The earth's magnetic north pole is known to wander around, but it is now moving quickly along an unexpected trajectory, requiring emergency adjustments to global navigational systems.
"Something strange is going on at the top of the world. Earth’s north magnetic pole has been skittering away from Canada and towards Siberia, driven by liquid iron sloshing within the planet’s core. The magnetic pole is moving so quickly that it has forced the world’s geomagnetism experts ... to update the World Magnetic Model, which describes the planet's magnetic field and underlies all modern navigation, from the systems that steer ships at sea to Google Maps on smartphones. ... The pole wanders in unpredictable ways that have fascinated explorers and scientists since James Clark Ross first measured it in 1831 in the Canadian Arctic. In the mid-1990s it picked up speed, from around 15 kilometres per year to around 55 kilometres per year. By 2001, it had entered the Arctic Ocean — where, in 2007, a team including Chulliat landed an aeroplane on the sea ice in an attempt to locate the pole. In 2018, the pole crossed the International Date Line into the Eastern Hemisphere. It is currently making a beeline for Siberia." www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00007-1
The price of oil affects much more than how much it costs to fill your gas tank. Among other things, it influences national budgets (and sometimes political stability) in countries dependent on oil exports, from Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Iran to Nigeria and Venezuela. This article, by a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, is a short and readable look at the economics and geopolitics of oil. warontherocks.com/2019/01/a-primer-on-the-geopolitics-of-oil
Students in my "Stock Market Challenge: Intro to Finance & Investment" class are frequently surprised to learn that there is a geographic element to bitcoin mining. Because the computers engaged in bitcoin mining need electricity 24/7, bitcoin mining operations tend to be clustered in areas with cheap electricity. The country of Georgia is using its cheap hydroelectric power, generated by rivers rushing down the Caucasus Mountains, to attract bitcoin miners. Nearly 10% of Georgia's electricity now goes to bitcoin mining, even as the price of bitcoin has fallen to less than 1/5 of what it was roughly a year ago. www.nytimes.com/2019/01/22/business/georgia-bitcoin-blockchain-bitfury.html
Buildings come and go, but no one is making more of the underlying land. This map, from The Washington Post's "Wonkblog" column, looks at changes in the value of residential land (separate from whatever structures may be built on it) over the last five years. Red and orange dots (e.g., Milwaukee, Memphis, much of western New York state) represent slow or negative growth, while blue dots represent significant increases in the price of residential land. The blue dots correlate closely with high-income, high-education tracts. www.washingtonpost.com/us-policy/2019/01/23/why-its-problem-that-dirt-brooklyn-is-so-much-more-expensive-than-dirt-arkansas/
Interested in starting a dinner-table conversation about moral philosophy? :-) The case studies from the National High School Ethics Bowl provide a teen-friendly starting place. This link is for current and archived case studies: nhseb.unc.edu/case-archive/
Hyperinflation and economic collapse in Venezuela have led to increases in violence, malnutrition, and disease as well as the exodus of more than 3 million Venezuelans since 2014. The Center for Strategic & International Studies estimates that throughout 2018 an average of 3,000 people per day were crossing from Venezuela into Colombia alone. This map looks at where most Venezuelans migrants have gone. ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/624/cpsprodpb/CDBC/production/_103886625_venezuela_map_migration_destinations_640-nc.png
Your student can participate in the free "Mystery Class" sponsored by Journey North. Beginning on Monday (Jan. 28), participants will have access to clues -- based on sunrise/sunset data and other geographic information -- to identify 10 mystery sites around the world. This looks to be an interesting, robust, multi-week project to tie physical geography in with the (eventual) return of spring. journeynorth.org/mclass/
The World Economic Forum, a gathering of the world's economic glitterati, is currently meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Where, exactly, is Davos, Switzerland? According to Google Maps, it is the spot marked by the red pushpin on this map.
Food security is usually discussed as an issue in the developing world, but many wealthy countries, including Germany and Japan, are dependent on food imports. Food security is emerging as an issue in the UK's Brexit considerations: in the 1980s, UK farmers produced 74% of the food necessary to feed the UK's people. Today, that number has fallen to 60%. infographic.statista.com/normal/chartoftheday_16691_uk_food_self_sufficiency_n.jpg
Nearly 250 miles from the conflict raging in mainland Yemen is the Yemeni island of Socotra. Socotra's location in the Indian Ocean is sufficiently isolated from both Africa and the Arabian Peninsula that nearly 40% of its plant life is endemic (native to nowhere else on earth). The most iconic species is the umbrella-shaped dragon blood tree, named for its red sap. The dragon blood tree is featured on Yemeni coinage. www.atlasobscura.com/places/socotra-island
With the fate of the "Dreamers" (or beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program) back in the news, this map shows the geographic distribution of DACA recipients. i1.wp.com/scng-dash.digitalfirstmedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/daca-states.jpg
To Shape a World: Essays on the Political Philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by Harvard's Tommie Shelby and and Brandon Terry, examines King's writings to separate the thinker from the icon. A review of the book appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books:
"It’s natural to wonder why this book doesn’t already exist, why King’s writings are under-attended in the halls of philosophy. It might seem paradoxical to deify King and ignore his words at once, but Shelby and Terry suggest the two tendencies — ritual celebration and intellectual marginalization — are connected, and even that “their entanglement presents both an immediate obstacle and a significant risk” to serious studies of King’s political and philosophical work. In the textbook account of American history, the contribution of civil rights figures like King is primarily about reconciling gaps between practice and reality. ... King becomes the charismatic activist-orator who drove the United States to better live up to its professed ideals, as laid out by the founding fathers. What’s missed here is King’s own political philosophy, worthy of study in its own right, and the relation he saw between ideals and the means needed to achieve them. This is nowhere clearer than in King’s 1967 book Where Do We Go from Here, the subject of Lawrie Balfour’s sharp contribution the volume. In that book, King lays bare the tension between America’s democratic principles and its actual track record, a history replete with bondage. So far, so good, as far as the textbook narrative is concerned. But here is where things take an unexpected turn. When King talks about former slaves after the Civil War, he claims that the freedom they gained was 'illusory' at best. Admitting that “the Negro was given abstract freedom expressed in luminous rhetoric,” King reminds us that at the same time “the Negro was denied everything but a legal status he could not use, could not consolidate, could not even defend.” ...
"In one of the book’s standout pieces, Karuna Mantena tracks King’s experience in mass movements. In 'Letter from a Birmingham Jail,' King outlines the drawbacks of using violence in political action. King worried it would lead to debates on whether or not some particular use of force was necessary. This is bad not just because it distracts the public from the moral message of civil rights, King thought, but also because of how it reflected on the participants and initiators of violence. ... What King offers, then, is a way that the anticipated outcomes of our actions affect not just our calculations about how to behave, but also our thinking about what ideals are worth pursuing. ...
"In King’s 1962 'An Address Before the National Press Club,' for instance, he describes nonviolence as the moral “unbalancing” of one’s opponents, what the nonviolence theorist Richard Gregg has called 'moral jiu-jitsu.' Opponents are disarmed because their force is used against themselves. This was dually a matter of practical politics and a matter of ethical ideals, since King thought nonviolence was the best way to bring his opponents to experience a kind of moral conversion. The idea that ideals and actions feed into each other is one familiar from pragmatism, a distinctly American philosophical tradition that influenced King directly. ... According to pragmatists, it’s a bad idea to begin thinking about a better society with abstract questions like, 'What does justice look like?' or, 'Would the perfect society would be colorblind?' Instead of outlining, independent of our practice, the best ways to handle social and political problems, we’re supposed to think concretely, gradually, experimentally. It’s a strategy that should be familiar from medicine. Doctors focus on real patients and their complaints, not on what ideal human bodies should look like. Doing anything else risks being cognitively disabling: we don’t see what’s really wrong, and end up with solutions that don’t address real problems. What’s more, neither the treatment nor its end goal — health — are really about a result that’s final and forever. What doctors are really after is not perfection but improvement. ...
"To Shape a New World is a compelling work of philosophy, all the more so because it treats King seriously without inoculating him from the kind of critique important to both his theory and practice."
Chunyun, or the Spring Festival Travel Rush associated with China's Lunar New Year, begins on Monday. Considered by many to be the largest annual human migration, Chunyun by tradition involves people returning to their hometowns to celebrate the new year with family. Nearly 400 million Chinese are expected to travel this holiday season. This map, generated from data collected by the Chinese internet company Baidu in 2016, shows Chunyun travel patterns, with large numbers of people traveling from the urban areas of Beijing (in the north), Shanghai (on the eastern coast), and Guangzhou (in the south).
The spring semester programming for National Geographic Explorer Classroom resumes with an ecologist who specializes in marine megafauna, including manta rays (Jan. 21) and a science photographer who will be talking about his work using photos to share the science behind bees and parasites (Jan. 31). You can register to watch these free webinars -- or find archived ones or download educator resources -- at www.nationalgeographic.org/education/student-experiences/explorer-classroom.
A cartogram is a map weighted for a particular variable. In this case, the variable is deaths due to flooding (2001-2017). Flooding might be less dramatic than other natural disasters, but in most years floods are the most lethal natural disaster. worldmapper.org/maps/flood-deaths-2001to2017
Robert Kaplan’s books and articles meld insights about strategic geography with geopolitics, past, present, and future. This Kaplan article, from Foreign Policy, provides context for the military, economic, and geopolitical rivalry between the U.S. and China.
“That future has arrived, and it is nothing less than a new cold war: The constant, interminable Chinese computer hacks of American warships’ maintenance records, Pentagon personnel records, and so forth constitute war by other means. This situation will last decades and will only get worse, whatever this or that trade deal is struck between smiling Chinese and American presidents in a photo-op that sends financial markets momentarily skyward. The new cold war is permanent because of a host of factors that generals and strategists understand but that many, especially those in the business and financial community who populate Davos, still prefer to deny. …
“[W]hat really riles both the Trumpsters and the Democrats (moderates and progressives alike) is the very way China does business: stealing intellectual property, acquiring sensitive technology through business buyouts, fusing public and private sectors so that their companies have an unfair advantage (at least by the mores of a global capitalistic trading system), currency manipulation, and so on. Trade talks, however successful, will never be able to change those fundamentals. …
“Keep in mind that technology encourages this conflict rather than alleviates it. Because the United States and China now inhabit the same digital ecosystem, wars of integration—where the borders are not thousands of miles, but one computer click away—are possible for the first time in history: China can intrude into U.S. business and military networks as the United States can intrude into theirs. The great Pacific Ocean is no longer the barrier that it once was. …
“What kept the Cold War from going hot was the fear of hydrogen bombs. That applies much less to this new cold war. The use of nuclear weapons and the era of testing them in the atmosphere keeps receding from memory, making policymakers on both sides less terrified of such weapons than their predecessors were in the 1950s and 1960s, especially since nuclear arsenals have become smaller in terms of both size and yield, as well as increasingly tactical. Moreover, in this new era of precision-guided weaponry and potentially massive cyberattacks, the scope of nonnuclear warfare has widened considerably. Great-power war is now thinkable in a way that it wasn’t during the first Cold War.
“What we really have to fear is not a rising China but a declining one. A China whose economy is slowing, on the heels of the creation of a sizable middle class with a whole new category of needs and demands, is a China that may experience more social and political tensions in the following decade. … This will encourage China’s leadership to stoke nationalism even further as a means of social cohesion.”
Subsidence is the phenomenon of land sinking. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common has been pumping water out of aquifers, causing the overlying land to sink. Jakarta and Mexico City are both experiencing subsidence. Now you can add Tehran to the list. Decades of overpumping of Tehran's groundwater have caused water tables to drop by as much as 12 meters, and the overlying land to sink by several meters. Subsidence can crack streets and building foundations and rupture underground pipes. geographical.co.uk/places/cities/item/3052-sinking-tehran
The National Park Service is losing an estimated $400,000 in uncollected visitors' fees every day the government is shut down. This map shows the most visited national parks. The larger the circle, the greater the number of visitors. (Although the data used to create this map are from 2014, visitor patterns tend to be consistent across time.) upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a9/NationalParks.forwiki.pdf/page1-1164px-NationalParks.forwiki.pdf.jpg
There's little doubt that artificial intelligence is becoming more human: AI now lies and conceals information in order to succeed.
"Depending on how paranoid you are, this research from Stanford and Google will be either terrifying or fascinating. A machine learning agent intended to transform aerial images into street maps and back was found to be cheating by hiding information it would need later in “a nearly imperceptible, high-frequency signal.” ... In some early results, the [AI] agent was doing well — suspiciously well. ... Although it is very difficult to peer into the inner workings of a neural network’s processes, the team could easily audit the data it was generating. And with a little experimentation, they found that the CycleGAN had indeed pulled a fast one. The intention was for the agent to be able to interpret the features of either type of map and match them to the correct features of the other. But what the agent was actually being graded on (among other things) was how close an aerial map was to the original, and the clarity of the street map. So it didn’t learn how to make one from the other. It learned how to subtly encode the features of one into the noise patterns of the other. The details of the aerial map are secretly written into the actual visual data of the street map: thousands of tiny changes in color that the human eye wouldn’t notice, but that the computer can easily detect. In fact, the computer is so good at slipping these details into the street maps that it had learned to encode any aerial map into any street map! ... This practice of encoding data into images isn’t new; it’s an established science called steganography, and it’s used all the time to, say, watermark images or add metadata like camera settings. But a computer creating its own steganographic method to evade having to actually learn to perform the task at hand is rather new."
Which countries would be the primary sources of voluntary immigration if possible? This geo-graphic looks at the proportion of countries' adult populations that would emigrate if possible. (Of the top 10, five are in Africa, three are in North America, and two are in Europe.) While most of these countries are small, two of the countries -- Nigeria and the DRC -- are also forecast to be among the world's 10 most populous by 2050. www.statista.com/chart/16363/share-of-adults-who-have-a-desire-to-migrate/
Geographia provides information about the physical and human geography of a wide range of countries. Not all countries are included, but it's a good, kid-friendly first stop when researching those countries that are covered. www.geographia.com/
China's recent unmanned landing of a craft on the far side of the moon has reignited discussion of all things lunar. This geo-graphic compares the surface area of the moon to the territory of the world's biggest empires -- and finds the moon to be only slightly larger than the British Empire in 1920. (Relative sizes of other empires, including the Mongol, Russian, Spanish, Abbasid, etc. are listed in the linked article.) brilliantmaps.com/british-empire-moon/#more-3949
Just 10 cities have accounted for more than 60% of all venture capital investment over the last three years. This geo-graphic from Harvard Business Review shows which 10 cities: hbr.org/resources/images/article_assets/2018/11/W181115_FLORIDA_TOPTEN.png Even though five of the top 10 cities for venture capital investment are in the U.S., over the last 25 years VC investment has increasingly shifted to high-tech destinations outside the U.S.: in 1992, roughly 97% of VC investment went to U.S. companies; by 2017, only half did.
The Sahara is the second largest desert on earth, but that was not always the case. More interestingly, it may not be the case in the future either. "[R]esearchers at MIT have analyzed dust deposited off the coast of west Africa over the last 240,000 years, and found that the Sahara, and North Africa in general, has swung between wet and dry climates every 20,000 years. They say that this climatic pendulum is mainly driven by changes to the Earth's axis as the planet orbits the sun, which in turn affect the distribution of sunlight between seasons -- every 20,000 years, the Earth swings from more sunlight in summer to less, and back again. For North Africa, it is likely that, when the Earth is tilted to receive maximum summer sunlight with each orbit around the sun, this increased solar flux intensifies the region's monsoon activity, which in turn makes for a wetter, 'greener' Sahara. When the planet's axis swings toward an angle that reduces the amount of incoming summer sunlight, monsoon activity weakens, producing a drier climate similar to what we see today." news.mit.edu/2019/study-regulating-north-african-climate-0102
This map of the U.S., which appeared on Atlas Obscura, is the result of an algorithm that looked at functional areas, regions tied together by economies, commutes, sports team loyalties, newspaper readerships, and similar relationships rather than state borders.
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