We humans tend to think that our modern technology has led to the conquering of Earth’s nature. Mother Nature begs to differ. This list is for those of you who want to forge a new path, or who would just like to read about how uncomfortable it might be to do so.
10. Greenland Ice Sheet
When Erik the Red found a place to settle, he named it Greenland. Scandinavian people far and wide competed for spots upon ships heading to this newfound paradise. When they got there, they were greeted by a country covered by 80% of sheer ice. Suffice it to say, people have seldom found a need to venture far from the shore or into the heart of their colonized ice cube. The Greenland ice sheet is a whopping 600 square miles in size. Perhaps people 2000 years from now will live the promises given to their ancestors because many scientists estimate that the ice sheet will melt by that time. The ice sheet has long served researchers well as an indicator of past climate change as they drill cores out of the ice.
9. Colombia’s North Mountains
It’s hard to tell just how unexplored the northern mountains of Columbia are, because guerrilla fighters don’t keep official records on the internet. Many bands of outlaws disappear into the area with plans to emerge at later, more opportune times. Most of the nearby residents, however, are peaceful, indigenous tribes. For every scientific expedition that is conducted, it seems that new flora and fauna are identified each time. The areas are home to extensive cloud rainforests that envelop these mountains in mist. These unexplored mountain ranges are best suited for naturalists interested in discovery. In 2006, a new bird species (Yariguies Brush Finch) was found in a previously unexplored region of the Yariguies Mountains, so called after the native people that used to inhabit them. More recently in 2010, a new subspecies of the bird Lachrymose Mountain Tanager was discovered.
8. The Amazon Rainforest
Even being under siege as it is, the Amazon Basin still holds a vast amount of untouched land. The Amazon Rainforest covers most of the basin and is so large, in fact, that there are still tribes of people untouched by modern civilization. The Amazon maintains perhaps the most species rich tract of tropical rainforest on the planet. It is beautiful to behold, but dangerous in traveling. Dense bush and a slew of venomous creatures keep the common person from delving too deep, but these devices don’t work as well against bulldozers and industrial equipment. What is thought to have grown some 35-54 million years ago is now being cut down by large swaths every day. Exasperating the problem is that many different countries claim a part of the Amazon as their own and so set the local policy for its treatment in that area. The Amazon claims over half the remaining rainforest in the world.
7. Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea has the distinction of being one of the world’s least explored countries. It is home to a prolific amount of fauna, flora, and indigenous peoples. Paradise birds amaze the eyes with an untold variety of dances and courtship rituals. The biodiversity is as amazing as the native cultures, and new species of plants and animals are found routinely. Scientists believe that countless other unidentified species inhabit the country’s inner jungle. When it comes to being a scientific haven, Papua New Guinea is comparable to places such as Madagascar and Belize. The rugged terrain of this country means that many areas are only accessible by airplane (unless you feel up for a huge amount of hiking and climbing).
Namibia is the least populated country in Africa. A mere estimated 2.1 million people call almost 300,000 square miles home. After doing the math, it becomes clear that there is a lot of open space per citizen. There is a large amount of land for the people to take custodianship of, but Namibia is also the only country to include protection of the natural world in its governmental constitution. Even with a poaching problem all too common in most African countries, Namibia’s pro-environment policies protect thousands of square miles of largely unexplored deserts (including the famous Kalahari) and plateaus. Namibia is a great place for spotting endangered animals. Rhinos and cheetahs top the long list of animals facing eventual extinction. Namibia also houses many small, charismatic animals such as the ant bear and the notorious honey badger. The race is on for this country to grow its ecotourism industry faster than poachers can lessen its biodiversity.
5. Tristan da Cunha
Tristan da Cunha is considered one of the most isolated island archipelagos in the world. The nearest mainland country is South Africa, and the main island is a mere 7 miles across. Many of the outlying islands have not been thoroughly explored. These islands are so remote that one is even named Inaccessible Island. True to its name, there have been at least three shipwrecks off of Inaccessible Island’s shores. Many seals, including the mammoth elephant seals, share the islands’ beaches with a plethora of shore birds and waterfowl. The archipelago sits atop the Tristan hotspot, an area responsible for volcanic activity that forms the islands in the southern Atlantic Ocean. The climate is generally mild (never too hot or too cold), but the islands are susceptible to powerful oceanic storms with high winds capable of wholesale destruction.
4. Northeast Siberia (and the Kamchatka Peninsula)
Ok, truth be told, both Northwest and Northeast Siberia could warrant their own separate spots on this list. However, Northeast Siberia seems just a bit more barren and devoid of travelers. The whole of Siberia is vast— it is responsible for over 70% of Russia’s land space—yet holds under 30% of Russia’s total population. The local human population is stunted due to unforgiving landscapes and wintry weather. Much of the human presence is due to the ever-growing search for oil. Basically, Northeast Siberia is an even sparser traveled track of land in a sparsely populated slab of continent. While a little over 300,000 inhabitants live on the eastern Kamchatka Peninsula, tundra and mountains dominate a wilderness vacant of people. This area is so remote that it is often rumored that governmental penal colonies are still hidden away in its recesses.
3. Gangkhar Puensum, Bhutan
Gangkhar Puensum (“Three Mountain Siblings”) is foremost among the world’s tallest mountains that have yet to be summited. This area, which borders Tibet, China, and Bhutan, is so remote that it even lacked proper mapping until recently. Climbing high-altitude mountains in Bhutan has been banned since 1994 due to spiritual beliefs. This means that potential explorers face the difficult prospect of navigating Chinese politics. As recently as 1998, permission had been granted to an expedition from Japan only to be subsequently removed. The group eventually climbed one of the lower mountain peaks from Tibet. Border disputes in this untamed area are common. Political, social, spiritual, and (of course) geographic issues continue to keep the top of Gangkhar Puensum untouched by man.
Heavy winds, subfreezing temperatures, ice fields, ice bergs and thrashing waves—all these hazards are just on the way to Earth’s least explored continent. Antarctica is the white behemoth of the exploring world. For many, our perception of Antarctica is of a giant ice cube. It sure is impressive, but we wouldn’t want to hang around long. To explorers and researchers, though, the white landscape is marked with a variety of different features and possibilities. No one, however, lives here permanently. It is the distinct promise of discovery that has scientists spending yearlong assignments getting to know this mysterious place. There are a few vertebrate species of fauna living in Antarctica such as the snow petrel (the southernmost breeding bird in the world) and the rotund, photogenic emperor penguins. In contrast, there are many species of microscopic varieties and also a wide variety of oceanic life. As the global temperatures continue to increase, more and more tourists are finding themselves surprised with unusual warmth and the lack of snow in some areas.
1. Mariana Trench
The most unexplored area in the world is, beyond a doubt, the deep sea trenches of the world’s oceans. Perhaps none is as famously unexplored as the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean (near Guam and the Mariana Islands). Reaching an estimated 1580 miles (2550 km) long and a mere 40 miles (60 km) wide with a depth of nearly 7 miles (11 km), the Mariana Trench is truly a window into our deepest curiosities. Since the 1870’s, when researchers began sounding the trench by hand, people have been refining techniques to best map every niche in this part of the deep blue. The video still above is an animation of the Mariana Trench, courtesy of NOAA. In 2011, a US Navy hydrographic ship mapped the entirety of the trench using a multibeam echosounder. Exactly what forms of life inhabit the deep sea remains a mystery, but some creatures have been observed. Included in these findings are single cell (that is right, stuff usually saved for under the microscope) organisms up to 4 inches long.