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Image created from Pixabay.

Science looks at the building blocks to life on Earth.

Life on Earth is tough as nails.

From the crushing, soulless depths of the ocean to the highest reaches of the atmosphere, from boiling hot springs to Antarctic wastes — even in the radioactive heart of Chernobyl, life thrives. It finds a way. It laughs in the face of adversity.


Turns out, that amazing tenacity is kind of our birthright as Earthlings. To understand why, you've got to go back to Snowball Earth.

720 million years ago, the Earth was a pretty different place. For one thing, it was in the icy grips of something called the Cryogenian period.

ice age, environment, algae, earth freezing, science, global warming

Saturn's moon Enceladus. 720 million years ago, Earth's surface might have looked strikingly similar.

Photo from NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

Living on Earth would have been tough. For 85 million years, the planet was locked in a grinding cycle of massive freezing and thawing. This was no mere chill. At its height, the entire planet may have been frozen over with glaciers marching over even the equator. The alternative? Greenhouse conditions caused by massive volcanic eruptions.

Sounds like a bad time to be around. And, yet, life didn't just endure. This period happens to coincide with one of life's greatest moments — the jump from single-celled bacteria and microbes to multicellular life. Plants, animals, mushrooms, just about everything you can see in your day-to-day life is a descendant of this great leap forward.

But this triumph in the face of adversity wasn't a coincidence. At least, that's what a letter published Aug. 16, 2017 in the science journal Nature says.

Life didn't just endure this cycle of ice and fire. It may have flourished because of it.

The reason, the authors say, has to do with algae. For the three billion years before, single-celled life had scrimped by on whatever energy and nutrients it could grab. There wasn't much to go around.

But things were going to change. As the glaciers marched back and forth across the surface of the planet, they acted like giant belt sanders, grinding mountain into powder — powder that was chock-full of minerals like phosphates. When the cycle flipped and the volcanoes took over, the glaciers melted and dumped all those nutrients straight into the ocean.

Where the algae could get it.

Which then spread like never before.

Which was then food for everything else. Suddenly there was plenty to go around and life began to eat. And thrive. And change. And, over time, that life made the leap from tiny, lonely microbes to the ancestors of all the multicellular life we see today.

We don't just endure hard times. They give us the fuel we need to grow.

This is just one possible explanation, but the scientists say it's backed up by evidence. Chemical signatures in the rocks show a massive algal bloom around this time. Other ideas might come in later and disprove it, of course — that's just how science goes.

But if this is true, then it just makes life on Earth that much more incredible.

Nature is awesome, right?

Fresh air, picturesque sights, local flora and fauna — it's all pretty great, but we don't give nearly enough credit to the people who keep it that way. Pardon the pun, but nature just doesn't come, uh, naturally.

100 years ago, the U.S. National Park Service was formed and tasked with conserving "America the Beautiful." They've been doing a pretty bang-up job of it ever since.


Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

In honor of the agency's 100th anniversary, here's a list of 15 national parks (and a national seashore) you'll want to add to your bucket list.

1. Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

Warm weather? Check (it's Hawaii, after all). Beaches? Check. THE AWESOMENESS THAT IS TWO ACTIVE VOLCANOES? Check.

Image by jshyun/Flickr.

2. Glacier National Park

Here's one you may want to check out sooner rather than later. Why? Well, the park used to be home to somewhere around 150 glaciers! Now? There are just 25. In the future, there may be none. To paraphrase "Total Recall," get your ass to Montana.

Image by Andrew Kalat/Flickr.

3. Channel Islands National Park

This park is made up of five of the eight Channel Islands off the California coast. Why just five of eight? Well, you know how in high school, there'd be kids who were like, "You can't sit with us!" at lunch and then you'd silently cry in the bathroom and eat your lunch alone in the auditorium? (OK, those last few parts are probably just me...) It's my guess that it's something like that, but I'm probably wrong. But in addition to that, there are beautiful beaches, stunning rock formations, and warm weather.

Image by David Wan/Flickr.

4. Everglades National Park

If you're ever in the mood to see an alligator up close (but hopefully not too close), Everglades National Park is a great place to do it. The swampy Florida ecosystem is unique, and not exactly what you'd find in Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana, or wherever it is you, dear reader, are from.

Image by Diana Robinson/Flickr.

5. Zion National Park

Combining forests with epic rock formations, Zion National Park is a must-see stop should you be traveling through southern Utah.

Image by Zion National Park/Flickr.

6. Cape Cod National Seashore

What makes this eastern Massachusetts seascape so special? Well, it happens to be home to Marconi Station (if you happened to read that as "macaroni station," you are not alone), the site of the first two-way transatlantic radio transmission, and that's just way cool. It's known for its bike trails along with its views of Cape Cod Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

Image by Jasperdo/Flickr.

7. North Cascades National Park

I'm going to be honest: I put this on the list simply because it's home to the Picket mountain range. What's so interesting about that, you ask? The names of the mountains within: Mount Fury, Mount Challenger, Poltergeist Pinnacle, Mount Terror, Ghost Peak, and Phantom Peak! POLTERGEIST FREAKIN' PINNACLE? That sounds like a badass roller coaster, and now I want to ride.

Image by Rachel Samanyi/Flickr.

8. Denali National Park and Preserve

Denali National Park in Alaska is home to Denali (obviously), the highest mountain in North America. It's also home to a little bit of everything else: forests, glaciers, rock formations, mountains. Plus, it's absolutely gorgeous.

Image by Denali National Park/Flickr.

9. Grand Canyon National Park

It's the Grand freakin' Canyon. NEXT!

Image by Grand Canyon National Park/Flickr.

10. Arches National Park

As its name would suggest, Arches National Park is home to a number of arch-shaped rock formations. The coolest thing, though, is probably Balanced Rock, a formation that includes an upper portion "balancing" on the lower. If you visit, please do not throw rocks at Balanced Rock in hopes of toppling it. Resist the urge!

Image by Arches National Park/Flickr (cropped).

11. Yosemite National Park

If you're a fan of giant sequoia trees, this is the park for you. In addition to some glorious rock formations, there are three groves of ancient sequoia trees in Yosemite. With its high granite cliffs, the park provides some of the most amazing views you'll see anywhere on Earth.

Image by Matt Savener/Upworthy.

12. Yellowstone National Park

This is the O.G. of national parks, going way back to 1872. It's home to some kickass geysers (what up, Old Faithful), hot springs, incredible wildlife, and so much more. You've heard of it ... now get with it and visit!

Image by Yellowstone National Park/Flickr.

13. Acadia National Park

Here's one very special reason to visit Acadia: the sunrise. Cadillac Mountain is located within the Maine park, and it's the first place in the United States where you can see the sun rise each morning. How awesome is that?

Image by TravelUSA/Flickr.

14. Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles is a newbie to the National Park System (it was added in 2013), but it still brings the heat when it comes to dishing out that national park goodness. Mountains? Got 'em. Trees? Yep. What makes it special, though? Well, it's home to the success story of the almost-extinct but slowly recovering California condors. Victory!

Image by Stanislav Sedov/Flickr.

15. Joshua Tree National Park

This desert national park is found in Southern California. Named after the Joshua tree (no, not the U2 album), it's a pretty cool change of pace from your usual national park experience.

Photo by David McNew/Getty Images.

So happy birthday, National Park Service! You're looking good for a centenarian! Here's to your continued success!

Interested in visiting a nearby national park? Check out the list of free days at parks around the country.