10 Strange Mysteries Impacting Life on Earth
Since the beginning of time, humanity has been faced with a collection of mysterious and strange events. Many separate examples of unexplained viruses, geological occurrences, crimes, and tragedies have shaped modern history. The field of scientific experimentation and criminology are based around new discoveries and uncovering the truth. As we move into 2011, the world has been plagued with some mysterious occurrences surrounding natural life and climate stability on Earth. This article will be examining ten bizarre mysteries that have been impacting life. Some of the examples look at current events, while others document the past. Not everyone in the world is influenced by each example, with some regional specificity. Certain entries clearly impact natural life more than others.
10. National Personnel Records Center Fire
Mystery: What started the 1973 U.S. National Archives Fire?
The Watergate scandal was a 1970s United States political event. It began with the arrest of five men for breaking and entering into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex on June 17, 1972. The scandal directly led to the resignation of the President of the United States, Richard Nixon, on August 9, 1974. Nixon is the first and only U.S. President to resign. Watergate also resulted in the indictment, trial, conviction and incarceration of Nixon administration officials. On July 12, 1973, the National Personnel Records Center fire occurred in Overland, Missouri, which is a suburb of St. Louis. The event marked a severe blow to the National Archives and Records Administration of the United States. Approximately 16-18 million official military personnel records were lost as a result of the fire.
The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) was created in 1956 as the result of a series of mergers. In 1956, the construction cost on the structure was $12.5 million, $101 million in today's dollars, an economical $10.15 per square foot ($110.51 per square meter). However, the builders did not include firewalls or other fire-stopping material. The entire facility holding millions of irreplaceable records lacked heat or smoke detectors to automatically report fire or a sprinkler system to extinguish fire. The 1973 fire destroyed the entire 6th floor of the NPRC, including millions of files documenting U.S. Army and Air Force personnel discharges. The huge collection of documents on the 6th floor did not have an index, making it impossible to determine what was lost.
Millions of records were on loan to the NPRC at the time of the fire. On the morning of the National Archives Fire, a very small number of U.S. Navy, United States Coast Guard, and U.S. Marine Corps records were out of their normal filing area being worked on as active requests by employees of the National Archives and Records Administration who maintained their offices on the 6th floor of the building. When the NPRC fire began, these Navy and Marine Corps records were caught in the section of the building which experienced the most damage, but the circumstances surrounding the files was ruled to have been ordinary. None of the U.S. national records that were destroyed in the fire had duplicate copies made, nor had they been copied to microfilm.
The exact cause of the fire was never fully determined. An investigation in 1975, two-years after the occurrence, revealed that the floor where the fire started had been under extreme temperature with little or no ventilation. It was speculated that air pressure on the floor had reached such a level that, combined with the very high temperatures in the enclosed space, the brittle and dry records began to spontaneously combust. The investigation also did not rule out embers of cigarettes, which were present in several trash cans. The timing of the fire and the lackluster investigation has led to speculation about the real cause. One thing is for sure, a large portion of recorded U.S. history was lost in the NPRC fire of 1973.
9. Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine
Mystery: Is there a rich gold mine located in the Superstition Mountains?
The Lost Dutchman Gold Mine is a legendary lost mine hidden in the Superstition Mountains, near Apache Junction, east of Phoenix, Arizona. The land is currently a designated Wilderness Area, and mining is restricted under United States Code. The mine is named after the German immigrant Jacob Waltz and is perhaps the most famous lost mine in American history. A large number of treasure hunters have been seeking the Lost Dutchman Mine since the late 1800s. The legend of the mine is based around some factual information, but there is currently no solid proof of its existence. One of the first documented stories surrounding the area tells the tale of a man named Dr. Thorne, who claimed that he was taken by Navajos in 1854, and that during his captivity witnessed a rich gold vein in the Superstition Mountains.
The modern day name for the mine comes from a story surrounding a German man named Jacob Waltz. Interestingly, Dutchman was a common, though inaccurate, American slang term for German. Waltz is said to have located a rich gold mine in the Arizona Mountains, but upon return from the discovery, he was attacked and wounded by an unknown assailant. According to the legend, Waltz survived long enough to tell a man named Dr. Walker about the mine. Waltz is also said to have made a deathbed confession to Julia Thomas, drawing a crude map to the area. In 1931, the legend of the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine reached a new level of popularity when explorer and treasure hunter Adolph Ruth disappeared while searching for it.
Six months after Ruth's disappearance, his body was discovered with two bullet holes in the head. Authorities in Arizona did not launch a criminal inquest regarding his death and they were criticized for ignoring the evidence of Ruth's severe head trauma. Since Adolph Ruth's death, there have been several other alleged mysterious deaths and encounters in the Superstition Mountains. In his 1945 book about the Lost Dutchman's mine, Barry Storm claimed to have narrowly escaped from a mysterious sniper he dubbed Mr. X. In late 2009, a Denver, Colorado resident named Jesse Capen went missing in the Tonto National Forest. He was known to have been interested in the mine for years and had made previous trips to the area. On July 11, 2010, three men disappeared in the Superstition Mountains while looking for the Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine. In January 2011, the remains of the hikers were recovered.
It should be noted that the treacherous terrain of the Superstition Mountains can be difficult for even experienced outdoorsmen. Conspiracy theories surrounding the gold mine have been published for years and include accounts of a U.S. government cover-up. Some other people have reported mysterious lights and an unexplained presence in certain areas of mountain, including alien type figures and people described as "enigmatic guardians" of the rich gold mine. Other accounts include disorientation with the natural environment and the disappearance of landmarks. One might ask how the mystery of the Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine in influencing life on Earth. In the last couple years, the price of gold has exploded in value and the discovery of a lucrative mine located in Arizona would alter the international market.
8. Global Spread of H5N1
Mystery: How can we prevent the spread of H5N1 on Earth?
The global spread of a highly pathogenic H5N1 influenza in birds is considered a significant threat to life. This specific H5N1 strain is a fast-mutating, highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAI) found in multiple bird species. Most H5N1 influenza strains are known, but this one is significantly different. The virus is spreading on a genetic level, making the global expansion of the H5N1 strain unprecedented. It is currently an epizootic, which is an epidemic in non-humans. Since 1997, studies of the H5N1 influenza have indicated that the virus continues to evolve. Some of the expanded hosts of the H5N1 strain have shown the ability to infect felids (cats).
In laboratory tests, mice and ferrets have been infected with H5N1 for study. Tens of millions of birds have died from the H5N1 influenza, while hundreds of millions of birds have been slaughtered and disposed of, to limit the spread of the disease. The list of countries that have reported one or more major highly pathogenic H5N1 outbreaks in birds, causing at least thousands, but in some cases millions of dead animals, is extensive. A large majority of Asia and parts of Europe and Africa have reported cases of the H5N1 strain, including Korea, Vietnam, Japan, France, Indonesia, Russia, Cameroon, Germany, Romania, Ukraine, Pakistan, Ivory Coast, United Kingdom, and Ghana.
Highly pathogenic H5N1 has been found in the wild bird populations in numerous countries, including Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Greece, Iran, Italy, Poland, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Surveillance of H5N1 in humans, poultry, wild birds, cats and other animals remains very weak in many parts of Asia and Africa. The intermittent spread of the deadly virus into the human population has occurred and will continue. As a population, we need to stay one step ahead of the global spread of H5N1 or the world economy and individual societies could be faced with a major crisis, which is already beginning to show its face. After eating contaminated poultry, three separate people have died in Cambodia from H5N1 in the month of February, 2011.
7. Volcanic Activity
Mystery: What is happening with all the recent volcanic activity on Earth?
Since 2010, it has been recognized that the Earth's volcanoes are experiencing increased activity. Giant volcanoes that have been dormant for years are starting to awake. Many of these eruptions have been linked to increased earthquake activity. Mount Kirishima is a 1700 meter high active volcano group in Kagoshima Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan. Shinmoedake is a volcano that is part of the Kirishima cluster. Shinmoedake erupted on January 26, 2011. February 1st saw the strongest eruption of Shinmoedake since 1959. Kizimen is a stratovolcano located in the southern part of Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia. The volcano was in a dormant state since an eruption in 1929, but in early February 2011, the volcano sent a column of ash several miles high. Kizimen started showing signs of life in 2009.
Since 2004, researchers have indicated that the ground level above the supervolcano at Yellowstone Park in the United States has risen as much as 2.8 inches per year. This is abnormal and suggests signs of strange underground motion in Yellowstone. Mount Etna is an active stratovolcano on the east coast of Sicily, close to Messina and Catania. Mount Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and is in an almost constant state of unrest. In February of 2011, the area saw an increase in volcanic activity and new episodes of lava fountaining. Kilauea is an active volcano in the Hawaiian Islands. It is one of five shield volcanoes that form the island of Hawai'i. Kilauea is regarded by the USGS as the most dangerous volcano in the U.S. Since 2010 and early 2011, the volcano has seen an increased level of activity. Lava has destroyed several houses in the Kalapana area.
Mount Bromo is an active volcano and part of the Tengger massif, in East Java, Indonesia. By early 2011, the increased eruptions of the volcano have raised concerns about the local economy and the potential for long term environmental and health problems amongst the residents in the locality surrounding Mount Bromo. Baroarbunga is an Icelandic stratovolcano located under the ice cap of Vatnajokull glacier. In September 2010, an earthquake swarm occurred near Baroarbunga, which has historically indicated a coming volcanic event. An eruption of Baroarbunga would affect flight traffic and temperature in the northern parts of the world.
Massive seismic swarms are now being reported in both the western and eastern regions of India. The country is being pushed upwards by global seismic stress on tectonic plates. While this geological process has been underway for some time, it now appears to be accelerating in scope and intensity. On February 8, 2011, in the Kurnool district of India, a strange black chemical substance was reported to have gushed out from the Earth, creating panic. Huge cavities were also reported in the Earth's crust. The strange substance damaged crops and killed life. The grass surrounding the chemicals caught fire and the substance is reported to have spread like lava from a volcano.
6. Ali Hussain Sibat
Mystery: Why is Saudi Arabia still executing people for witchcraft?
Witchcraft is the alleged use of supernatural or magical powers. Historically, it was widely believed that witchcraft involved the use of these powers to inflict harm upon members of a community or their property, and that all witches were in league with the devil. The classical period of witch-hunts in Europe and North America occurred during the early modern period (1480 to 1750). It is estimated that 40,000 to 100,000 people were executed during this time in history. The last executions of people convicted as witches in Europe took place in the 18th century, but the practice continues in many areas of the world. Witch hunts still occur today in societies where belief in magic is practiced, predominately in Sub-Saharan Africa, North India, and Papua New Guinea.
Saudi Arabia has a strong legislation against the practice of sorcery. It is the only country in the world where witchcraft still remains legally punishable by death. In India, labeling a woman as a witch is a common ploy to grab land, settle scores or even to punish her for turning down sexual advances. In a majority of the cases, it is difficult for the accused woman to reach out for help and she is forced to either abandon her home and family or is driven to commit suicide. A 2010 estimate places the number of reported women killed as witches in India at between 150 and 200 per year. Witchcraft or sorcery remains a criminal offense in Saudi Arabia, although the precise nature of the crime is undefined and the frequency of prosecutions is unknown.
Ali Hussain Sibat is a Lebanese national and former host of a popular call-in show that aired on satellite TV across the Middle East. On the show, he made predictions and gave advice to the audience. In May of 2008, Ali Sibat was on Umrah pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia when he was spotted by religious police in the holy city of Medina. The Saudi police had been advised of Sibat's predictions and popularity. Ali Sibat was arrested on charges of "sorcery" and sentenced to death by beheading. Sibat's fate is common in Saudi Arabia, where the execution of witches is still performed.
Sibat's story has raised an international outcry and many appeals for his life have been made. On March 10, 2010, a court in Medina upheld his death sentence. According to Amnesty International, "The judges said that he deserved to be sentenced to death because he had practiced "sorcery" publicly for several years before millions of viewers and that his actions "made him an infidel." He was scheduled for execution at the end of March, 2010, but as the date neared, widespread media coverage, appeals by international human rights groups and intervention by several Lebanese government officials postponed the event. To date, it is unclear whether the execution will be enforced, but Ali Sibat remains jailed for life.
5. Alzheimer's Disease
Mystery: What is causing Alzheimer's disease?
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common form of human dementia. It is one of the saddest diagnoses of the 21st century and is an incurable, degenerative, and terminal disease. It was first described by German psychiatrist and neuropathologist Alois Alzheimer in 1906. Most often, Alzheimer's disease is diagnosed in people over the age of 65, although the less-prevalent early-onset Alzheimer's can occur sooner in life. AD is predicted to affect 1 in 85 people globally by 2050. The course of the disease is unique for everyone suffering, but there are many common symptoms. In the early stages of AD, a person will experience the inability to acquire new memories and remember recently observed facts.
As the disease advances, symptoms include confusion, irritability and aggression, mood swings, language breakdown, long-term memory loss, and the general withdrawal from activity. Alzheimer's disease is known for placing a great burden on caregivers and family members. One of the saddest things to watch is your parents or friends, people who once provided you with the knowledge of life, fall into a state of confusion, often times to a point where memories and faces are lost. Individual prognosis of Alzheimer's disease is difficult to assess and the duration varies, but it is always fatal. The mean life expectancy following diagnosis is approximately seven years. Fewer than 3% of individuals live more than fourteen years after diagnosis.
The progression and cause of Alzheimer's disease is not well understood. Research indicates that the disease is associated with plaques and tangles in the brain, but the onset of AD is mysterious. This has prevented humans from effectively fighting Alzheimer's disease. Currently used treatments offer a small benefit. There are no methods to delay or halt the progression of the disease, making it one of the largest medical mysteries of the 21st century. Because AD cannot be cured and is degenerative, management of patients is essential. In developed countries, Alzheimer's disease is one of the most costly medical diagnoses to society. To date, several competing hypothesis exist trying to explain the cause of the disease. The oldest being the cholinergic hypothesis, which proposes that AD is caused by reduced synthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
4. Cold Fusion
Mystery: Is cold fusion possible?
In the middle of the 1980s, two electrochemists named Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Ponswhile proposed a new nuclear fusion process named cold fusion. The pair showed anomalous heat production ("excess heat") of a magnitude they asserted would defy explanation except in terms of nuclear processes. They further reported measuring small amounts of nuclear reaction byproducts, including neutrons and tritium, which would support evidence for a nuclear reaction. Cold fusion is a process in which two smaller nuclei join together to form a single larger nucleus, while releasing large amounts of energy.
It is an alternative form of energy that would provide the world with a cheap and clean way to power life. In the late 1980s, the story surrounding cold fusion was broadcast all over the world and interested many intellectuals, especially following the 1986 discovery of high-temperature superconductivity. However, skepticism began to arise when cold fusion could not be replicated by other scientists. In the months following the release of the paper, several laboratories in different countries attempted to repeat the experiments. Some initially reported success, but most failed to validate the results. A small community of researchers continues to investigate cold fusion, claiming to have replicated Fleishmann and Pons' results.
In 2010, the scientific community began to take a new interest in the idea of cold fusion. It has been reported that cold fusion is beginning to gain acceptance by the mainstream scientific community in some areas of the world. The latest news surrounding cold fusion occurred in January, 2011, when Italian scientists Andrea Rossi and Sergio Focardi of the University of Bologna announced that they had developed a device capable of producing 12,400 W of heat power with an input of just 400 W. The men held a private invitation press conference in Bologna, where they demonstrated what they claim is a nickel-hydrogen fusion reactor.
Further, the scientists say that the reactor is well beyond the research phase. They plan to start shipping commercial devices within the next three months and to start mass production by the end of 2011. If cold fusion works, government officials have been involved in a huge cover-up, giving rise to many free energy suppression theories. As you would expect, these claims of conspiracy revolve around the suppression of advanced technology that would reshape current electrical generation methods. These groups are usually connected to the oil industry or nuclear power, people who currently profit from energy generation technologies. Over the years, researchers in the field of cold fusion have claimed that they have been subjected to suppression via academic pressure as well as lack of funding.
3. AIDS Denialism
Mystery: Why are people denying the existence of the AIDS virus?
The AIDS pandemic is a disease of the human immune system caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The condition progressively reduces the effectiveness of the immune system and leaves individuals susceptible to opportunistic infections and tumors. AIDS was first recognized by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1981. The current scientific consensus is that AIDS originated in Africa in the mid 1930s from the closely related Simian Immunodeficiency Virus. This may explain the widespread exposure of AIDS in Africa. HIV is a major public health concern and cause of death in Africa. Although Africa is inhabited by just over 14.7% of the world's population, it is estimated to have more than 88% of people living with HIV and 92% of all AIDS deaths in 2007. Although treatments for AIDS and HIV can slow the course of the disease, there is no known cure or vaccine.
The quick spread of the AIDS virus has led to many conspiracy theories surrounding the origin of the disease. It has spawned a movement known as AIDS denialism. AIDS denialism is the view that HIV is not the cause of AIDS. Some denialists reject the existence of HIV, while others accept that HIV exists, but say that it is a harmless passenger virus and not the cause of AIDS. The scientific community considers the evidence that HIV causes AIDS to be conclusive and has stated that denialism is helping spread the disease. The quick spread and adoption of AIDS denialism is mysterious and based around no clear scientific facts, but the concept has had a significant political impact on the world, especially in South Africa.
The idea of AIDS denialism was supported by former South African leader Thabo Mbeki. Scientists and physicians have examined the human cost of the false concept, which discourages HIV-positive people from using proven treatments. Public health researchers have attributed 330,000 to 340,000 AIDS deaths, along with 171,000 other HIV infections and 35,000 infant HIV infections, to the South African embrace of AIDS denialism. The Durban Declaration is a statement signed by over 5,000 physicians and scientists affirming that HIV is the cause of AIDS. The declaration was drafted in response to AIDS denialism, and particularly to address South African president Thabo Mbeki's support for the claims. It has been suggested that AIDS denialism is partly responsible for the slow and ineffective governmental response to Africa's massive AIDS epidemic.
2. The Tasmanian Devils Struggle
Mystery: What has caused the outbreak of devil facial tumour disease?
The Tasmanian devil is a carnivorous marsupial that is found in the Australian island state of Tasmania. Following the extinction of the thylacine in 1936, the Tasmanian devil became the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world. They are characterized by a stocky and muscular build, black fur, a pungent odor, an extremely loud and disturbing screech, and ferocity when feeding. The Tasmanian devil has recorded the strongest bite per unit body mass of any living mammal. Since the middle of the 1990s, the species has been faced with a struggle for survival. Devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) is an aggressive non-viral transmissible parasitic cancer that disfigures and kills Tasmanian Devils. The first official case was described in 1996, in Australia. Since that time, the disease has ravaged the population.
If we do not find a cure for the cancer, scientists have estimated that the entire wild population of Tasmanian devils will become extinct in 50 years. As of 2010, there is an 80% rate of infection among the entire population. Visible signs of DFTD begin with lesions and lumps around the mouth. These develop into cancerous tumors that may spread from the face to the entire body. DFTD has a 100% mortality rate and every infected devil will die in 12-18 months. The cancer is an infective agent, meaning that it can be spread between the Tasmanian devil population simply from biting, feeding on the same material, and mating. This has raised a large and important scientific question regarding how these cancer cells are transferring themselves in this way.
In a paper published in the January 2010 issue of Science, an international team of researchers announced that devil facial tumour disease likely originated in Schwann cells, a type of cell found in the peripheral nervous system that protects nerve fibers. The discovery was a major breakthrough in the race to save the Tasmanian devil species. It will allow researchers to distinguish DFTD from other types of cancer and may eventually help identify a genetic pathway that can be targeted to treat the disease. In response to the cancer, the Tasmanian devil population has evolved in a short period of time. They have completely reorganized their breeding habits in response to the disease and are starting to mate at an earlier age. To date, six Tasmanian devil females have been found with a partial immunity to the cancer. A breeding in captivity program has begun to try and save the Tasmanian devil population.
1. Animal Mass Deaths
Mystery: What is causing the widespread reports of animal death?
Since the middle of 2010, the world has experienced a series of bizarre events surrounding the mass death of various animal species. Large groups of wildlife, predominately birds and fish are dying off in large numbers. The scientific world is yet to release information describing the potential cause of many of the strange occurrences. These mass death events are alarming because they might indicate a problem in the Earth's natural cycle.
On December 29, 2010, 100,000 freshwater drum were found dead across 17 miles (27 km) of the Arkansas River bank. The fish were reported from the Ozark Lock downstream to River Mile 240, directly south of Hartman, Arkansas. The official cause of the incident remains a mystery and has baffled wildlife officials. The blood tests on the dead fish carcasses have ruled out bacteria, viruses, heavy metals, pesticides and chemicals. In research on the Arkansas River incident, it has been noted that earthquakes may be a contributing factor. In 2009, the state of Arkansas registered 38 earthquakes. Since September 20, 2010, the area around Guy, Arkansas has been plagued by more than 500 earthquakes. The quakes, ranging from 1.8 to 4.0 on the Richter scale, have been described as abnormal for this area and could be impacting underground gas pipes and facilities.
On New Year's Eve, 2010 more than 5,000 dead red-winged blackbirds and starlings were found in Beebe, Arkansas, USA. The incident has been attributed to mass collisions and stress caused by fireworks. On December 30th, three young whooping cranes and hundreds of grackles, cowbirds, starlings and red-winged blackbirds died in Kentucky. The cranes were first seen flying low to the ground and crashing into objects in the streets. In many of the descriptions of bird fatalities, the animals are becoming confused and running themselves into poles, signs, buildings, and other objects. Between the dates of December 28 and January 3rd, 100 tons of dead fish washed ashore the Brazilian coast near the port of Paranagua. On January 3rd, an estimated 2 million fish died in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland. This event has been attributed to the cold weather.
On January 5th, thousands of dead turtle doves were found in Faenza, Italy. The birds were discovered with a noticeable blue stain on their beaks. The Italian government was shocked by the deaths and has noted the rarity of the event. During the month of December, 2010, more than 200 Brown Pelicans died under suspicious circumstances along the beaches of Topsail Island, North Carolina. On February 12, 2011, 20,000 bees suddenly died in a biodiversity exhibit at the Toronto museum. On February 4, 2011, huge collections of dead animals began to appear in Rio Negro, which is the largest left tributary of the Amazon River and the biggest blackwater river in the world. Some of the animals killed include pacus, golden fishes, cacharas, and stingrays.
Media reports out of the area have indicated that the fish are putting their heads out of water and trying to obtain air before perishing. This means that the deaths could be attributed to a lack of oxygen in the water. People have suggested that there is a growing collection of hypoxic or dead-zones in the world's oceans and inland waterways. Proposed causes for the current outbreak of mass death events include the Earth's current global climate disruption and the affects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. One of the biggest unknown factors surrounding the spill is related to the dispersants BP used to fight the oil. Dispersants are a collection of chemicals that rapidly disperse large amounts of oil from the sea surface by transferring it into the water column. Dispersants reduce oxygen levels in the water and have been known to negatively impact animal life.