7 Unexpected Facts about Nature that Show the Complexity of Planet Earth5 min read

When you’re stuck in the daily grind, it can be easy to forget about how freaking weird, but equally wonderful life on Earth can be. If you just stop to think for a minute, you’ll realise we’re all floating on a watery sphere in space, full of curious and creepy critters (ourselves included). And somehow, everything seems to work together in an extremely complex, interconnected ecosystem. The best thing about living on Earth? We’re still discovering new things every single day. Hopefully, these seven unexpected nature facts about our planet will help you expand your mind and rediscover your sense of wonder.

1. Forget About the Moon, the Bottom of the Ocean is Full of Secrets

Did you know we know more about the surface of the moon than our ocean floors? And consider this: over 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. The reason for this lack of data isn’t a disinterest in the aquatic world; it’s actually a technological issue. The problem is water, to put it simply. Damn you, water! Wait, I’ll explain.

A little boat with a group of peole floats on the ocean during sunset
Photo: Roselinde Bon

Water behaves very differently from air. We can easily use light and radio waves to illuminate the Moon (or Mars, for example). But those waves don’t pass through water very easily. We can’t really ‘see’ our ocean floors, it’s usually too tricky. That’s why deep ocean floors are pitch-black: electromagnetic waves struggle to transmit through water, but they can easily reach the moon.

2. Can Plants Scream for Help?

The theory hasn’t been widely tested yet, so we’ll take this somewhat peculiar entry between these already unexpected nature facts with a grain of salt (you should too). Nevertheless, I can’t help but mention it. Scientists recently discovered that plants suffering from physical damage or a drought may actually ‘scream’ for help. Those ultrasonic squeals are too high-frequency for humans to hear, but some animals and other plants may be able to hear them. The reason for these so-called squeals is a mystery, although some have speculated insects could hear to the screams and avoid unhealthy plants to lay their eggs. Who would have thought? I think I might have nightmares about screeching cacti tonight.

A girl gazes at a frozen lake while kneeling in the snow
Photo: Roselinde Bon

3. The World Really Does Go Quiet When it Snows

In a 2016 paper titled: “The science behind snow’s serenity”, the University of Kentucky explains how snowfall makes the world go a little bit quieter. Sure, the fact that lots of people will prefer to stay inside to avoid the cold is part of it. But there is a scientific reason why snow equals silence, which can have a calming effect on animals (including humans).

In contrast to rain, acoustic researchers have determined that snow is a great sound absorber. We measure sound absorption on a scale of 0 to 1 and snow is at 0.6 (so it absorbs 60% of sound in the audible range). Think about it. Snowflakes barely make a *plop* when they hit the ground. This is partially because of the snowflakes’ reduced speed (much smaller impact compared to rainfall). But it’s also due to the spaces between individual snowflakes. Sound waves can’t really bounce around.

Beautiful concepts from Japanese philosophy: forest bathing is beneficial to your health.
Photo: Roselinde Bon

4. There are More Trees than Stars in the Milky Way

It doesn’t really sound like it could be true, but current estimates keep showing the same results: there are more trees than stars in the Milky Way. And yes, all those trees live on planet Earth. Different estimation models indicate that there are between 100 to 400 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy (yes, that’s a very rough estimate). The estimated number of trees on Earth, however, is about 3 trillion. We’re also cutting down about 15 billion of those leafy friends every year, and that’s too many if we want to combat human-induced climate change. Keep on planting!

5. The Largest Desert on Earth is Made of (Frozen) Water

Our standard definition of a desert – dry, sandy, cacti, little bit boring – is alarmingly inaccurate. Well, OK, those kinds of deserts do exist. But the largest desert on Earth has little to do with sand and everything to do with frozen water. Yep, I’m talking about polar deserts. The Antarctic polar desert can be so incredibly dry that even the Sahara receives more precipitation in one year. The most extreme regions only receive about 60 mm annual rain or snowfall. Since the low temperatures prevent any evaporation, the ice sheets still remain in place. This means today’s ice sheets are a build-up of thousands of years of occasional rain and snow.

A woman with a black umbrella looks at a pair having a picnic underneath pink cherry trees
Photo: Roselinde Bon

6. We could divide the year in 24 seasons (instead of 4)

Well, maybe it wouldn’t need to be 24 exactly, depending on where you live. And maybe some of the seasons will have shifted because of climate change. Still, if we decided to pay closer attention the the changes in our environment, we can certainly observe more than four seasons. An ancient Japanese calendar was very meticulous about these changes. The 360 degrees path of the sun was divided into 24 15-degree parts. These 24 parts were again divided by three, resulting in 72 micro-seasons that each lasted about five days. Each part or season correlated to tiny seasonal changes, like:

  • Insects awaken (啓蟄) season (March 6-20)
    • March 6-10: Hibernating insects surface
    • March 11-15-: First peach blossoms
    • March 16-20 Caterpillars become butterflies

or

  • Greater snow (大雪) season (December 7-21)
    • December 7-11: Cold sets in, winter begins
    • December 12-16: Bears start hibernating in their dens
    • December 17-21: Salmons gather and swim upstream
Misty mountain landscape in the Dolomites, near Seier Alm.
Photo: Roselinde Bon

7. Nature is the Best Mood Booster for Humans

Now, as the self-centered cherry on top: a nature fact about us and our relationship to the environment. A team of researches from Griffith University (Australia) have published a paper in late 2019 that attempted to find the ‘economic value’ of protected nature for our mental health. Their conclusion: national parks and reserves save about 6 trillion dollars globally in mental health treatment every year. They considered factors like frequency of ‘greenspace’ visits, socioeconomic status and subsequent quality of life (and many more). What did they conclude? Green spaces, or natural landscapes, are hugely beneficial for everyone’s well-being (and wallets). Even if we don’t quite know the scientific reason behind nature’s healing powers.

Better plan that forest adventure sooner than later, our overstimulated primate brains love that shit. The calming effects of nature on our minds (in whichever mysterious way that works) seems to be a universal, instinctive reaction.

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