Global news with a spatial perspective: Interesting, current supplemental materials for geography teachers and students.
Curated by Seth Dixon
What would Earth be like if all humans suddenly disappeared? This question posed on the YouTube series Earth Unplugged, has many intriguing ecological and biogeographic ramifications that are worth considering to explore how systems are interconnected.
"Workers at an ailing paper mill in Siberia are clinging to their jobs in the face of financial pressure and criticism from environmentalists.
Related Article: http://nyti.ms/gSvOkM"
The environment, industry and politics play key roles in this story of an old style Soviet mono-town on Lake Baikal. Monotowns had planned economies that revolved around one industry and today many of these are struggling in the post-Soviet era. While the particulars of the political situation are a bit dated, the overall issue is still quite relevant to understanding Russia today.
"It has taken between 50-300 million years to form, and yet we have managed to burn roughly half of all global oil reserves in merely 125 years or so."
Many who research natural resources and their production believe in peak oil. Peak oil is defined as the maximum rate of the production of oil in any area under consideration, recognizing that it is a finite natural resource, subject to depletion. In essence, oil will run out some day because it is a non-renewable resources; so oil production will peak, and then permanently decline. Some are skeptical of these claims and feel that the oil industry is in a much stronger position than peak oil proponents suggest.
"Once the fourth-largest lake in the world, Central Asia's shrinking Aral Sea has reached a new low, thanks to decades-old water diversions and a more recent drought."
I have posted many times in the past about the Aral Sea, but this recent event has been the most dramatic update in years. The Eastern portion of the lake has been receding for decades, but it is now officially gone. This fantastic set of satellite images of the region painfully chronicles the decline of the Aral Sea as irrigation in the region diverted all the sources of the lake.
The last section of dam is being blasted from the Elwha River on Washington's Olympic Peninsula on Tuesday.
For almost half a century, the two dams were widely applauded for powering the growth of the peninsula and its primary industry. But the dams blocked salmon migration up the Elwha, devastating its fish and shellfish—and the livelihood of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe. As the tribe slowly gained political power—it won federal recognition in 1968—it and other tribes began to protest the loss of the fishing rights promised to them by federal treaty in the mid-1800s. In 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Washington tribes, including the Elwha Klallam, were entitled to half the salmon catch in the state.
"A new study adds to growing evidence that the risk of fracking contaminating drinking water wells is to due to problems with the lining of the gas wells, not the high-pressure fracturing of deep shale to release natural gas. In a new study, scientists examined isotopes of helium and two other noble gases to identify the source of methane found in drinking water wells in the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania and the Barnett Shale of Texas, areas where a lot of fracking has taken place. The pattern of isotopes suggested that the stray gas had leaked out of the well casing near the surface, rather than escaping from the fracked deep shale, according to a story in The Dallas Morning News. The findings will be published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."
"A 3-minute journey through the last 250 years of our history, from the start of the Industrial Revolution to the Rio+20 Summit. The film charts the growth of humanity into a global force on the equivalent scale to major geological processes."
Many geologists and other scientists now recognize that we are in a new geologic era. This new era, called the Anthropocene, is distinguished by the fact that one species (homo sapiens), is dramatically modifying the environment. These modifications are impacting geologic processes to such a degree that this time period is geologically distinct (see this remote sensing interactive for examples of environmental change). Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Prize–winning scientist who champions the term Anthropocene declared, “It’s no longer us against ‘Nature.’ Instead, it’s we who decide what nature is and what it will be.” This video is a great primer for discussing the nature and extent of human and environmental interactions as related to industrialization, globalization and climate change. This is definitely one of my favorite resources.
The boot-shaped state isn’t shaped like that anymore. So, we revised its iconic outline to reflect the truth about a sin…
Maps shape how we think about places. In mapping, we can reveal or conceal important pieces of information but sometimes the phenomena don't fit the easy binaries. In most places there is land, a coastline and then water (simple enough), but Louisiana's coastline is much more complicated with large regions being more of a coastal zone than a neat line. That accounts for some of the inaccuracies mapping Louisiana, but some lies are so convenient, that many people want the fiction to continue. It is comforting to think about places as permanent, and admitting that it isn't is acknowledging that there might be a problem. As stated in this article, "the boot is at best an inaccurate approximation of Louisiana’s true shape and, at worst, an irresponsible lie." To explore the issue yourself, this gorgeous interactive map pulls together some high quality source materials on a wide range of issues to look at this environmental issues of this region in a holistic manner.
"While people often say that borders aren’t visible from space, the line between Kazakhstan and China could not be more clear in this satellite image. Acquired by the Landsat 8 satellite on September 9, 2013, the image shows northwestern China around the city of Qoqek and far eastern Kazakhstan near Lake Balqash.
The border between the two countries is defined by land-use policies. In China, land use is intense. Only 11.62 percent of China’s land is arable. Pressed by a need to produce food for 1.3 billion people, China farms just about any land that can be sustained for agriculture. Fields are dark green in contrast to the surrounding arid landscape, a sign that the agriculture is irrigated. As of 2006, about 65 percent of China’s fresh water was used for agriculture, irrigating 629,000 square kilometers (243,000 square miles) of farmland, an area slightly smaller than the state of Texas.
The story is quite different in Kazakhstan. Here, large industrial-sized farms dominate, an artifact of Soviet-era agriculture. While agriculture is an important sector in the Kazakh economy, eastern Kazakhstan is a minor growing area. Only 0.03 percent of Kazakhstan’s land is devoted to permanent agriculture, with 20,660 square kilometers being irrigated. The land along the Chinese border is minimally used, though rectangular shapes show that farming does occur in the region. Much of the agriculture in this region is rain-fed, so the fields are tan much like the surrounding natural landscape."
"It took the folks at Google to upgrade these choppy visual sequences from crude flip-book quality to true video footage. With the help of massive amounts of computer muscle, they have scrubbed away cloud cover, filled in missing pixels, digitally stitched puzzle-piece pictures together, until the growing, thriving, sometimes dying planet is revealed in all its dynamic churn. The images are striking not just because of their vast sweep of geography and time but also because of their staggering detail."
This interactive feature shows time lapse satellite imagery of some selected locations that have experienced rapid environmental change in the last few decades (or you can simply watch the animated GIFs). These images are a way to show the power of remotely sensed data as well as massive environmental impact of rapid urbanization and globalization and the feature allows students to explore these places on their own.
Maps and charts updated weekly show the latest extent of the drought in the United States.
I've shared numerous links here about the drought situation in California over the past few months, but the situation extends far beyond California as these animated maps and charts demonstrate. Some of the best public data on drought can be found at the National Drought Mitigation Center.
Canada has dispatched two icebreakers to map the Arctic seabed beneath the North Pole to support a bid to extend the country's maritime territory deeper into the waterways at the top of the world.
Canada, Russia and Denmark (Greenland) are all seeking to expand their maritime claims in the Arctic. Globally speaking, the retreat of Arctic sea ice can be seen as a unmitigated disaster, but disasters for the many can open up new economic opportunities for the few. When trapped under ice, extracting resources is cost prohibitive, but the melting sea ice will make the Arctic's resources all the more valuable (including the expanded shipping lanes). This fits in with the APHG new course outline which includes political ecology (the study of the political and economic principles controlling the relations of human beings to one another and to the environment).
Using aerial photographs that render imperiled landscapes almost abstract, Edward Burtynsky explores the consequences of human activity bearing down on the earth’s resources.
"A herd of hippopotamuses once owned by the late Colombian drug baron Pablo Escobar has been taking over the countryside near his former ranch - and no-one quite knows what to do with them."
An important idea in biogeography is the concept of invasive species. An invasive species is an organism that is not indigenous to an area but causes great economic or environmental harm to the new area as it quickly adapts and alters the ecosystem. Colombia's hippopotamus herd certainly qualifies as an interesting example to share with students of unintended ecological consequences that occur through human and environmental interactions. For further explorations into invasive species, see this National Geographic lesson plan.
"Sovereignty over land defines nation states since 1648. In contrast, sovereign right over the sea was formalised only in 1982. While land borders are well-known, sea borders escape the limelight."
These maritime borders mark the economic area is defined by its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), a 200-nautical mile-wide (370 km) strip of sea along the country’s national coast line. This regulation, which was installed by the ‘UN Convention on the Law of the Sea’ in 1982, grants a state special rights to exploit natural (such as oil) and marine (for instance fish) resources, including scientific research and energy production (wind-parks, for example). This interactive map of the EEZs also shows the 'donut holes,' or the seas that are no state can claim that no state can claim. Given the number of conflicts that are occurring--especially in East Asia--this map becomes a very valuable online resource for teaching political geography.
Questions to ponder: how does this series of buffer zones around the Earth's land masses impact politics, the environment and local economies? Where might the EEZs be more important to the success of a country/territory than other regions?
Scientists have issued a new warning to the world’s coastal megacities that the threat from subsiding land is a more immediate problem than rising sea levels caused by global warming.
A new paper from the Deltares Research Institute in the Netherlands published in April identified regions of the globe where the ground level is falling 10 times faster than water levels are rising - with human activity often to blame.
In Jakarta, Indonesia’s largest city, the population has grown from around half a million in the 1930s to just under 10 million today, with heavily populated areas dropping by as much as six and a half feet as groundwater is pumped up from the Earth to drink.
The same practice led to Tokyo’s ground level falling by two meters before new restrictions were introduced, and in Venice, this sort of extraction has only compounded the effects of natural subsidence caused by long-term geological processes.
Editor's note: This story is one in a series on a crisis in America's Breadbasket –the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer and its effects on a region that hel...
This isn't new, but it is a new development that the media is covering the issue that has been going on for decades. The Ogallala aquifer is the primary water source in an agricultural region from Texas to Nebraska in dry, but agriculturally productive states. The reason behind their agricultural success in the dry high plains is that more water is being extracted from the aquifer than is naturally being replenished. This is the obvious result of a human-environmental interaction where the individual actors are incentivized to deplete a communal resource.
"Last week, a major tourist thruway in Yellowstone National Park had to be shut down because the road melted. The road’s Wicked Witch of the West impression was caused by high temperatures in both the air and under the ground. Yellowstone sits atop a volcanic hotspot, and that heat helped cause the asphalt to soften and oil to well up onto the surface."
"The largest reservoir in the U.S. falls to its lowest water level in history, Nevada State Sen. Tick Segerblom introduced a bill title and issued a press release on July 8 calling for an 'independent scientific and economic audit of the Bureau of Reclamation’s strategies for Colorado River management.'"
This week’s history-making, bad-news event at Lake Mead has already triggered lots of news stories, but almost all of these stories focus on the water supply for Las Vegas, Phoenix and California. But what about the health of the river itself?
"Ethiopia is three years from completing a dam to control its headwaters, and while Egypt points to colonial-era treaties to claim the water and to stop the project, the question remains as to who own the Blue Nile."
This 7-minute Geography News Network podcast (written by Julie and Seth Dixon) touches on some key geographic concepts. 85% of the Nile's water comes from the Blue Nile that originates in the Ethiopian highlands--it is the Blue Nile that Ethiopia has been working on damming since 2011. The Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam (GERD) will be located near the border with Sudan. Egypt is adamantly opposed to Ethiopia's plan and is actively lobbying the international community to stop construction on the dam, fearing their water supply with be threatened.
Today's drought-riven west would look very different if Congress had listened to John Wesley Powell
Author of Mapping the Nation, Susan Schulten explains how western expansion failed to recognize the basic physical geographic reality of the United States--that the west is much drier than the east. Given that much of the west, especially California, is in the midst of a severe drought, this article serves as a reminder to recognize that localized understandings of human and environmental actions are necessary. Do you know what watershed you live in? How does and should that impact us?
|Suggested by Mike Busarello's Digital Storybooks|
"California's drought just hit a new milestone: As of this week, 32.98 percent of the state is experiencing "exceptional" drought, making it the worst drought in the 14 years that the Department of Agriculture's Drought Monitor has tracked data."
The recent drought in California has only deepened and this Washington Post article shows an animated map that highlights the temporal and spatial patterns in the drought data (hint--it's not pretty). In a related note, May 2014 was the hottest May in recorded history.
Questions to Consider: What are some reasons (both from human and physical geography) for this severe drought? What can be done in the short-term to lessen the problem? What can be done to make California’s water situation better for the next 50 years?
As the climate shifts, rivers will both flood and dry up more often, according to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Shortages are especially likely in parts of the world already strapped for water, so political scientists expect feuds will become even more intense. To track disputes worldwide, researchers at Oregon State University spent a decade building a comprehensive database of international exchanges—-both conflicts and alliances—over shared water resources. They found that countries often begin disputes belligerently but ultimately reach peaceful agreements. Says Aaron Wolf, the geographer who leads the project, “For me the really interesting part is how even Arabs and Israelis, Indians and Pakistanis, are able to resolve their differences and find a solution.”
Too often we think of political conflicts within the framework of state borders; this mapping project divides the world into watersheds and forces us to look at global politics through a different and enlightening lens (Hi-Res image). Oil might be the most economically valuable liquid resource, but water is the most critical for human habitation. This infographic is reminiscent of this one, asking where the next 'water wars' might take place...Foreign Policy says Central Asia.
"When the Minute 319 'pulse flow' began in March 2014, it was not clear whether the effort would be enough to reconnect the Colorado River with the Sea of Cortez. Some hydrologists thought there might be just enough water; others were less optimistic. It turns out the optimists were right, though just barely. For the first time in sixteen years, the Colorado River was reunited with the Sea of Cortez on May 15, 2014."
California has had three consecutive years of below average rainfall and most reservoirs are far below their designed capacity; amid a drought this severe and wildfires, it is startling to hear of a project to restore some of the Colorado River Basin's natural patterns and ecology.
EnviroAtlas is a collection of interactive tools and resources that allows users to explore the many benefits people receive from nature, often referred to as ecosystem services. Key components of EnviroAtlas include the following:
This video is a brief introduction on how to utilize the EnviroAtlas mapping platform that has been created by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. This has great potential for the classroom and as a portal for students to explore the data on their own.