What is the North Pole really if not the home of Santa Claus and his elves? Beyond the magical workshop, most people assume the North Pole is a wide open expanse of ice and snow. Those assumptions, however, are almost as fictional as the big man with the toy sack.
There are actually some pretty strange things going on at the North Pole. In fact, some of them are so out-of-this-world that they almost sound like sci-fi — even the icy temperatures you imagine don’t align with reality!
If graduated 2nd grade, you know that there are seven continents stretching around the globe… but the North Pole isn’t one of them. So why isn’t it getting the land-defying respect that it deserves?
Well, it turns out that there’s not actually enough solid ground up there to qualify as a major land mass! Most of the North Pole is water and sheets of ice. All that water has a strange side effect.
r_knight/ Trek Earth
See, while all of the ice and water naturally makes for a cold location, it’s hardly the most frigid place on planet Earth. Which begs the question, which location takes that title?
The South Pole actually is the coldest spot; its ice is on land, not water, meaning there’s less ambient heat. Still, that’s not the only quirk. There are some other strange things going on up north…
Temperatures at the North Pole might not be as cold as in Antarctica, but they can still get pretty extreme. Highs peak around 0 Celsius while lows can reach -60. Even stranger, though, is where exactly the North Pole is.
We talk about the North Pole as a definite location, but there are actually two North Poles. One is the magnetic North Magnetic Pole and the other is the North Geographic Pole.
The Magnetic Pole, which is where your compass points, isn’t actually a consistent location. It moves a little bit every year and is currently resting somewhere where you might not expect.
The Magnetic North Pole is currently near Ellesmere Island in the Canadian territory of Nunavut. The pole will continue to drift westward by roughly 50 kilometers a year. But what about the geographic pole?
The Geographic North Pole marks the extreme northern point of Earth’s rotational axis. That’s the conventional “top of the planet” pole you probably think of when someone says “North Pole.”
The North Pole might defy a lot of assumptions, but it truly is remote. The nearest landmass is Kaffeklubben Island, which is 600 kilometers away from the Northern edge of Greenland, but the nearest civilization is even further.
The nearest inhabited place is Alert, Nunavut, but even that’s not a metropolis. It’s home to a weather station, observatory, and roughly 60 residents. There are two things that bring people to the North Pole, however.
Not surprisingly, the main factor bringing human life north is oil. Roughly 30% of the planet’s black gold can be found deep below the region’s water and ice. The other reason is a bit stranger, though…
The Arctic Institute
There’s an annual North Pole Marathon that’s surprisingly popular; competitors run the full 26.2 miles across the solid arctic ice. That’s definitely one way to work out without overheating — and to see some interesting wildlife.
While you probably are imagining the sheets of ice teeming with toddling penguins, despite popular conceptions, penguins don’t actually live at the North Pole; similarly polar bears don’t live at the South Pole.
One animal does call both poles home, however: the Arctic tern spends winters at the South Pole before migrating to the North Pole to breed. It repeats that loop every year, accruing a ton of frequent flier miles.
In terms of human visitors, Robert Peary is credited with being the first person to reach the North Pole. He made the trip in 1909, but he got bad news when he returned to civilization.
National Geographic Society
Peary expected a hero’s welcome, but he returned to find Frederick Cook claiming he reached the pole a year earlier. After deliberation, however, Peary was given official credit for making the trek first.
To this day, however, the North Pole doesn’t belong to one nation. There are actually mutual agreements in place preventing any one global power from claiming the region as their territory. There could be a potential dispute on the horizon, however.
As ice melts, a Northwest Passage linking Europe to Asia could open up. And yes, that’s the same passage Columbus was looking for. That said, world leaders need to know: who would control said passage?
Canada claims that water would be under their naval control, but the United States and several European countries assert that the passage would use International Waters. Hopefully that’s not an issue we’ll have to deal with anytime soon.
Royal Canadian Navy
Speaking of natural changes, the North Pole undergoes some dramatic lighting shifts twice a year. Six months are spent in darkness and the other half of the calendar is spent in complete daylight.
So while you might think of the North Pole as the land of Santa, there’s some weird stuff happening amid all that ice and ocean. But strange things are lurking under the water all around the world…
Located in the provinces of Van and Bitlis, Lake Van is easily the largest body of water in all of Turkey. But sheer size isn’t the only thing that makes this lake such a natural wonder: it’s also hiding a secret within its depths.
Despite being situated over 5,000 feet above sea level, Lake Van never freezes. The lake’s high salinity keeps the water flowing year-round, though this phenomenon has come at the price of Lake Van’s biodiversity.
Because of these high salt levels, only one type of fish – the Pearl Mullet – is known to live in the lake’s brackish waters. However, according to local legend, these mackerel-sized fish aren’t the only creatures lurking beneath the waves of Lake Van.
For over a century, locals have reported sightings of a monster that calls Lake Van its home. Most of these claims have proven unfounded over the years, though in 1997, Ünal Kozak managed to capture the creature on film.
In the video, a large, almost squid-like monster emerges from the water before slowly disappearing beneath the waves. Yet like similar “sightings” of legendary creatures, the legitimacy of Kozak’s discovery continues to be a point of contention among scholars.
Even so, the possible existence of such a creature hasn’t deterred archaeologists from exploring the the lake. Just recently, in fact, an expedition led divers to the very bottom of Lake Van, though what they found there was unlike anything they’d seen before.
On the day in question, a group of researchers assembled by Van Yüzüncü Yıl University arrived at the lake shore to debunk another age-old myth: that the lost city of Atlantis was actually somewhere beneath Lake Van. Believe it or not, this idea wasn’t so farfetched.
Yüzüncü Yıl Üniversitesi
The land surrounding Lake Van was once home to the Urartians, an ancient civilization that flourished in Turkey during the Iron Age some 3,000 years ago. Yet despite their centuries-long presence in the area, very few remnants from the days of these ancient people still remain.
While conquest surely played a role in the disappearance of most Urartian structures, some scholars believe the rising tides of Lake Van sunk these relics beneath the water. Locating these structures would be no easy task, however, so the team opted to bring in a little extra help.
Morgan Stone Grether Photography
A veteran underwater photographer, Tahsin Ceylan was pegged to lead the expedition’s dive team in search of the lost Urartian kingdom. With his years of diving experience, coupled with his extensive knowledge of Lake Van, Ceylan was surely the team’s best bet for uncovering this long-forgotten piece of history.
But when it finally came time to take the plunge into the lake, even Ceylan couldn’t help but feel a little wary over the thought of the legend of the Lake Van Monster. Sure, he’d dived here hundreds of times before, but would this be the day he finally came face-to-fin with the terrifying creature?
The team seemed to echo their guide’s fears, and as they dove deeper into the lake, it became increasingly difficult to shake this unnerving thought. After all, in a body of water as large and murky as this one, almost anything could be lurking just a few feet below.
Once they’d reached the bottom of Lake Van, Ceylan and his team quickly set to work combing the sands for any sign of Urartian artifacts. Almost instantly, one of the divers spotted an enormous shadow that made everyone’s blood run cold.
Shrouded in a veil of deep blue, what the diver saw sat in total stillness, almost as if it were made of stone. The divers summoned their courage and swam toward the sight, but what they found wasn’t a monster.
National Geographic / YouTube
It was a castle! The towering structure was in remarkable condition, its walls and foundation intact. It had certainly been down here for quite some time, but was this castle truly a relic from the long-forgotten Urartian empire? They needed to know more.
As Ceylan and his team continued exploring the ruins, one of the divers stumbled upon a revelatory etching on one of the walls: that of a lion. This all but confirmed the castle was Urartian, as the civilization had used symbols such as these to identify themselves as a kingdom for centuries.
After snapping photos of the structure, the divers returned to the surface to share their findings with the rest of the team. The researchers were thrilled at the discovery, though upon learning of the lion symbol, things quickly became complicated.
The Anatolia Post
Despite the Urartians using this motif throughout their history, some of the scholars believed the lion symbol looked more medieval than ancient. If this was the case, then the castle would date back to the Middle Ages rather than the Iron Age.
The structure itself also supported this theory, as the stones used to build it were a mix of both Urtartian and medieval. This led scholars to deduce the kingdoms of the Middle Ages likely repurposed materials from these ancient ruins to build their own fortresses.
The archaeological community remained split over the true origin of the castle beneath Lake Van. In the meantime, historians turned their attention to a new discovery made in the U.S. — one that might be even more extraordinary than the lost Urtarian kingdom.
Beneath the calm waters of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, divers found a massive secret, one that lay hidden for hundreds of years. It would excite just about any historian, they knew.
Flickr / Christian Loader
It’s the wreck of the Whydah, a massive ship built to hold 150 men and several hundred tons of cargo. It went missing off the coast of New England in 1717, and many assumed it was lost forever.
However, explorer Barry Clifford discovered the wreck of the Whydah in 1984, and he has been digging up artifacts from the site ever since. His exploits make him one of the greatest treasure hunters of all time.
Wicked Local Yarmouth
Barry has long been on the hunt for a treasure that will make him a legend. He once believed he found the remnants of the Santa Maria from Christopher Columbus’ original 1492 voyage, but tests later determined it was a different vessel.
The Whydah, however, was a monumental find. It was the flagship of one of history’s greatest pirates: Black Sam Bellamy. This captain was known as the ‘Robin Hood of the Sea,’ and for good reason.
For one thing, Bellamy only targeted wealthy merchants and tried to use as little violence as possible. His crew members received equal pay and respect, even those who were Native Americans or former slaves.
In fact, the Whydah was originally the property of slave traders until Bellamy seized it by force and freed the captives aboard.
Valparaiso University, Wikimedia Commons
Most famously, Bellamy pulled off the biggest heists in pirate history. Historians estimate that he plundered the modern equivalent of $120 million throughout his career.
These daring exploits made Bellamy one of the most talked-about pirates of his time. He rose above his criminal origins to become a bona fide folk hero.
Unfortunately, Bellamy didn’t have much time to enjoy his success. A massive storm sank the Whydah, claiming untold amounts of treasure and most of the crew, including Bellamy himself.
Centuries later, Clifford and his colleagues have unearthed countless relics and treasures from the wreck, and they established the Whydah Pirate Museum to share Bellamy’s story.
Even though Clifford’s team has been studying this site for decades, he still felt like they were only scratching the surface. Then, one diving mission in late 2016 changed everything.
The explorers located a large chunk of debris from the Whydah that had many artifacts trapped inside of it. They hauled it up to dry land for a closer look.
It presented a virtual treasure trove, with genuine coins and seafaring equipment jutting through the rough surface. But this motherlode contained one thing the scientists didn’t expect to find… human bones.
They came across a femur just a short distance away from what appeared to be Bellamy’s pistol. Could it be the remains of the late great Captain himself?
Wikimedia Commons / WellCome Images
Clifford knew they needed proof, so he recruited a team of forensic scientists. They extracted DNA from the bone and compared it to that of one of Bellamy’s descendants in the United Kingdom. At last, the results came in…
Flickr / vâniamoreira1
But it was not a match. This bone likely belonged to an anonymous crew member, but certainly not to Captain Bellamy. The elusive Black Sam slipped away from authorities once again.
The bad news sunk Clifford’s theory faster than the Whydah. Nevertheless, the bone gave researchers the chance to learn more about the typical sailor from that era.
Clifford can still take pride in his ongoing excavation of the Whydah. After all, no other famous pirate ship has been studied so closely. Nobody can question his accomplishments or contributions to history.
Besides, the mysteries of the Whydah are still out there in the briny deep, and Bellamy’s final resting place may even surface someday. All it will take is the right person to find it.