Satan Put the Kettle On
September 4, 2015 12:49 AM   Subscribe

If you’ve ever worried that we’ve solved all the mysteries of nature, fear not. Minnesota’s Devil’s Kettle Falls has been puzzling hikers and geologists for generations. At the falls, along Lake Superior’s north shore, a river forks at a rock outcropping. While one side tumbles down a two-step stone embankment and continues on like a normal waterfall, the other side vanishes into a deep hole and disappears — apparently forever.
The Mystery of Devil's Kettle Falls
posted by spinda (65 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is fascinating and peculiar. Thanks for posting this!
posted by hippybear at 1:10 AM on September 4, 2015


...but over the years, researchers and the curious have poured dye, pingpong balls, even logs into the kettle, then watched the lake for any sign of them. So far, none has ever been found.

Geologists and geomorphologists refer to this as the 'Forrest Gump' groundwater test. This is how real science is done:

Step 1: Where water go?
Step 2: Dump a car in.
Step 3: No car.
Step 4: There is no step 4.

Science! Seriously people, did you look at the name? It gets made into tea in hell. Clearly. End of story. Duh.
posted by jimmythefish at 1:25 AM on September 4, 2015 [22 favorites]


James Cameron, you're up.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:29 AM on September 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Heebie jeebies: activated.

Seriously, no one ever climbed down there?
posted by Literaryhero at 1:30 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Scary and interesting. Reminds of the The Bolton Strid in Yorkshire, UK, #3 on this list.

Swimming in that has a 100% mortality rate.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 1:46 AM on September 4, 2015 [23 favorites]


Certainly no one came back to tell about it.
posted by hat_eater at 1:46 AM on September 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


The place in Jennifer's Body is a real place? Is Evil Megan Fox there?
posted by Justinian at 2:14 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


We knew about this, growing up in MN, so recently when I was planning a camping trip in New Hampshire and heard the area had a kettle, I nopenopeNOPEd right on past.
posted by wenestvedt at 3:20 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


we can tag and track blue whales that swim a billion miles below sea level but we can't throw a fucking floaty-rigged gps into a hole full of water?

humanity i am disappoint.
posted by poffin boffin at 4:46 AM on September 4, 2015 [16 favorites]


yes, A BILLION MILES. prove me wrong, you CAN'T.
posted by poffin boffin at 4:46 AM on September 4, 2015 [14 favorites]


.but over the years, researchers and the curious have poured dye, pingpong balls, even logs into the kettle, then watched the lake for any sign of them. So far, none has ever been found

Have they checked down in New Mexico at the Blue Hole?
posted by penguinicity at 5:06 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


The consensus is that there must be an exit point somewhere beneath Lake Superior, but over the years, researchers and the curious have poured dye, pingpong balls, even logs into the kettle, then watched the lake for any sign of them. So far, none has ever been found
These seem like tests that an engaged and curious eight-grade science class would do. Surely someone has thought to send a GPS transmitter in a waterproof housing down it. It may vanish in the depths beneath underneath however many metres of basalt the signal can transmit through, but for finding an answer that must be better than just hoping for ping-pong balls to turn up in Lake Superior.

MetaFilter: better than just hoping for ping-pong balls to turn up in Lake Superior.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:43 AM on September 4, 2015 [10 favorites]


Send networked GPS floaty things down there, one every thirty seconds or whatever's a good signal overlap. I can't even get my wifi working so I'll be in the car while you set this up.
posted by user92371 at 5:46 AM on September 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


Or jeez, for lack of a gps enabled rubber ball, a camera on a long rope.
posted by dozo at 6:06 AM on September 4, 2015


Message from Pluto: Demotion accepted. Stop sending ping pong balls.
posted by DanSachs at 6:17 AM on September 4, 2015 [22 favorites]


Holy cow, that linked Cracked article is NUTS. But now I wanna go see a maelstrom.
posted by Kitteh at 6:28 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


i dislike that maelstrom and wish it ill.
posted by poffin boffin at 6:34 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


This doesn't seem like the type of problem that can't be solved with a go pro on a long rope.
posted by bracems at 6:36 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


ricochet biscuit: These seem like tests that an engaged and curious eight-grade science class would do. Surely someone has thought to send a GPS transmitter in a waterproof housing down it. It may vanish in the depths beneath underneath however many metres of basalt the signal can transmit through, but for finding an answer that must be better than just hoping for ping-pong balls to turn up in Lake Superior.

I don't think that is likely to work. It's going to go out of GPS and transmission range very quickly, and unless it can actually fit through the caverns underground, it's never going to come out. And if things could easily fit through those caverns, we'd get back the ping pong balls.

I mean, it's not that it's not worth a try... but by far the most likely possibility is that your GPS device/transmitter goes out of communication range within a minute and never shows up anywhere.
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:46 AM on September 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


Ugh, I keep calling the landlord about all the dye, ping pong balls, and logs that burble up in my bathtub, and he never does anything about it.
posted by moonmilk at 7:06 AM on September 4, 2015 [8 favorites]


This doesn't seem like the type of problem that can't be solved with a go pro on a long rope.

A really long super strong metal line maybe? Or something that won't get snagged and cut by whatever's down there.

I haven't ruled out beasts of the underworld yet.
posted by numaner at 7:14 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Don't forget GPS, last I checked, works with signals from outer space. Not sure the satellites' signals reach underground caverns.
posted by twjordan at 7:33 AM on September 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


It hasn't been 'solved' most likely because any geologist knows the answer - it becomes groundwater and the groundwater permeability there is such that it drains back into the river or lake or whatever. It's a mystery as to exactly where, but it's not interesting enough for anyone to take it seriously and spend the money to figure it out.
posted by jimmythefish at 7:38 AM on September 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Devil's Kettle is pretty cool, but the hike there is not for the faint of heart, or if you just really hate steps. Blatant personal log self-link: Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here
posted by Elly Vortex at 7:44 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


How'd it feel to be the scientist that drops in the ping pong ball that finally plugs whatever hole this things drains into?
posted by thecjm at 7:44 AM on September 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


Not sure the satellites' signals reach underground caverns.

They don't even reach inside my garage or house. GPS is not the solution here.
posted by hippybear at 7:58 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Have they tried setting up a big synthesizer/lightshow thing and playing that Close Encounters song?
posted by chococat at 8:20 AM on September 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


I wonder how long of a chain you could reasonably send a gopro down on. Those things are pretty amazing, actually. you at least might get a sense of how far straight down the hole goes.
posted by telepanda at 8:43 AM on September 4, 2015


It hasn't been 'solved' most likely because any geologist knows the answer - it becomes groundwater and the groundwater permeability there is such that it drains back into the river or lake or whatever.

I think one of the article says that that isn't something that happens with the particular kind of rock in the area. I didn't quite get the geology of why. Also, the send a camera down idea is addressed in one article: Apparently it's deep enough that the pressure would be very very high. High enough that your typical waterproof camera isn't going to cut it.

I realize GPS couldn't follow it under the rock, but wouldn't the signal reactivate once it came back up to open water somewhere? Wierdly, I've googled lots of articles and none address the GPS possibility, though the comments in all of them are full of people suggesting GPS.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:53 AM on September 4, 2015



I realize GPS couldn't follow it under the rock, but wouldn't the signal reactivate once it came back up to open water somewhere? Wierdly, I've googled lots of articles and none address the GPS possibility, though the comments in all of them are full of people suggesting GPS.


That is my general point. It is one of those situations where there seems to be an obvious method to try. There may very well be a non-obvious method why researchers have rejected this method, or tried it and failed, but I can find no mention of it. I dunno if the outflow is just low priority for, er hydrogeologists (?) or more likely the level of reporting is terrible, but the linked article suggests an effort to solve the mystery that would be appropriate for a Hardy Boys novel.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:03 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think one of the article says that that isn't something that happens with the particular kind of rock in the area.

That's kind of like saying 'birds don't fly in this area. That bird flying above us must not be a bird'. It drains. It's not exiting in Narnia. It happens there because it's happening right in front of your eyes. That 'the pressure is too great for a consumer camera' places this in a scientific level of such things as 'why is Carl's Jr so f'n good'. Where it drains is a curiosity but it's not really of scientific importance. There's not some new magic process happening here.
posted by jimmythefish at 9:07 AM on September 4, 2015


Perfect place to hide a body.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:10 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Where it drains is a curiosity but it's not really of scientific importance. There's not some new magic process happening here.

Any piece of the world on which we live that remains unexplained is of scientific importance. Gravity wasn't a new magic process either, but until Newton described it, it might as well have been. (It was actually a question that had never been asked up until that point, as far as I know.)

Understanding where this water is going could be either merely a curiosity or it could be something pretty major. Until we've applied science and learned what is happening, it might as well be a magic process.
posted by hippybear at 9:11 AM on September 4, 2015


You know, this sounds like a case for the Metafilter Detective Squad.

Who do have with relevant skills?

posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:14 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Any piece of the world on which we live that remains unexplained is of scientific importance

Only on a relative basis. These things rely on the principle of Occam's Razor - that being the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. Water goes into ground - water becomes ground water. The ratio of proving this to be false vs the expense is obviously not worth it to anyone.
posted by jimmythefish at 9:16 AM on September 4, 2015


Who do have with relevant skills?

If only you had a penguin....
posted by hippybear at 9:16 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


...Except the Metafilter Detective Squad.

I just emailed a geologist friend. I think we can get a reality tv show here, or at least a Discovery Channel one-time special. I vote we turn down the History Channel when they come calling because I hate the way they overdramatize everything.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:17 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Water goes into ground - water becomes ground water. The ratio of proving this to be false vs the expense is obviously not worth it to anyone.

If there's an aquifer that is recharging itself at basically half the flow rate of a large river, that is pretty major news to anyone who has studied such things. Typically ground water aquifers require decades if not centuries and maybe longer for any water that is on the surface to make its way deep enough to become part of the underground water source.

Most aquifers are not underground rivers. And really, the flow of half a large river is still a river, or at least a stream or creek or something. And the point of doing investigation on this particular instance of "we don't know what the fuck is happening" is not to prove any hypothesis false, but rather to investigate hypotheses until one that is true has emerged. And with the learning of that truth comes greater understanding of how this tiny orb in infinite space upon which we stand functions.

That's ultimately the goal of science, isn't it? To take questions that nobody has answered yet (or even thought to ask before) and find the truth behind them?
posted by hippybear at 9:23 AM on September 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


GPS devices are passive, and only receive signals, so even if it came out you wouldn't know. You'd have to have a broadcast device of some kind (ie a phone or something) and then hope it comes out unbroken and in a place that it can broadcast from and where its signals can actually be received at the end, rather than becoming lodged in the same underground crevices that the ping pong balls got stuck in.

So what you really need is to do is miniaturise a team of explorers and send them down there in some tiny canoes.
posted by dng at 9:25 AM on September 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


Idk that sounds like pretty blatant propaganda for an AntMan sequel.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:27 AM on September 4, 2015


That's ultimately the goal of science, isn't it? To take questions that nobody has answered yet (or even thought to ask before) and find the truth behind them?

Absolutely. But, this is not what is happening in this case. It's a question that has been asked a lot and there's a variety of possible explanations. All of the possible (and likely boring) explanations have not piqued anyone's interest enough that it has reached the ever-so-important 'successful research grant application' phase of Science! required to figure out which relatively plausible explanation is, in fact, true.

What's likely happening in this case is that there are enough cracks in the rock that it's just kind of connected to the lake at the level of the water table. It's probably not a giant Smurf making underground Smurf juice, for instance.
posted by jimmythefish at 9:41 AM on September 4, 2015


What's likely happening in this case is that there are enough cracks in the rock that it's just kind of connected to the lake at the level of the water table.

That's an excellent hypothesis! You should devise a scientifically rigorous method of testing that and see if you can support it!
posted by hippybear at 9:44 AM on September 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


That's an excellent hypothesis! You should devise a scientifically rigorous method of testing that and see if you can support it!

You sound like my advisor. I didn't like my advisor.
posted by jimmythefish at 9:47 AM on September 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm pretty sure smurf juice is made from smurfs, so nobody was thinking it was that. Also, why would it be a giant smurf? Wouldn't a regular size smurf fit better down there? Or maybe the smurf has to be giant to withstand the pressure?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:50 AM on September 4, 2015


It would be more of a metaphorically giant Smurf - as in, that Smurf is a giant of a Smurf in the same way that Eddy Merckx was a giant of cycling. He'd have to be, to endure juicemaking under the enormous water pressure at the Gateway to Narnia hitting you right in the Smurf. Also, Smurf juice is whatever you want it to be as long as it's made in the general proximity of a Smurf.
posted by jimmythefish at 9:54 AM on September 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Holy cow, that linked Cracked article is NUTS. But now I wanna go see a maelstrom.
posted by Kitteh at 6:28 AM on September 4 [+] [!]


Oh my god, so many nightmares from that Cracked article. The Strid I think scared me the most, a pretty little country brook is actually a horrifyingly deep and vicious deathtrap. 100% death rate! And that picture of the little boys standing on the edge, oh god.

The dude ziplining across the boiling water was truly horrifying too. Why.
posted by JenMarie at 9:59 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


You sound like my advisor. I didn't like my advisor.

You don't need to like me, either, really. I'm just a guy on MetaFilter engaged in conversation.

But I mean really, "What's likely happening in this case is that there are enough cracks in the rock that it's just kind of connected to the lake at the level of the water table." is an excellent theory, and it does sound likely. But we don't KNOW that is what is happening. And if there is anything that the grand sweep of science (SCIENCE!) has taught us it is that very often, the thing that is likely, that is assumed to be true, is in fact NOT.

I don't think that your theory is wrong. But we don't know that your theory is actually right. And investigating exactly how your theory might be right will teach us things about how water flows under the ground, geology and the water permeability (or in this case likely outright hollow tunnels [again, a theory] given the rate of water flow) and any number of things...

IF we manage to figure out exactly how to learn what is going on. Which is something that we haven't achieved yet. Which, given that it's 2015 and people have been trying to figure this out for decades and scientific exploration builds upon itself so we should be So Much Better at solving these kinds of problems at this point than when we first started (but we aren't)...

This is half a river vanishing. It's not some spring that emerges from the ground and then goes back under, like I've encountered often in various forests while backpacking. This is half a river. That doesn't somehow work its way slowly through the rock like most groundwater does during annual rainfalls. It requires some sort of way for a half a river, which is still basically a river, to continue to flow to someplace without ever filling up or stopping up (even with a car shoved in).

I don't have any good hypotheses myself about this, other than it has to be something that allows a lot of water to flow through it. But somehow, not ping pong balls.
posted by hippybear at 10:02 AM on September 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


Sounds like you should get going on that grant application then.
posted by jimmythefish at 10:12 AM on September 4, 2015 [2 favorites]



I don't have any good hypotheses myself about this, other than it has to be something that allows a lot of water to flow through it. But somehow, not ping pong balls.

Or dye.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:12 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


So the ping-pong balls...if they made it through into Lake superior but got banged up in the process, wouldn't the air inside be replace by water and then they wouldn't float? Could the ping pong balls be at the bottom of lake superior? Or at the bottom of wherever the water falls, not "stuck" just now going anywhere because they're full of water and the path of least resistance is the bottom of a stream or lake?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:33 AM on September 4, 2015


I mean really you could use an incredibly invasive species or an incredibly hardy virus or poison and track where things get overrun or dead but i yes am aware of the many flaws in this controversial methodology
posted by poffin boffin at 10:41 AM on September 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


If only I had a penguin -- if the ping pong balls are at the bottom of Superior you'd never find them. The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead.
posted by nathan_teske at 12:01 PM on September 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


This is one of those hyped Loch Ness local "mysteries" that isn't really a mystery, which is why no reputable scientists are wasting any time on it. You can see in the Google Map what is going on.

You can see that there is a second falls a couple hundred feet downstream from Devils Kettle. The flow is diminished between the two falls but resumes its normal size below the second falls. The "mystery" water rejoins around the second falls. The hard layer of rock forming the second falls is what diverts the water back into the main flow.

You also don't have to put dye in the water. It is naturally dyed coffee black by vegetation tannins. If you scroll on down to Lake Superior, you can see that the only input to the lake is the flow coming out of the mouth of the river.

So the water disappears underground for a hundred feet or so and then rejoins the main flow.
posted by JackFlash at 12:09 PM on September 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think a GoPro is in order. Those things always have the craziest adventures. If youtube has taught me anything, if you have someone near the hole filming like a kite flying or something, a bird or a monkey or a demon or whatever is pretty much guaranteed to grab it and take it down the hole.
posted by Hoopo at 12:34 PM on September 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Nampeshi'kw is probably really pissed about all of the littering.
posted by elsietheeel at 12:43 PM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


This doesn't seem like the type of problem that can't be solved with a go pro on a long rope.

Drone?
posted by Fizz at 1:05 PM on September 4, 2015


I like JackFlash's idea- has the the flow rate/volume going into each hole been separately measured, and compared to the flow farther downstream?
posted by TDIpod at 1:06 PM on September 4, 2015


has the the flow rate/volume going into each hole been separately measured, and compared to the flow farther downstream?

It's even simpler than that. I'm sure a hydrologist has already done this, but as an experienced kayaker, I could do it reasonably well just by eyeball. You look at the volume of water above the first falls. You compare that to the volume of water below the second falls about 200 feet downstream. If they are the same, there is no missing water. Just by eyeball it would be quite evident if half the flow was missing downstream. You can get a rough idea yourself just by looking at the Google satellite view.
posted by JackFlash at 1:41 PM on September 4, 2015


And yet those ping pong balls weren't found coming out that other waterfall... hmmm....
posted by hippybear at 3:06 PM on September 4, 2015


The dye is the really critical thing here.

The basic flaw in relying on the dye, however, is the volume. I certainly don't think they threw in three ounces of food coloring, but unless they threw in an enormous quantity like a tanker truck's worth - or something radioactive - then it's very very easy to imagine the dye getting so diluted that it's not detectable.

And I don't think they'd ever get permission to use enough radioactive dye to again survive the dilution.

The bit about pressure is a pertinent fact, but we have indeed sent robot subs very very deep. So.

But again, there's the question of value vs expense, even in SCIENCE!
posted by jefflowrey at 4:09 PM on September 4, 2015


You'd have to have a broadcast device of some kind (ie a phone or something) and then hope it comes out unbroken and in a place that it can broadcast from and where its signals can actually be received at the end, rather than becoming lodged in the same underground crevices that the ping pong balls got stuck in.

Or perhaps a rugged device which periodically sends out a powerful ping on a specific radio frequency; you then set up receivers around the area, listen for it, and triangulate to determine where it is coming from. It's sort of like GPS in reverse.
posted by acb at 4:51 PM on September 4, 2015


It just goes to wherever Mel's Hole goes.
posted by symbioid at 5:01 PM on September 4, 2015


What a bunch of tech geeks y'all are.

Step 1: Build a temporary dam to divert water from the kettle hole into the river.
Step 2: Send in the spelunkers.
posted by procrastination at 6:49 PM on September 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


I finally heard back from my geologist friend. He said someone should lower a go-pro camera down there or send in a GPS. *sigh* We're never going to know.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:09 AM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Devil's Kettle is pretty cool, but the hike there is not for the faint of heart, or if you just really hate steps.

I've been there too! It is pretty cool, regardless of whether there's any actual mystery or not, to see a waterfall pouring into a hole in the ground. And yeah, there's a couple hundred steps to get there, but I am in no means in great physical shape, and I made it (stop and rest as often as you need to), and it's in a pleasant wooded area.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:59 PM on September 21, 2015


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