Monday, 9 March 2015

Thank you Roger

All it takes is seven ingredients, warm sea surface temperatures, atmospheric instability, high humidity within the mid to lower levels of the troposphere, sufficient Coriolis force to form a low pressure center, a pre-existing low level disturbance and a low vertical wind shear. If we take these ingredients, mix them together and shake, the results will be a tropical depression. If we continue to shake and add extra doses of the stated ingredients, we will eventually create a tropical storm. Again, let's continue to add our ingredients until we form a severe tropical storm. But we're not there yet. Let's keep going until we've created a typhoon. No, in-fact we need to add more. Lots more. Lots, lots more. We shall keep adding ingredients and shaking until we have created the largest storm on earth. The most gigantic typhoon ever witnessed in human history. The most forceful, dangerous and panic inducing monster that we can. A storm so large that simply comprehending its size teeters on the edge of impossibility. Well, this is exactly what happened on Thursday 4th October 1979. The largest storm in the recorded history of earth materialised within the south-west Pacific ocean, and climbed in a north-westerly direction for twenty days until is dispersed without a trace on Wednesday 24th October.

This is the story of super typhoon Tip.      

Typhoon Tip is the largest tropical cyclone ever recorded, and is conveniently also one of the most documented storms in history. On the 4th October 1979 at the beginnings of Typhoon Tip, the aforementioned ingredients were set in motion and began to mix gradually until they formed a tropical depression a few hundred miles east of the coast of Indonesia. As more ingredients were added, this tropical depression grew into a tropical storm, known as Tip. A tropic storm with such potential that it was already under the watchful eye of most of eastern Asia and Australasia. Luckily for these countries, however, another superbly named storm known as tropical storm Roger occupied similar territory to Tip, and temporarily raged strongly enough to hinder Tip's attempts to gain additional power and momentum. As one could imagine, this was welcomed news, as Tip was already coined to be beyond magnificent. The problem was, however, nobody knew just how magnificent Tip would become.

After 24 hours of Tip circulating under Roger's command; on the 5th October 1979 tropical storm Roger relinquished control of Tip and drifted away to the south-east. This left Tip alone within the south-western Pacific to climb slowly in a north-westerly direction and gain additional power. Undisturbed, Tip was able to gain speed and size as more and more ingredients were added to the storm. Just as before, international governments and meteorological bodies watched patiently; unable to control or influence the gradually ascending momentum of Tip. As soon a tropical storm Roger left Tip alone, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) issued a stark alert of a closed low-level circulation that was quickly generating significant momentum within the western Pacific ocean. Something big was coming, and they knew it.

As Tip continued to swing north-west, it once again encountered Roger. However, this time Tip was the superior of the two. Tropical storm Roger who a few days ago was able to control Tip, and dictate its speed, movement and development, now stood vulnerable to Tip's superiority. It is the classic tale of the student defeating the master. Tip simply sucked Roger into its mass, and absorbed every last ounce of Roger's power. Tip was now a gigantic tropical storm, relentlessly digesting its environment of energy. Now, alone in the ocean once again, Tip continued to circulate and build until the next day, on the 9th October 1979 it was officially, and no doubt reluctantly, upgraded to Typhoon status. But this was no ordinary typhoon; as due to a series of rapidly favourable and convenient conditions Tip thrived in its surroundings, already breaking the current record for the world's largest storm. But Tip wasn't finished yet. It didn't take long for Tip to climb into super typhoon status, which it achieved effortlessly, two days later, on the 11th October. At this point, the USA, Indonesia, Australia, USSR, Japan, China, New Zealand and South Pacific Islands watched nervously onward as the largest ever documented super typhoon climbed northward towards the coast of Japan. The 11th October passed and much to the disappointment - for lack of a better word - of the Japanese, Tip grew larger still. It wasn't until 12th October 1979 that Tip reached its maximum size.

At its peak, Tip boasted a diameter of 1,380 miles (2,220 km). If we place this into context to give it more of a visual representation; Tip occupied an area equal to half that of the continental United States, or an area twenty times greater than the United Kingdom. Basically, if we were to take super typhoon Tip, create 100 of them and place them side by side, we would cover the entire surface of earth. It is fortunate, however, that the majority of super typhoon Tip's life was lived out on the ocean. Away from civilisation, cities and residential areas. It is thanks to this that although Tip is the largest storm ever recorded on earth, it was by no means the most destructive.          

Overall, super typhoon Tip attained a maximum wind speed of 190 mph (305 km/h) and caused damage and death within Guam, Japan and the Soviet Union. In total it killed 99 people, formed 600 mudslides, flooded 22,000 homes, broke 70 river banks, destroyed 27 bridges, demolished 105 dikes, left 11,000 people homeless and disrupted 160 flights.

The outcome could easily have been much worse for most of eastern Asia and Australasia. Who knows, if it were not for tropical storm Roger and his multiple interventions, Tip may have taken an entirely different path all together, and killed millions upon millions of people in the process.

Thank you Roger.

The path taken by Typhoon Tip.

Typhoon Tip when compared to the USA.

- Until the next Butterfly

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Far Far Away

On the 12th April 1961 Yuri Gagarin left earth on the spacecraft Vostok 3KA-3, to become the first ever human in space. Once he left orbit and looked back on the planet we call home, he was gazing upon the fifth largest planet in our solar system. Earth has a rough equator length of 24,902 miles (40,750 km); weights in at 5.9 sextillion tons; is covered by 29% land and 71% water - making the name 'earth' appear somewhat ironic. Yuri ventured further from the lands and seas of earth than any human had in history - an astronomical achievement (no pun intended). However, given the fact that most of us are either incapable or do not have access to space travel, the question arises: how far could we venture from land or sea without ever leaving the planet?

Let's start with land.

The point on earth furthest from any sea or ocean - basically the furthest inland - is officially known as the 'continental pole of inaccessibility'. If you wished to move further from the sea or ocean than this point, you would have to follow in Yuri Gugarin's footsteps and leave for outer space. This point lies within north-west China close to the Kazakhstan border, 200 miles (320 km) north of the city Urumqi in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China, in the Dzoosotoyn Elisen Desert; and is approximately 1,644 miles (2,645 km) from the nearest coastline. It's a pretty dire place to live if you enjoy spending your days off at the beach. The city of Urumqi - literally translating as 'beautiful pasture' - is a wet patch in the midst of the desert. Surrounding the city lies dry, barren land that is quick to distinguish life, yet Urumqi itself is fed by a series of rivers and rain clouds that provide much needed water to the city's 3 million residents. However, given the unique location of the city - the most inland city on earth -, it is sad to note that Urumqi is one of the ten most air polluted cities on the planet, which is possibly due to China's current industrialisation process. The city is so air polluted that a thick hazy smog regularly covers the city during winter, which can be so dense and polluting, that it frequently affects the city's air traffic.

In order to make the distance to the coastline more real, more comprehensible. Let's imagine that we wanted to walk from the continental pole of inaccessibility to the shore. Given the average walking speed is 3.1 mph, if you walked for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, it would take 44 days of walking to reach the coastline. An epic undertaking if all you wanted to do was go fishing.

Now to the ocean.

The oceanic pole of inaccessibility - nicknamed 'Nemo Point', with reference to Jules Verne's Captain Nemo from the novel 20,000 leagues under the sea - unsurprisingly lies within the south Pacific Ocean, the largest ocean on earth. This remote, distant, inhospitable point lies 1,670 miles (2,688 km) from the nearest land of Ducie island. This island is literally a speck in the middle of a very large ocean. Ducie island has a total area of 1.5 sq miles, which includes an interior lagoon, some sparse vegetation and a selection of birds. The lagoon which sits in the middle of the tiny island like a private swimming pool is home to a variety of fish, including the Galapagos shark. This shark grows to 3 meters, hangs around in groups and tends to have a bad attitude. Sort of like a teenager. However, given the pristine waters, the thriving life and the enchanting mysticism that encompasses the island, very few people take the time and effort to visit. This, I imagine, is most probably due to its extreme remoteness, because as we know, it is one of the most remote places on earth.

Once again, to place this humongous distance into context. The oceanic pole of inaccessibility lies roughly 60% of the way between New Zealand and South America. And if you were to swim from Nemo Point to Ducie Island, it would be the equivalent of swimming 53,760 lengths of an Olympic size swimming pool.

The continental pole of inaccessibility lies 1,644 miles from the nearest coastline. 

The Chinese city of Urumqi has such levels of air pollution that a smog frequently covers the city.

The oceanic pole of inaccessibility, AKA. Nemo Point. 

A lonely looking Ducie Island.

- Until the next Butterfly

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Mother Goddess of the Universe

The earth's atmosphere is roughly 480 kilometers (300 miles) thick and has no definite ending point. Effectively, the atmosphere becomes thinner and thinner the further into space you travel, until it merges with outer space. However, roughly 80% of the earth's atmosphere lies within 16 kilometers (10 miles) of the earth's surface, and this is the point we are interested in today. The reason being is because the world's highest mountain, Mt Everest, towers 9 kilometers into the air, like a dominating fortress. The sheer colossal size of Mt Everest means that not only is it the highest mountain in the world, but it climbs 56% of the way to the earth's atmosphere. Basically, if you stood atop Mt Everest, you would be closer to entering the atmosphere than to walking along the beach. A rather exhilarating thought, indeed.

Mt Everest, also known as Sagarmatha in Nepal or Chomolungma in Tibet - meaning 'mother goddess of the universe' - is a monstrously high mountain, so high in-fact, that it is nearly impossible to stand at its peak and survive without the aid of breathing apparatus due to there being 66% less oxygen in each breath taken. The air at this height is as thin as a Victoria's Secret model. The mountain gained its western name from Sir Andrew Scott Waugh, who named the mountain in honor of the Welsh geographer and Royal Geographical Society member Sir George Everest (1790 - 1866). During his life Sir George Everest owned a house in Mussoorie, India, which still stands today. However, due to the Indian tourism department - the current owners - neglecting the house, it is now filled with bricks, stones and cow dung and when it snows or rains, the local cows and goats use it as a safe haven. Almost literally, each time it rains in Indian there is a goat stood in Sir George Everest's kitchen.

The mountain's official height is 8,848 meters (29,029 ft) above sea level; yet due to the earth's non-perfectly circular circumference, although it is the highest mountain on our planet, it is only the fifth furthest summit from the center of the earth at 6,382 km (3,966 miles). The peak that sits the furthest from the centre of the earth belongs to Chimborazo in Ecuador, which lies 6,384 km (3,967 miles) away. A mere 2 kilometers further away than that of the peak of Everest.

As one could imagine, climbing Everest is no small feat. There are many complications, obstacles and dangers that one could encounter along the way. In fact, an Everest summit attempt is so preposterously dangerous that simply by attempting to climb Everest you are subjecting yourself to a 1/60 chance of death. This statistic climbs the older you become, with climbers over 50 subjecting themselves to an average death rate of 1/4. The deadliest day ever recorded on Everest was 10th May 1996, where the mountain claimed eight lives in a 24 hour period - or one death every 3 hours.

Everest truly is a bizarre place. The summit of Everest marks the international borderline between China and Nepal, meaning that once you summit the mountain, you can quickly nip between the two countries. Due to the movement and grinding of the Indian and Asia tectonic plates, Everest grows roughly 0.25 inches each year, meaning that the later you leave the accent, the higher you will be. The wind at the summit has been clocked at over 200 mph; temperatures of -62c have been measured; and once a height of over 8,000 meters is reached an area known affectionately as the death zone is entered. The death zone - as you have undoubtedly already guessed - is synonymous with death. Of all the areas of Everest, it is the descents within the death zone that claim the most lives. Just like climbing a tree, it is not the climb up that proves most dangerous, but the climb down. Additionally, the death zone is so dangerous that if you die in this area, your body is left to freeze. You become known as one of the many that never left the mountain; one of the many bodies and souls that Everest has claimed as her own. Attempting to move a body at such an altitude is deemed suicide due to the highly inhospitable surroundings, and each climber knows and accepts these risks before they climb.  

Given the almost endless list of dangers: frightfully cold weather, powerful wind, death zone, physical stress, mental hardship, 1/60 or 1/4 chance of death and the forever upward spiraling cost, many people still choose to battle Everest each year. Although due to the costs incurred by a summit attempt, Everest has been nicknamed as the rich man's playground. For example:

- Climbing permit: $USD 11,000
- Insurance: $USD 15,000
- Guided expedition (if needed): $USD 30 - $100,000

Note that these are simply the basic climbing costs and do not include training, food, logistics, flights, accommodation, equipment etc. Yet given each of these obstacles and hoops that must be conquered and jumped through before any attempt is made; a summit attempt is deemed worthwhile for two reasons alone: the feeling of literally being on top of the world and the view.

The body of Hannelore Schmatz frozen in place. Hannelore died on Everest in 1979 aged 39.

The view from the top of the world.

Mt Everest, the highest mountain on our planet.

- Until the next Butterfly...

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The Bottom of the Earth

As is clearly evident, throughout history the human race has constantly battled with a relentlessly indistinguishable thirst for exploration. As well as this drive for exploration, as a species, we have also been completely absorbed with the perennial pushing of the human body's boundaries and capabilities. One such endeavour that has enthralled the human race over the years, is the ability to dive as deeply as possible within the world's seas and oceans. The two main methods of diving as deeply as possible, with nothing but your body and minimal equipment, are Freediving and SCUBA diving. Freediving - literally, holding you breath and diving - has allowed the human body - with the assistance of fins and weights - to achieve a maximum dive depth of 214 meters, on a single breath. This world record is currently held by Herbert Nitsch; it was set in Greece on June 14th 2007 via a method of Freediving known as No-Limits diving; and is nothing short of astounding. As for SCUBA diving, the deepest recorded dive in history is 332 meters and was set by Ahmed Gabr, a 41 year old Egyptian. However, for the sake of this article we must surpass both of these phenomenal athletes to even deeper depths. To the coldest, darkest waters possible. How deep? I hear you ask. Well, to the deepest point on earth.

The Mariana Trench is the deepest point on earth. It is located within the largest ocean on our planet, the Pacific ocean, and sits east of the astoundingly beautiful Mariana islands from which it derives its name. The trench itself is 1,580 miles (2,542 km) long, 43 miles (69 km) wide, and dives 6.8 miles (10.994 km) deep until it hits a remote, hostile and undisturbed grounding point that marks the bottom of the earth. The depth of the trench is so vast that if you were to place Mt. Everest at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, it would still be submerged by more than a mile. The final stage of the Mariana Trench is known as the Challenger Deep, which gained its name from the British Royal Navy ship the HMS Challenger that discovered this valley during an expedition made between 1872-1876. This final section is a one-mile wide, slot shaped valley within the Mariana Trench's floor situated at the trench's southern end. The waters at the base of Challenger Deep sit comfortably between 1-4 degrees Celsius. Conversely, they exert 15,750 psi of pressure (1,000 times the standard atmospheric pressure that you are experiencing right now), or 8 tons per square inch, on anything that dares to enter its chamber. Without suitable protection, your body would be squashed into oblivion in an instant. If this level of pressure was placed upon you instantaneously, you would be squashed immediately, and be entirely unaware that you were dead.

Throughout history only four successful descents have been made to the bottom of the Challenger Deep. The first in 1960 by Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh; the second in 1996 by the Japanese built Kaiko; the third in 2009 by the unmanned, USA owned Nereus; and finally the fourth in the Deepsea Challenger on 26th March 2012 by, of all people, the film director James Cameron. Additionally, through the use of the latest technology it is possible to undertake a descent to the base of the Challenger Deep in reasonable safety, within 90 - 140 minutes. Literally, the time is takes to watch a film or drive to work when the traffic is bad.

Although it may be hard to believe, there are numerous animals that call the base of the Challenger Deep home. Predominantly they are tiny organisms, yet some megafauna is still present. Amphipods, which are shrimp-like crustaceans have been witnessed swimming joyfully at the bottom of the trench. Usually amphipods only grow to the size of the last section of your thumb. However, down within this deep, hostile trench they have been seen to reach 30 cm in length, a colossal size for this species. Sea cucumbers were also found enjoying life 7 miles under the water in the abysmally dark, cold, hostile, lonely, claustrophobia-inducing, highly-pressured, unknown depths of the ocean. Each to their own I suppose.

Unfortunately, as with most areas of the earth, the human race does not treat the Challenger Deep with the respect it deserves. Proposals have been made to use the Challenger Deep as a nuclear waste disposal site. The belief that simply dropping our nuclear waste into the deepest part of the ocean will solve our polluting problems, and in turn, will produce no substantial side-effects seems highly unlikely. However, fortunately for us the dumping of nuclear waste within the ocean is currently illegal under international law.

Let's hope it stays that way.

The Deepsea Challenger, which took James Cameron to the bottom of the Challenger Deep in March 2012.

The depth of the Challenger Deep placed into perspective.

The location of the Mariana Trench.

 - Until the next Butterfly...


Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Circles Circles Everywhere

Undoubtedly you have gazed upon a globe at some-point within you lifetime. Whether this be in a school class, a university lecture theater or before deciding where in the world you wish to visit on your next adventure overseas. In most cases, you will recognise the shapes of some of the countries and oceans, and maybe even acclaim a few facts or points of interest. But how many times have you looked at the lines that horizontally circle the globe, such as the Tropic of Capricorn or the Tropic of Cancer, and questioned exactly what these lines mean. If somebody were to ask you now, what does the Tropic of Capricorn represent, would you be able to answer? If so, then I congratulate you. However, most would not, and it is to this majority that this article is aimed.

So without further ado, let's begin.

The Circles of Latitude described in the most simple of terms, are the lines that horizontally circle the earth. There are five major circles of latitude, which when defined from north to south, are as follows:

1. Arctic Circle
2. Tropic of Cancer
3. Equator
4. Tropic of Capricorn
5. Antarctic Circle

The aim of these circles is to separate the earth into five geographical zones, known as the following:

1. The North Frigid Zone (north of the Arctic Circle)
2. The North Temperate Zone (between the Arctic Circle and the Tropic of Cancer)
3. The Torrid Zone (between the Tropical Circles)
4. The South Temperate Zone (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle)
5. The South Frigid Zone (south of the Antarctic Circle)

As is clearly evident, the zones stated above are separated due to their prospective conditions of climate. This enables us to study the planet with additional precision, with regards to the climate and its effect on earth. Studies have found that each of these zones host a startling variety of biodiversity, all of which is entirely dependent upon that zone's climate conditions. This is one of many influencing factors as to why certain species of plants and animals are only found in certain areas. However, it is all well and good understanding what the five major lines of latitude represent, but this knowledge poses an additional question. How are the lines of latitude measured? In other words, how did we calculate where the lines belonged in the first place?

For the sake of simplicity, we shall follow the pattern stipulated above and investigate each of the lines of latitude from north to south.

1. Arctic Circle:

The Arctic circle represents the southern most point in the northern hemisphere where the sun can remain either above or below the horizon for a full 24 hour period. Effectively, anywhere above this line will experience either perpetual day or perpetual night, each year, dependent upon the season. In addition, due to the effects of the tide and moon the Arctic Circle is currently drifting north at a rate of roughly 15 meters per year.

2. Tropic of Cancer

The Tropic of Cancer represents the northern most point at which the sun can be seen directly overhead during the June solstice. This line, like each of the others in not permanently fixed in position, and has been calculated to drift south very slowly year on year.

3. Equator

The Equator represents the point on earth that is equidistant from both the north and south poles. Any point above the Equator is within the northern hemisphere; and anywhere below the Equator is within the southern hemisphere. Of all the lines of latitude, the Equator is the longest at 24,902 miles. Additionally, the earth rotates at roughly 1,000 miles per hour, therefore, taking approximately 24 hours to undertake an entire rotation. Hence the length of a day. However, the earth's rotation speed reduces the further you travel from the equator due to a reduction in circumference. Consequently, the further you live from the equator, the slower you are travelling.

4. Tropic of Capricorn

The Tropic of Capricorn is the literal opposite of the Tropic of Cancer. The Tropic of Capricorn represents the southern most point on earth at which the sun can be seen directly overhead during the December solstice. This line has been monitored and is calculated to be moving north at a rate of 15 meters per year.

5. Antarctic Circle

The Antarctic Circle represents the northern most latitude contained within the southern hemisphere where the sun can remain either above or below the horizon for a full 24 hour period. At present the Antarctic Circle covers an area of roughly 7,700,000 sq miles (4% of the earth's surface), but is drifting further south each year.

As can be seen from above, the earth contains a variety of geographical zones, each integral to our climate and well-being. However, with the Tropic of Cancer drifting south and the Tropic of Capricorn drifting north, the gap between the two is reducing year on year as they both slowly encroach upon the Equator. Additionally, as the Arctic Circle drifts further north and the Antarctic Circle slides further south, the areas that we consider to be the poles of earth are also shrinking. This, however, is an entirely natural occurrence and is due to slight alterations within the earth's plane of orbit around the sun, and its fluctuation of axis.

A series of photographs taken at 2 hour intervals, which show a full 24 hours of perpetual day in Antarctica. It can clearly be seen that at no point does the sun drop below the horizon.  

A basic depiction of each of the earth's lines of latitude.

A representation of earth's tilt.

- Until the next Butterfly...

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Wagga Wagga & Pakistan

Eastern Australia is a relatively dry place. In-fact, within eastern Australia there are frequent water shortages and water usage limitations. On the whole it is a dry and arid place, which regularly screams out for water like a thirsty child on a hot day. Yet a few years ago an unexpected rainfall materialised. The skies opened and the water started to pour from the clouds; a torrent of rain gushed from above, relentlessly. This rain fell for a week, and the flood waters it created from the Murrumbidgee river in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, forced 13,000 people from their homes and caused approximately $530 million AUD in damage. However, this torrential rain did not only displace thousands of humans, it forced an insurmountable number of ground-dwelling spiders to vacate their homes and search for drier, safer, higher ground. Ground, which had previously been - and still is - occupied by humans. Now, Wagga Wagga is a haven for Entomologists, and nothing short of a real life nightmare for Arachnophobes.

The number of spiders that rapidly vacated their homes in the search for higher ground in Wagga Wagga is unknown. However, one local named Mr Lane has estimated the number to be within the millions. For the sake of creeping out the arachnophobes amongst us; if one million spiders hastily left their homes in the search for higher ground when the flood waters appeared, this means that within Wagga Wagga, there are approximately 8 million spider legs trotting around, and roughly 8 million eyeballs gazing upon the surroundings. The webs these spiders have cast are to be found alongside Horse Shoe road - roughly ten minutes drive from the town centre -, and are so abundant, they literally cover the ground like snow. The millions of individual strands of silk that have been cast, sit over bushes, plants and grass like mammoth sticky blankets. They have literally covered anything and everything they can - so don't stand still for too long if you visit. However, some of the spiders have returned to the water's edge, and simply use this gigantic silk trampoline that they have cast as an arachnid motorway, which enables them to move quickly across difficult terrain, should the rain waters return.

The two main species of spider considered to be calling this giant Wagga Wagga spiderweb their home, are sheet-web spiders and wolf spiders. There are various species of sheet-web spiders, some of which are very small: 4mm (0.2 inches) in size; and some of which are very large: 15cm (6 inches) across. As for wolf spiders, we are much more familiar with these in the UK. Wolf spiders are the horrid, hairy 'big' spiders that we find in our UK households. However, within Australia wolf spiders can grow up to 8cm (3.1 inches) across, and as the name suggests, they have a wolf-like appearance. The good news for the Wagga Wagga residents, however, is that these spiders are considered to be 'probably not' dangerous to people, and the majority of the ones that occupy Wagga Wagga, are small. Finally, one last time, to shine some additional light on the situation, we shall refer to the wise words of Mr Lane and his official opinion on the matter, '[The spiders] are harmless. They're not funnel webs. I think they're harmless anyway, I hope they're harmless - they were heading up my way.'

It would be comforting to think that this is an isolated incident. However, I am afraid to advise you that it is not. A similar situation arose in Sindh, south-east Pakistan, where the rain waters and flooding caused the resident spiders to run for the trees. Now, the trees are cocooned in silk, like giant balloons sitting along a river bank. Although this is a rather creepy sight, a lot of good has come from the situation. Due to the new elevated position of the spiderwebs, and the abundant thriving spider numbers, the mosquito population has dropped considerably. It has been proposed that this sudden drop in mosquito population is due to the spiders eating them all. Consequently, a large reduction in mosquitoes has directly influenced the malaria infection rate. Meaning the number of diagnosed malaria sufferers has dropped significantly, and therefore, life expectancy in this area has risen.

Oh, and one last thing...

What's that running up your leg?

A sheet-web spider. This is the most common spider within the Wagga Wagga spiderwebs. However, most are much smaller than this example.

The spiderweb cocooned trees of Sindh, Pakistan.

A Wagga Wagga, spiderweb covered field. There are so many spiderwebs, it looks as if the field is covered in snow.

A close-up shot of a bush in Wagga Wagga.

- Until the next Butterfly...

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Hang Son Doong

Hang Son Doong - in English, 'Mountain River Cave' - is the largest known cave on the planet. It is situated alongside the Laos-Vietnam border in south-east Asia, and contains a large, majestic free flowing river which rips along the cave floor like a giant Snake. In order to gain access to the cave one must abseil down a long and shaky rope into its dimly lit, damp, dark depths. An act that is sure to raise your heart rate, get the adrenaline flowing, and make you question your choice of underwear. Yet once your feet touch the ground, it will be worth every last effort.

Hang Son Doong is situated within Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, in the Bo Trach District, in the Quang Binh Province of Vietnam - try telling that to the taxi driver after a few beers. This gigantic cave was discovered by a man named Ho Khanh in 1991, who apparently kept the cave a secret, as it was only realised by the outside world that this cave existed in 2009 when a British caving team lead by Howard Limbert stumbled upon it. However, due to the team being ill-equipped to tackle such a humongous cave, they were stumbled close to the entrance by a 60 meter (200 ft) wall that they were unable to transcend. This wall later became known as The Great Wall of Vietnam. It wasn't until 2010 that this wall was conquered, and behind it was found a collection of Cave Pearls the size of baseballs - If you intended to make some additional cash alongside your day job, cave pearls of this size have been known to fetch up to £200 each. However, please be warned that the sale of cave pearls can be a contentious issue.

The cave was created between 2 - 5 million years ago through the constant erosion of the resident limestone from a local river, which relentlessly beat the stone until the cave ceiling collapsed upon itself. Once the cave ceiling collapsed, Hang Son Doong was born. Hang Son Doong is thought to be five times larger than the last 'largest cave in Vietnam', the Phong Nha cave, and significantly larger than the last 'largest cave on earth', the Deer Cave in Malaysia. It measures 200 meters (600 ft) in height, 150 meters (450 ft) in width, and is more than 3 miles (5 km) long. The river that sits at the base of the cave is nothing more than a few ponds during the region's dry season, but when the rains start to fall during the wet season - May to September -, the river can rise as much as 90 meters (300 ft) and literally submerge the bottom of the cave. Also, I should not forget to mention that this caving system is so large, so vast, so monstrous, that it contains its own fully functioning jungle. However, one of the main features of Hang Son Doong is what is considered to be the world's largest stalagmite, which reaches 70m (230 ft) into the air like a giant flag pole.

If you were to visit Vietnam and wished to enter the Hang Son Doong caving system, you would be well advised to contact the tour providers in advance. Very few excursions have been run into this mammoth caving system, for reasons that escape me. However, a place on one of these day trips comes with a rather hefty price tag. The usual cost per person for such a trip is $3,000 USD.

A lonely caver gazing upon the Hang Son Doong caving system.

Hang Son Doong is roughly 3 miles long and in some parts, 200 meters high.

A caver abseiling into the caving systems jungle.

The location of Hnag Son Doong.

- Until the next Butterfly...