News Analysis

Eternal Flames Falls of New York

Nestled deep with the Chestnut Ridge Park in New York, is a burning flame. While eternal flames caused by the presence of natural gas pockets are common, what make this one unique is its location—under a waterfall. Placed at the heart of the Eternal Flame Falls, this naturally burning flickering flame is the result of natural gas pockets. 

Located in the Erie County, the park has several hiking trails, cycling paths and playing fields and is frequented by hikers and picnic-goers. The waterfall is directly accessible from a trail beginning from the southern edge of the park and away from the crowds. Although the flame burns out sometimes, the hikers in the area re-light the gas pocket and keep the flame lit, thus, making it eternal. 

Over the years, many legends have occupied the space regarding the mystery of the falls, however, nothing has been proven scientifically. Initial scientific theories say that the eternal flame was kept alight due to the presence of ancient and extremely hot rocks called shale. However, recent research says that the rocks in the small chamber under the falls are not hot enough to produce such a reaction. They bear the same temperature as a cup of tea. And the shale isn’t as old as it was thought to be. Thus, the shale beneath the waterfall cannot produce such a reaction.

For such a phenomenon to occur, the temperature of the rocks has to be near the boiling point of water, or hotter, which in turn breaks down the carbon molecules, thus giving off natural gas and hence the burning flame. 

Natural eternal flames occur when gas seeps through the soil, and bacteria eats the methane converting it into carbon dioxide. At the Eternal Flame Falls, the gas is contained and is not converted, leading to an eternal flame. 

As you near the fall, a pungent smell fills the air, a result of the natural gas leaks. The gases produced during the decomposition of the organic matter are under high pressure and are pushed out through cracks and loose layers within the rocks.

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