gigantic fingers, one elbow, and a scattering of coins, archaeologists have agreed these marble body parts likely belonged to a massive statue of Hercules himself. Therefore, the theory goes, the temple also must have been dedicated to the half-god known for his feats of strength and far-ranging adventures.

Likely toppled during one of the area's periodic catastrophic earthquakes, the statue fell to bits, but unlike the temple, all except the hand and elbow disappeared. As one guide put it, "the rest of Hercules became Amman's countertops."

Experts' best guess is that, in its original state, the statue would have measured upwards of 40 feet high, which would have placed it among the largest known marble statues to have ever existed.

Back in the here and now, it makes for a pretty enjoyable time to walk up to a cluster of fat fingers, stare at their well-trimmed nails and cuticles, and walk away giggling that scholars have agreed: Hercules enjoyed a good manicure, just like modern-day demigods.


12 Most Incredible Warehouses & Factories in The World

This blog post is all about some of the the most incredible warehouses, storage facilities and factories from around the World. Check out these awesome photographs ranging from a wine cellar all the way through to an enormous warehouse where they build aircraft.

We hope that you enjoy these pictures and please share with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ etc.

1. DB Schenker's Warehouse in Germany

Above: A photograph by Christian Stoll one of DB Schenker's warehouses in Germany. DB Schenker is one of the largest logistics companies in the world and Christian Stoll is known for his stunningly perfect photos of modern structures.

2. Volkswagen’s Car Towers, Wolfsburg, Germany

Above: The two gleaming glass towers of Volkswagen's Autostadt, or car town, house technology which automatically moves cars from VW's Wolfsburg plant to the towers, and on to the customer centre where they are collected by their owners.

3. National Archives in Winsford, Cheshire

Above: The salt mine in Winsford, Cheshire is the size of 700 football pitches, stretches to 100 miles and is still growing. Confidential government files, hospital records, historic archives belonging to The National Archives are stored in the mine, where the dry and stable atmosphere provides ideal conditions.

4. Bank of England's Vault Beneath London

Above: The Bank of England's vault under central London contains 4,600 tons of gold, worth an incredible £156 billion. The piles of 28lb 24-carat gold bars are stacked on simple blue shelves beneath strip lighting.

5. Amazon Warehouse

Above: We are not sure where this huge and incredible warehouse is based but it belongs to Amazon, the world's largest online retailer, which started off as an online bookstore back in 1994.

6. Meyer Werft, Papenburg, Germany

Above: Founded in 1795 in Papenburg, Germany, this shipping and cargo port warehouses some of the largest cruise ships in the world. It boasts 678,000 sq. ft. of space, and it is estimated that over 700 total ships have been built at this facility.

7. Google Data Centre, Georgia

  Above: A central cooling plant in Google's Douglas County, Georgia, data centre which originally opened in 2003. They paint the pipes bright colours not only because it's fun, but also to designate which one is which.

8. Champagne Warehouse, France

Above: The world’s finest champagnes are stored in underground warehouses such as the one shown here in Reims, France while they mature for anything up to 20 years.

9. M&S Warehouse, Castle Donington

Above: Marks and Spencer's mega e-commerce HQ which opened in 2003 in Castle Donington, Leicestershire. The 900,000 sq ft distribution centre handles all of M&S's online orders and deliveries processing up to a million items a day.

10. Jean-Luc Lagardère Plant, Toulouse

Above: The Jean-Luc Lagardere Plant in Toulouse plays a very important role in the construction of the Airbus A380 aircraft, which is the largest airliner in the World. It takes about 1.32 million square feet to adequately build these huge planes.

11. Constellation Europe, UK

Above: Based in Avonmouth, near Bristol, Constellation Europe is the largest wine warehouse in Europe. It stores 57million bottles at any given time, enough to stretch 9,000 miles if laid out end to end. That’s the same distance as a flight from the UK to Australia.

12. The Abandoned Soviet Space Centre

Above: Here is an awesome picture taken by photographer Ralph Mirebs of inside the abandoned Soviet Space Centre based near the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The hangar houses 2 prototype shuttles that were part of the ill-fated Buran shuttle programme.


Gyermekvasút - The Children’s Railways of Soviet Russia in Budapest

In the outskirts of Budapest, through the scenic Buda hills, run a short, narrow-gauge railway line called Gyermekvasút, which is Hungarian for “Children's Railway”. But Gyermekvasút is not a toy train commonly found in amusement parks. It’s a real railway line with real stations, real diesel locomotives pulling real coaches, and running on a real schedule. The “Children” here are not the passengers. They are the railway workers.

The Children's Railway is staffed and run mostly by pre-adolescent kids aged between 10 to 14, under adult supervision, of course. Only the driving and maintenance stuff are done by adults. All other jobs, from checking and issuing tickets, operating signals, making announcements and giving information to passengers, are performed by young people dressed in immaculate official uniforms complete with all the appropriate paraphernalia.

Young railway employees of Children's Railway, Minsk. 

The Children's Railway is a relic of the communist era, built at a time when the Young Pioneers movement was in full force. The Young Pioneers was a youth movement of the Communist Party, similar to the Scouts movement of the Western world, where young people learned skills of social cooperation and attended publicly funded summer camps. The early Young Pioneers were originally Scouts who took the Bolsheviks' side after the October Revolution of 1917. Many Scouts, however, resisted the communists and fought in the ranks of the White Army and interventionists against the Red Army during the Russian Civil War of 1917-1921. After communism got a firm hold over the country, the Scouting system was eradicated and replaced by the ideologically different Young Pioneer organization to properly educate children with Communist teachings.

The Children's Railway, sometimes also called the Pioneer Railway, was a project of the Young Pioneers where teenagers and children learned the railway profession. They were established all across the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe where communism had its presence. The first opened in Gorky Park, Moscow, in 1932. The one in Budapest, the Gyermekvasút, opened in 1948. By the time the USSR broke up, there were over 50 such railways and many more across the Eastern Bloc. Many Pioneer Railways are still in use today functioning as heritage railways as well as tourist attractions. Aside from the one in Budapest, surviving examples are found in Minsk, Dresden, Berlin, Belarus, Tbilisi and a host of other cities.

The Gyermekvasút in Budapest is 11.2 km long and goes through seven stops, all popular recreation spots. To work on the railway children undergo 4 months of training and sit exams in all areas of railway management before receiving a one-year license. Children work once or twice a fortnight, rotating the tasks, so that they can fit their duties around attendance at school. They are even permitted to miss school while working on the railway. Working on the Gyermekvasút is a privilege, and young Hungarians look forward to it.

The Children's Railway in Budapest. 

A young officer of the Minsk Children’s Railway. 

Signalman at the Children's Railway. 

The Children's Railway in Minsk.

The Children's Railway in Minsk. 

The Children's Railway in Minsk. 

The Children's Railway in Minsk. 

A signalman at the Children's Railway in Budapest. 

A young worker at the Children's Railway in Budapest. 

A young worker at the Children's Railway in Budapest


Thermogenesis Phenomenon

Between late February and May, in woodlands and wetlands throughout eastern Canada and the northeast United States, you’ll find a low growing, foul-smelling plant called skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus). The skunk cabbage is one of the first plants to emerge in the spring when the winter snow is yet to melt. As the plant pokes its head out of the snow and starts flowering, it forms a small pool of water around it, created by snow melt. The heat needed to melt the snow is derived not from the sun but generated by the plant itself. Skunk cabbage is one of the few species in the Plant Kingdom, belonging to ancient lineages of flowering plants, that has the rare ability to generate heat — a phenomenon known as thermogenesis.

The flower of a skunk cabbage melts snow around it by its heat.

Thermogenic plants are found in a variety of families, but Araceae in particular contains many such species. Skunk cabbage, the dead-horse arum, the elephant yam and Philodendron selloum, are a few examples of thermogenic plants belonging to the Araceae family. These plants can generate significant amounts of heat that even mammals can’t, and their rate of heat production actually increases the colder the environment gets.

In an experiment, skunk cabbages were found to maintain flower temperature 9°C higher when the air temperature was at 15°C. When the air temperature was dropped to –15°C, the flower was still at 15°C, or 30° higher than the air temperature.

The Asian sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) can also regulate its flower temperature. Measurements showed that flower temperatures stayed at a warm 30°C to 36°C even when environmental temperatures dropped as low as 10°C. Another species Philodendron selloum is even better at temperature regulation. In lab tests, the flowers managed to stay between 30°C and 36°C even when scientists chilled the air to 4°C.

The dead horse arum (Helicodiceros muscivorus), another obnoxious smelling plant, reportedly produces more heat than any other known plant or animal considered in its entirety.

Knowledge of heat generating plants date back more than 200 years but it’s only recently researchers have started to unravel the biochemistry behind it. It’s now know that the heat is generated in the mitochondria, as a secondary process of cellular respiration, although the actual process is still poorly understood.

Biologists believe thermogenic plants generate heat to assist in pollination. The heat renders the flower’s fragrance more volatile which helps the scent to spread more widely so that pollinating insects can find them from far away. The dead horse arum, which smells like rotten meat, uses heat not only to attract flies and beetles but also to convince them that it’s a dead carcass. The heat also makes the thermogenic plants attractive to insects seeking warmth and comfort.

But a flower that offers pollinators just a sip of nectar or a snack of pollen and then sends them on their way has a better chance of dispersing its pollens than a flower that traps insects for a whole night by its hospitality. This is why thermogenesis is not commonly seen among plants. During evolution these heat generating species died out and were replaced by plants having better pollination methods.

The dead-horse arum. This flower has the fragrance of a rotting carcass.

Skunk cabbages blooming in the forest.

Skunk cabbage breaking through the ice.


The Tree of Life in Kalaloch

There is an extraordinary tree in Kalaloch beach, within Olympic National Park in Washington, that some people call “the tree of life” because of the miraculous way it seems to be hanging on to life when it should have been dead years ago. The tree is located just north of Kalaloch Lodge, near the Kalaloch Campground, on a cliff that has partially caved in due to erosion — right under the tree. The tree is anchored to the ground by only a few tendrils of roots, but the majority of them are exposed and spread out over a void. It’s a miracle that the tree is still breathing and thriving and sprouting fresh green leaves every spring despite having no soil underneath. No one knows why the tree has not toppled over during the intense storms that the coast is known for.

The tree is a Sitka spruce, but there is no official name. So people have been calling it by various names such as “the tree of life” and “the runaway tree”. Underneath the tree, is a cave like hollow that some people call “the tree root cave”. I couldn’t find how old the tree is or for how long it is hanging there for dear life.

The cave under the tree was caused by a small stream that empties into the ocean and has been washing the soil out from underneath it. I gather that this happened many decades ago, as can be inferred from this passage I read at, written in 2005:

As we approached the tree, a couple that was walking towards the bluff commented that they had been coming to this campground for 17 years and each year they had been expecting the tree to fall, but it hadn’t happened yet.