Global news with a spatial perspective: Interesting, current supplemental materials for geography teachers and students.
Curated by Seth Dixon
The May 12 7.3 magnitude aftershock was one of many that followed the April 25 earthquake that shook Nepal. Why is this part of the world such a hotbed of tectonic activity?
"This video is from the BBC documentary film Earth: The Power Of The Planet. The clip is also embedded in this story map that tells the tale of Earth’s tectonic plates, their secret conspiracies, awe-inspiring exhibitions and subtle impacts on the maps and geospatial information we so often take for granted as unambiguous."
Become one of the citizen cartographers around the globe tracing and checking roads, buildings, and open spaces to assist people on the ground.
If you want to help Nepal, you can donate time and geospatial abilities by helping provide workers with better maps. This is probably one of the easier on-ramps to collaborative mapping, and the help is desperately needed. You can also have students explore the Nepal earthquake in ArcGIS online; this has become a 'teachable moment' and IRIS provides powerpoint slides for teachers to this example in the classroom.
"The magnitude-7.8 earthquake that struck Nepal on Saturday morning destroyed parts of Kathmandu, trapped many people under rubble and killed more than 2,500 people. It was the worst to hit the country since a massive 1934 temblor killed more than 8,000."
Even though we know that with the plate tectonic boundaries where these disasters are more likely to occur, it never fully is expected. These before and after pictures are heart-rending and full the extent of the damage is hard to comprehend (explore in ArcGIS online or view the USGS data). IRIS provides powerpoint slides for teachers to use this earthquake as a 'teachable moment.'
Geographer Jon Kedrowski has a blog about his mountaineering and expeditions. He is up on Everest now, and his blog has a description of the earthquake and the resulting avalanche. The pictures and descriptions are both sobering and fascinating. If you want to help, you can donate money or your geospatial abilities (open-source mapping).
"Geoscientists have unveiled a computer model that maps the details of that tectonic dance in 1-million-year increments—practically a frame-by-frame recap of geologic time. It shows that the plates speed up, slow down, and move around in unexpectedly short bursts of activity. It also suggests that researchers may have to rethink what drives much of that incessant motion. The new model shows that although plates usually creep along at an average speed of about 4 centimeters per year, some can reach much faster speeds in short sprints. For example, India, which broke off the east coast of Africa about 120 million years and is now plowing into Asia, reached speeds as high as 20 centimeters per year for a relatively brief 10 million years."
"The Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010 is the largest accidental marine spill in U.S. history: these are the pivotal discoveries scientists and environmentalists have learned from researching it. While researching the spill, scientists tracked deep-sea sharks, found new mud dragons, and discovered a new type of ocean current."
A punishing drought is forcing a reconsideration of whether the aspiration of untrammeled growth that has for so long been the state’s engine has run against the limits of nature.
Major urban areas in California have limited local water resources so they draw water from large area to bring in sufficient water for these burgeoning metropolitan regions. With this current drought getting worse, California has ordered emergency water restrictions on residents while companies and large farms have been granted exemptions even though they account for 82% of the state's annual water consumption (residential accounts for 12%). Almond farms alone consume 10% of the state's water, and many agricultural crops are incredibly water intensive land uses. A better way to think of it isn't just about raw water usage though. A better question to ask would be this--how does one gallon of water translate into calories that most efficiently feed people?
Questions to Ponder: How does the concept of carrying capacity relate to California urban growth/drought issues? California passed its carrying capacity? How are demographics, economics, politics and the environment intertwined in California? What are the environmental limits on urban growth and development?
What if all the ice melted in the world? Now whether you believe global warming happens because of human activities or naturally is another debate. The questions “How would the world look if ALL the ice melted?” How much would the sea rise by? What would be the average temperature on Earth? are of interest to everyone.
Trust National Geographic not only to capture such questions in the best manner possible but also to visualize it in such geoawesome manner! Here’s the super interesting map by National Geographic “IF ALL THE ICE MELTED“!
"In the heart of Thailand’s most populous city, an oasis stands out from the urban landscape like a great “green lung.” That’s the nickname given to Bang Kachao—a lush protected area that has escaped the dense development seen elsewhere in Bangkok. The city is built on the alluvial plain of the Chao Phraya River. Toward the southern end, near the Gulf of Thailand, is an old meander that never quite formed an oxbow lake. That meander traces the boundary of Bang Kachao, which TIME magazine once called the 'best urban oasis' in Asia. According to a travel story in The New York Times, Bang Kachao is gaining popularity among tourists lured by bike tours, a floating farmers’ market, and the relaxed atmosphere."
The historic abbey of Mont Saint-Michel became an island on March 21 after a rare “supertide” flooded a causeway.
Coastal physical geography produces some beautiful landforms such as tombolos. A tombolo is created when sand deposits attach an island to a larger piece of land--think of it as special type of isthmus. Mont St. Michel (picture above) is the world’s most famous example because of the iconic walled city with crowned with a striking medieval abbey. As the tides fluctuated, the city and abbey were alternately connected or disconnected from the mainland. However, a ‘super-tide’ that occurs once every 18.6 years wiped out the artificial causeway stranding motorists on France's most visited tourist destination (I wouldn't mind be stranded there right about now).
The first photographs have emerged of a newly formed volcanic island in the Pacific Ocean after three men climbed to the peak of the land mass off the coast of Tonga. Experts believe a volcano exploded underwater and then expanded until an island formed. The island is expected to erode back into the ocean in a matter of months.
"Pristine Seas is an exploration, research, and media project to find, survey, and help protect the last wild places in the ocean. These pristine places are unknown by all but long-distance fishing fleets, which have started to encroach on them. It is essential that we let the world know that these places exist, that they are threatened, and that they deserve to be protected. Learn more about Pristine Seas here: http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/explore/pristine-seas/ "
I was enchanted hearing Enriq Sala discuss his passion for ocean biodiversity and purity. This passion, combined with scientific exploration and political advocacy is the backbone of a National Geographic's Pristine Seas project. Here is one news story about the Seychelles, and how they are trying to manage their fishing industries to promote sustainability and hopefully the Pristine Seas project will lead to greater awareness of the need for ocean conservation.
Many of our first experiments of creating landforms and designing a new world started in the sandbox (you can only image what I do at the beach). This video shows how that early childhood activity can make for an excellent classroom demonstration to shows how Earth's physical systems work. If you don't happen to have a digital topographic map to superimpose on the sandbox and a GPU-based water simulation, then at least you've got this video. Click here to learn more about this UC Davis project on the visualization of lake ecosystems.
There may be a counterintuitive explanation for the deep freeze that hit New England this winter: The rapidly warming Arctic is causing big disruptions in the jet stream, which carries weather across North America. Is this the worst winter you've experienced?
"This animated documentary tells the story of polar explorer Alfred Wegener, the unlikely scientist behind continental drift theory."
While plate tectonics is now universally accepted, when Alfred Wegener first proposed continental drift it was it was greeted with a great deal of skepticism from the academic community. This video nicely shows how scientific advancement requires exploration and imagination, and whole lot of heart.
"When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable 'trophic cascade' occurred. What is a trophic cascade and how exactly do wolves change rivers?"
When a complex system gets one aspect of it changed, there are many other changes that occur, some of which are nearly impossible to envision beforehand. Here is some Oregon State research on the changes in Yellowstone's ecosystems and physical environments since the introduction of wolves.
"Trying to understand what’s actually going on in the world’s climate seems like it might be truly impossible. For one thing, there are so many different factors at work. Everything from how light travels through the atmosphere to how the winds move the ocean around to how rain hits the ground has an effect on what actually happens on Earth both now and in the future. That also means there’s absolutely no use in looking at each piece individually … to understand what’s really going on, the climate jigsaw puzzle needs to be complete.
That, says climate scientist Gavin Schmidt, is where climate modeling comes in. The discipline synthesizes data from multiple sources, including satellites, weather stations, even from people camping in the Arctic and submitting measurements of the ice they see around them. Climate modeling, Schmidt says, gives us our best chance of understanding the bigger picture of the world around us. 'We take all of the things we can see are going on, put them together with our best estimates of how processes work, and then see if we can understand and explain the emergent properties of climate systems,' he says. These four silent animations show what he means."
"The large landslide that occurred in March near Oso, Washington was unusually mobile and destructive."
There are several reasons for landslides--some are purely a result of physical geography and others are related to land use patterns. The landslide in Washington state last year was a combination of the two (see on map) and it is a good teaching moment to discuss the environmental impacts of land use patterns and resource extraction projects. As seen in this interactive, the river was cutting at the base of the hill, while loggers were clear-cutting at the top of the mountain. Trees help prevent erosion as the roots hold the soil in place--a critical piece to the puzzle in a very rainy climate. With $1 million worth of timber on the slope, logging companies persisted despite objections from the Department of Natural Resources and some restrictions (but in hindsight, those restrictions clearly were not enough). Watch a simulation of the landslide here.
Questions to Consider: Other than economic worth, what other ways are there to value and evaluate the environment? How could this landscape have been protected and managed better or was this landslide inevitable?
"Confluences occur wherever two streams come together. If the gradient is low (i.e., nearly level) and the properties of the two streams are very different, the confluences may be characterized by a dramatic visible distinction as the mixing occurs only slowly."