Sunday, December 30, 2012

Where in the world? A geography quiz for travelers

From the Seattle Times:  Where in the world? A geography quiz for travelers

It’s that time of year again when we roll out NWTraveler’s annual geography quiz. So sharpen your pencil, and your mind, and test your knowledge of places near and far.
1. What two major rivers flow by Portland?
2. What town is at the southwest tip of Washington?
3. Name at least four Western Washington rivers ending in “mish.”
4. Americans sometimes call them “the Canadian San Juans.” What’s the real name of the islands?
5. Which is farther north, Bellingham, Wash., or Victoria, B.C.?
6. What is the highest mountain in Olympic National Park?
7. The Washington town of Metaline Falls is on which river?
8. Which state has a bigger population, Washington or Oregon?
9. What is the overall name for the inland marine waters of southwest British Columbia and northwest Washington?
10. What national forest covers much of the northwest Cascades in Washington?
1. Which country is larger in area, the United States or Brazil?
2. What island nation sits off southern India?
3. Name at least three countries that border Kenya.
4. What body of water divides Alaska and Russia?
5. Name two landlocked South American countries.
1. The capital of Idaho has a name derived from French. What is it?
2. Name the four U.S. state capitals whose names include the word “City.”
3. What four state capitals were named for U.S. presidents?
4. What state capital has the largest population within its city limits?
5. Name at least five state capitals situated on saltwater.
1.What is the capital of Malaysia?
2. Name the capital of Brazil.
3. What is the capital of Bhutan?
4. What is Australia’s capital?
5. Name the capital of Costa Rica.
1. Name at least three of the five national parks in Utah.
2. How many states are there in Mexico?
3. What is the second biggest Italian island?
4. Where will the 2014 Winter Olympics be held?
5. What is the second biggest Hawaiian island after the Big Island?

1. Columbia River and Willamette River.
2. Ilwaco, Pacific County.
3. Duwamish, Snohomish, Skykomish, Stillaguamish, Skokomish, Samish, Sammamish.
4. The Gulf Islands (in British Columbia).
5. Bellingham.
6. Mount Olympus (7,980 feet).
7. Pend Oreille River.
8. Washington (approximately 6.8 million people; Oregon has 3.8 million).
9. Salish Sea.
10: Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
1. The United States (3.79 million square miles vs. Brazil’s 3.28 million).
2. Sri Lanka.
3. Ethiopia, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda and South Sudan border Kenya.
4. The Bering Strait.
5. Paraguay and Bolivia.
1. Boise (derived from the French for “trees” or “wooded”).
2. Carson City (Nev.), Jefferson City (Mo.), Oklahoma City (Okla.), Salt Lake City (Utah).
3. Jackson, Miss.; Jefferson City, Mo.; Lincoln, Neb.; Madison, Wis.
4. Phoenix, Ariz. (1,469,471, according to 2011 census figures).
5. Annapolis, Md.; Boston, Mass.; Honolulu, Hawaii; Juneau, Alaska; Olympia, Wash.; Providence, R.I. (Bonus point: Salt Lake City, Utah, touches a marsh at the edge of the Great Salt Lake.)
1. Kuala Lumpur.
2. Brasilia.
3. Thimphu.
4. Canberra.
5. San Jose.
1. Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion national parks.
2. 31 states plus the federal district of Mexico City.
3. Sardinia (Sicily is the biggest).
4. Sochi, Russia.
5. Maui (727 square miles compared to the Big Island’s 4,028 square miles)


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Geography in the News: Lake-Effect Snow

From National Geographic:  Geography in the News: Lake-Effect Snow

Lake-effect snow has arrived around the Great Lakes as winter has finally come to the Midwest.
During a single 1995 December storm, Buffalo, N.Y., received 40 inches of snow. Although this was a heavy snow, it was not a record for Buffalo. Buffalo’s geographic location places it in position to receive some of the Eastern United States’ heaviest urban snowfalls. The ring of snowfall that occurs around the east side of the Great Lakes is a phenomenon called lake‑effect snow.
Buffalo is located on the eastern shore of Lake Erie in western New York State. The city is on a relatively flat glacial lake plain, to the northwest of the Allegheny portion of the Appalachian Plateau. The plain formed when a remnant of the Pleistocene continental glacier blocked the northern drainage of the St. Lawrence River, backing up water into a huge ice-dammed lake..
           The lake finally spilled through the Mohawk Valley into the Hudson River Valley and exited at present‑day New York City. The valley became a glacial spillway. Today it is a broad, flat valley occupied by the tiny Mohawk River.
Buffalo’s growth was stimulated by its location at the eastern end of Lake Erie and at the western end of the Mohawk Valley. The Erie Canal, following the Mohawk, was completed in 1825 and served as a water link between New York City and Buffalo. Freight rates for shipping between Buffalo and New York City immediately dropped by 95 percent and travel time between the two cities decreased by more than half. This meant that nearly all goods traveling by land or water between New York City and the Midwest had to go through Buffalo.
Despite deep snows and winter winds from the lake, Buffalo ‑‑ today a city of  more than 621,000 people ‑‑ grew and prospered.
One look at a map of the region confirms that Buffalo is the only major city on an eastern shore of one of the Great Lakes. In fact, only a few small towns are found on the east sides of the lakes. Snowy winters and high lake winds are common in these locations, largely as a result of a lake‑effect.
Lake‑effect snows result from cold, dry winter winds sweeping from Canada across unfrozen lakes. As they cross open water, the winds evaporate some moisture and become warmer. When the moist air reaches the east sides of the lakes, the air is forced to rise abruptly over the land and the colder air above the land. The results are exceptional snowfalls in bands along the southeast sides of the lakes, often accompanied by the unusual winter phenomena of thunder and lightning.
The most dramatic effect normally extends up to 70 miles (113 km) inland from the lakes, but bands of light snow and flurries may extend as far away as the ski resort at Snowshoe, W.Va., on the Appalachian Plateau.
Most winter air from Canada is very dry and generally brings only flurries, except on the leeward sides of the unfrozen Great Lakes. Moisture for most heavy snowfalls in the Eastern United States ‑‑ outside of the areas having lake‑effect snows ‑‑ comes from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.
Lake‑effect snows around the Great Lakes begin to cease when the Great Lakes mostly freeze over, usually by February. An interesting feature about the freezing of lakes is that all the water in the lake must cool to 39 degrees F (4 C) before the surface can cool to 32 F (0 C) and freeze. The result is that a shallow lake–such as Lake Erie, the shallowest of the five lakes–freezes over earlier and more frequently than the other Great Lakes.
Buffalo’s average annual snowfall is nearly 100 inches (2.5 m), but some surprising snowfalls have taken place in lake‑effect locations. For example, Oswego, near the east end of Lake Ontario, received 101 inches (2.56 m) in five days in 1966. Buffalo received 48 inches (1.2 m) in one day in 1937. During the blizzard of 1977, Buffalo received over 120 inches (3 m) by the end of January, with February and March yet to go.
Few who have witnessed a heavy Buffalo snowfall accompanied by thunder and lightning ever forget it.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

New posting schedule

Now that I've got this new full-time job, I'll be posting in this blog twice a week - on Monday's and Wednesdays.

So the next post for this blog will be on Monday.

Thanks for your patience.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Posts resume this Wednesday

I'm a freelance writer and I am way behind on a job I have to do, so I won't be posting here until Wednesday..

Thanks for your patience!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Geography in the News: Storm Surge Threats

From National Geographic:  Geography in the News: Storm Surge Threats

Superstorm Sandy sent a storm surge of 13 feet (4 m) onto New Jersey’s and New York’s fragile shorelines, creating chaos and widespread misery for coastal inhabitants. Examining experiences with hurricanes Katrina and more recently Irene, storm surges clearly create more damage than wind and rain during these tropical and middle latitude cyclones.
Storm surges are associated with high winds over water. Wind over open water can bring not only high water surging onto a shoreline, but the surge, combined with intense wave action, can pummel shoreline structures. Parts of demolished structures then become battering rams with the surging water and waves destroying even more structures.
Virtually all ocean swells and waves are created by wind over water. As wind speed increases, the height between the tops of swells and the troughs that separate them increases. As the swells reach the shallow waters of coastal areas, drag created at the bottoms of swells slows their movement, creating breaking waves along the shore.
The faster the wind, the larger the body of water and the longer the wind blows from a single direction, the larger will be the swells. As these large swells approach the shallower water along the shores, drag increases along their bottoms causing the tops of the swells to become closer together. Thus, the net effect is that the water literally piles up against the shore, creating a storm surge.
Therefore, hurricane-force winds blowing from the Atlantic Ocean toward the Eastern Shore for several days can push a devastating storm surge into low coastal areas, overwhelming natural protective dunes. This process is precisely what happened with Superstorm Sandy between October 27-31.
Not since Hurricane Katrina struck the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts in 2005 has there been greater coastal damage from a storm surge than Sandy’s damage. Katrina was one of the top five deadliest Atlantic hurricanes with a documented 1,833 dead. By far, the majority of Katrina’s fatalities were caused by the storm surge that overtopped the levies and flooded New Orleans’ low Ninth Ward. The protective dikes were overwhelmed by the surge that reached 25 to 28 feet (7.6 to 8.5 m) above normal sea level.
Additional factors played supporting roles in Superstorm Sandy’s increased storm surge. As the counterclockwise rotating storm made landfall on the New Jersey and New York coasts, the winds on the north side of the storm came directly onshore driving the full force of the surge onto the shoreline. In addition, the landfall coincided precisely with the high tide associated with a full moon (spring tide). As the moon lines up on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun during a full moon (syzygy), the gravitational pull between the two intensifies, resulting in higher tides.
Few who endured the direct affects of coastal flooding associated with Sandy’s storm surge will soon recover from the personal and emotional damage. Storm surges, however, are the real destructive agents and represent the most dangerous phenomena associated with tropical storms.
Superstorm Sandy was a perfect example of the perfect storm, battering the densely populated East Coast with impunity.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Geography students at UW-Eau Claire explore the Southwest

From  Leader-Telegram:  Geography students at UW-Eau Claire explore the Southwest

Sandy beaches, ocean views, huge sand dunes and military bunkers were the backdrop for part of a recent UW-Eau Claire geography field seminar trip to the Southwest region of the United States.
A student field research project at the Fort Ord Dunes in Marina, Calif. - a former World War I military post that was converted into a state park in 2009 - focused on how giant coastal sand dunes formed over cement bunkers and was the first research to be conducted in the new park.
UW-Eau Claire senior Meghan Kelly, a geography major from Mankato, Minn., said studying the dunes was her favorite part of the trip.
"I am most interested in cultural and human geography so my research focused on the geographical history of the dunes and the human impact on the environment," Kelly said. "Dunes form in a certain way, but the geography of this area makes for a more complicated process to study."
The class collaborated with graduate students from California State University, East Bay, and used ground-penetrating radar to study the layering effects of dunes. Students from both universities continue to share and analyze data that was collected for their research, which will be presented at UW-Eau Claire's Student Research Day and the 2013 Association of American Geographers conference.
"Having the opportunity to actually use tools, such as GPR, in the field is a great skill to add to my resume," Kelly said. "None of us have ever used it before, so it was an exciting experience and really took learning beyond the classroom."
Harry Jol, UW-Eau Claire professor of geography, and Martin Goettl, a geospatial technology facilitator at the university, stressed the importance of giving students field experience during their undergraduate education.
"Students developed and processed information differently because they experienced it," Goettl said. "They gained true knowledge of what they were working with and had hands-on experience with geospatial technology."
Phil Larson, a 2008 UW-Eau Claire alumnus and 2000 graduate of Prescott High School who currently is pursuing his doctorate, accompanied the class on the recent trip. He graduated from UW-Eau Claire with a comprehensive major in geography-resource management and a minor in geology and is currently a doctoral student at Arizona State University, working as a geomorphologist.
Field seminars helped prepare him for graduate school, Larson said.
"Not only did they provide useful methodological approaches to varied topics within earth science, they were my introduction to the rigors of the academic publication and research process," Larson said.
Larson certainly made an impression on senior geography major Jackson Becker, of Rochester, Minn. He now plans to follow Larson's path to graduate school.
"Seeing what Phil is doing in graduate school made me really excited," Becker said. "This trip has taught me to look at things in more detail, which is really important in geography."
The class traveled to geographically significant places of interest during the 10-day immersion experience, such as Yosemite, Death Valley and Zion national parks. The final destination was the Grand Canyon, where Larson introduced the class to his colleague, John Douglass, a prominent geographer with alternative theories on the development of the canyon.
Like Larson, Douglass encouraged future geographers to look beyond what is in textbooks and think about new ways of explaining geographical phenomena. Douglass presented the class with the "lake overflow theory," which suggests that over millions of years, rivers from mountains to the east of the Grand Canyon poured water and sediment into a large basin in the northeast side of the canyon, eventually spilling over a low point in the ridge causing the formation.
Becker said he was fascinated by the theory Douglas presented.
"I really got to see geography in action," Becker said. "I always thought science was all figured out, but then here is this scientist teaching us about a cutting-edge theory."
Field research trips are not common among undergraduate programs. Immersion experiences receive financial support from UW-Eau Claire's Blugold Commitment, a student-supported differential tuition increase designed to enhance student learning.
"Opportunities for field research are what make UW-Eau Claire such a unique university," Jol said. "Besides developing academic skills, students learned how to work as a team under intense conditions."
Becker said actually seeing the topics he and other students study in class has helped him gain a better understanding of them.
"No matter what field you're studying, going out and experiencing it firsthand makes it all so much clearer. I couldn't be happier that I went on this trip."



Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Geography bee winner maps out plan for next round

From the Advertiser-Tribune:  Geography bee winner maps out plan for next round

Eighth-grader Pranav Parsi was the winner of the first round of the 2013 National Geographic Bee Tuesday at Tiffin Middle School.

"I am very proud and excited," Parsi said.

About 600 students at the middle school competed in seven rounds of preliminary classroom competitions resulting in 10 finalists who competed in the final round.

Parsi's main goal out of this competition is to have fun and learn more about geography.

"I had confidence, but I didn't think I was going to win," Parsi said.

Parsi was in a deadlock and had to enter in a tie-breaker round with second-place winner Catherine Stover.

After several rounds, Parsi came out on top.

Students were asked a series of questions such as "To visit St. Patrick's cathedral in Dublin and enjoy the Arts Festival in Kilkenny, you would travel to what country?" and "Which Canadian province produces more than half of the country's manufactured goods?"

The other finalists were sixth-graders Mya Alvarado, Kayla Reuter and Gavin Robison; seventh-graders Xavier Noftz, Logan O'Donnell and Browning Riley; and eighth-graders Dathan Liming and Jeffery Morehart.

Parsi received a certificate and a National Geographic Society medal. He also will have his name engraved on a plaque to be kept in the Tiffin Middle School trophy case.
Other contestants all received certificates from the society.

The bee moderator and score keeper was Paula Zirm, gifted education coordinator; reader, Frank Barber of; and time keeper and judge, Joe Moore, director of the
International Cultural Center.

Parsi will have to take a written assessment to advance to the next level of competition to be held at Ohio State University.

For the test, Parsi said he will study and look over National Geographic books.

"Personally, I think that it is great for the students to have the opportunity to express their talents," Zirm said.

Following state competitions, winners will be eligible to win the national championship and its first prize, a $25,000 college scholarship. Host of "Jeopardy!" Alex Trebek will moderate the national finals May 22.

The winner also will receive a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society and a trip to the Galapagos Islands, courtesy of Lindbald Expeditions and National Geographic.

This is the 25th year the National Geographic Society has held the geography bee for students in fourth through eighth grades in thousands of schools across the United States and in the five U.S. territories as well as in the Department of Defense schools around the world.

The national 2013 bee is sponsored by Google. Tiffin Middle School bee was sponsored by the Office of Gifted Education, The International Cultural Center and TMS.


All Over the Map: 10 Ways to Teach About Geography

From the New York Times: All Over the Map: 10 Ways to Teach About Geography

Geography frequently takes a back seat to history in the social studies classroom, but teaching geographic literacy is essential if students are going to understanding the challenges and opportunities of our complex world.
We have created 10 activities for teaching about geography using Times content, all related to the National Geography Standards, which were produced by the Geography Education National Implementation Project.
Our list is a grab-bag of ideas — from designing maps to analyzing border conflicts — and teachers can use the activities in any order, or as a road map for tracking ongoing coverage of geography-related issues.

1. Start with Geography Bingo: Use this BINGO card, which lists many of the geography standards, and find examples of stories from The New York Times that take on topics like migration, culture and ecosystems in various ways. When you have a diagonal, horizontal or vertical row of examples, you have “Bingo!” Students can search either a print copy of the paper or the online archives. (Each of the concepts in the squares was taken from the National Geography Standards.)
2. People use mental maps to understand the world. Every time you memorize a route to the grocery store or plot a route through the subway, you’re using a mental map. It’s one of the key tools a geographically skilled person uses to navigate their world. Read these stories on the science of mental mapping and the risks of losing such skills because of technology. Then ask students to think of a time when they got lost or figured out how to find something, drawing and annotating their own mental maps to tell the story. Post them in a classroom “Atlas of the Mind” exhibit.
3. Some maps are better than others. What exactly is a ‘map,’ and what does it do? Ask students to define the term. Then look at these examples of maps in The New York Times that use technology, symbols or images to broaden our understanding. Ask students to explain what each map shows, and how it conveys more information than a simple road map. Then students can brainstorm and design their own maps of a place they know well, a location described in a film or novel, or an imaginary place, using similar methods to convey detail and enhance people’s understanding.
4. Groups struggle over boundaries. Palestinians and Israelis have struggled for generations over the question of borders. Earlier this month the United Nations General Assembly voted to grant Palestine nonmember observer status, just a week after the latest cease-fire in the conflict and 65 years after the U.N. first called for the creation of separate Jewish and Arab nations in the land then known as Palestine. Why has it taken so long to draw one map? Ask students to brainstorm the factors that have kept Palestinians and Israelis from reaching a final agreement on territory and borders. Then watch this series of five videos, noting the arguments and obstacles cited by each side. Does the conflict seem intractable, or do you see signs of progress?

As a culminating activity, ask students to look for other examples of boundary conflicts in the Borderlines blog at The New York Times, and hold a class contest to find the most interesting or compelling examples that no one has ever heard of.
5. Culture affects perceptions and stereotypes of other places? Everyone holds opinions about other cultures, and they can easily lead to misunderstandings or disputes. Lead students through a safe introductory discussion of stereotyping. Then read highlights from this interview of a business executive who has learned from his mistakes working in Asia and this story about perceptions about immigration in Europe, and discuss the main points or lessons of each story. Ask students to search the archives and track coverage in The New York Times for examples of stereotyping in all cultures, gathering examples and making presentations on how people can resist or counteract this all-too-human tendency.

6. The world’s economy is interconnected, for good and ill. It’s old news that globalization has sent many American jobs overseas. But how exactly does the process work, and what happens when there’s a glitch? Watch this video on the iPhone economy, which explains what happens when the United States gains (or loses) 1,000 manufacturing jobs. Then read stories about how floods in Thailand and an earthquake and tsunami in Japan threw a monkey wrench in the global supply chain. Ask students to make up a fictional American company that produces a very desirable electronic product, and appoint themselves to the job of vice president in charge of logistics and supplies. Write a memo to your boss recommending a long-term strategy for ensuring that your supply chain is never interrupted for long by an international disaster.
7. Geography isn’t just about places on a map; it’s about the people, culture, history and landscape of those places. And every vacation or travel story provides an opportunity to gather information and describe those places. Read some examples of colorful, descriptive writing in the Travel Section of The New York Times, like the Frugal Traveler blog and the Journeys columns. Then ask students to write their own travel stories about a place they’ve visited, either locally or farther from home, using vivid examples and description to help readers fully imagine that place.
8. People change or modify the environment for better or worse. Since the dawn of time, populations have grown and expanded. Read about the growth of cities within the Brazilian rain forest, and watch a video about efforts in Paraguay to protect similar woodlands. Then explore the Dot Earth blog at The New York Times to find more stories about the effort to balance environmental and human needs, like this project by scientists to map gas leaks in cities. Ask students to pick a topic related to humanity’s management of the environment and global resources, track coverage and identify the most promising solutions, presenting their findings in a Sustainability Fair.
9. Physical systems affect or threaten people. From storms and earthquakes to global warming, it’s clear that the physical environment exerts a powerful effect on people. Sometimes, as with Hurricane Sandy, the impact is destructive. But environmental challenges also offer opportunities for people to create new industries and systems to provide a safer future. Brainstorm with students on whether the New York City metropolitan region ought to take steps to prevent future storm-related flooding, or simply move the city to higher ground. Then read this story on floodgates in Connecticut, a proposal for inflatable subway-stoppers and this Room for Debate feature. As a culminating activity, students can write letters to local officials suggesting the wisest policy.
10. People settle or migrate to new places. People make decisions on where to live for all kinds of reasons; some are pulled to a new destination, while others are pushed or blocked from leaving by factors beyond their control. Divide students into small groups, and assign each group to read one of these stories about migration trends within the United States, Asia, Europe and Latin America, or find their own stories in the archives of The New York Times. For each story, students can fill in a Post-it note under the heading “Pushed,” “ Pulled” or “Blocked,” summarizing the situation and posting it on a class map of the world. Each group can then present their findings to the class.


Monday, December 3, 2012

EU-China Geographical Indications – "10 plus 10" project is now complete

From Europa EU:  EU-China Geographical Indications – "10 plus 10" project is now complete

A project aiming at ensuring protection of 10 famous EU food names in China, the biggest consumer market in the world, has now been finalised. "Grana Padano", "Prosciutto di Parma" and "White Stilton cheese" / "Blue Stilton cheese" were the last of 10 EU names that have been protected as Geographical Indications in China as part of the so-called "10+10 project". In parallel, the European Commission has examined and registered 10 Chinese food names with the last 2 Chinese names "Pinggu da Tao" (peach) and "Dongshan Bai Lu Sun" (asparagus) receiving protected status in the EU as Geographical Indications. These 10 Chinese names have been added to the more than 1000 names of agricultural products and foodstuffs, which are protected in the EU (among them 13 non-EU GIs). Not only does the GI system provide an important protection against imitations, but it is also known to be a useful marketing tool.
Commissioner Cioloş welcomed the completion of the project: "The EU and China have rich traditions in the production of quality products, and the GI system is a good way of highlighting these regional traditions to consumers. China is a key future export market for EU food products. The completion of the 10+10 is an important step in the process towards a better protection in China of EU Geographical Indications for agricultural products and foodstuffs. We are now looking to build on this success through negotiating a broader bilateral agreement on GIs, which we hope to conclude in the course of 2013."
The pilot project started in July 2007 when both the EU (European Commission) and China (AQSIQ1) formally lodged applications for the protection of 10 agriculture GIs in each other's territories. Since then, each of the Chinese GIs has undergone examination, including the right of any interested party to oppose registration. While the geographical indications systems are similar, significant differences in procedures and linguistic problems had to be overcome. The process was given an additional boost when EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Cioloș visited China in 2010, including a trip to see the production of Longjing Tea.
In terms of value, China is among the 5 most important export markets of EU GI products (agricultural products, foodstuffs, wines and spirits). In 2010 the total value of GI exports to China amounted to more than € 650 million2. Wines and spirits represent the biggest part in terms of value: between 2005 and 2010 the exports of EU GI wines and spirits to China increased fourfold, i.e. by more than 400%.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

TX: Ed briefs: Geography bee slated for Dec. 5; Pacelli Honor Roll announced

From Austin Daily Herald:  Ed briefs: Geography bee slated for Dec. 5; Pacelli Honor Roll announced

Local fourth- through eighth-grade students at Ellis Middle School, Banfield Elementary, Neveln Elementary, Southgate Elementary and Sumner Elementary will compete Dec. 5 to test their knowledge of the world’s geography and cultures. The students took a qualifying test the first week of November.
The contest is designed to encourage teachers to include geography in their classrooms, spark student interest and increase public awareness about geography. For more information, visit
Contact David Wolff at 507-460-1600 or 507-1912 with questions. For specific times and locations, call the site coordinators: Ellis Middle School, Derik Gustafson, 460-1500; Banfield Elementary School, Karla Carroll, 460-1200; Neveln Elementary School, David Wolff, 460-1600; Southgate Elementary School, Sherrie Voigt, 460-1300; Sumner Elementary School, Megan Higgins, 460-1100.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Embarrassed residents try to rename beauty spot called Negro Bill Canyon - but NAACP wants to KEEP it

Should geographical place names be changed from their original "unenlightened" forms to new names that have little to do with their history? Will future archeologists and geographers be confused by these name changes. Would such confusion matter?

Does the not-politically-correct names inspire visitors to ask questions so they can learn about the history of the location?

From Daily Mail: Embarrassed residents try to rename beauty spot called Negro Bill Canyon - but NAACP wants to KEEP it

Residents in Moab, Utah are trying for a third time to get a popular canyon just outside the city renamed because they believe the current name is embarrassing and disrespectful.

Local resident Louis Williams says he cringes every time he has to tell visitors that the name of the canyon is Negro Bill Canyon.

Williams, a window cleaner who has lived in the area for 14 years, has posted an online petition that has garnered more than 600 signatures. He plans to submit a formal renaming application to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names.

The canyon was named after black cowboy William 'Bill' Grandstaff who lived in the area from 1877 to 1881.

‘People cringe when we have to tell the name of it. The looks on their face is: “What did you just say?”’ Williams said. ‘People ask. “Why is it named that?” They don’t ask who he is.’

But president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Salt Lake City chapter, Jeanetta Williams, has said her organization will oppose the name change just as it has when the proposal has been put forward before.

‘If the name changes, it’s going to lose its history,’ she said. ‘Negro is an acceptable word.’

Even though efforts in the late 1990s and 2000s to change the canyon name were met by resistance from the NAACP, Williams is optimistic the idea will gain more traction this time.

‘Most of the places and streets and trails that were named after settlers just used their last names,’ Williams said. ‘That is what we should do for him.’

For nearly 100 years the canyon had an even worse name featuring the 'N-word', which was changed in the 1960s apparently at the request of First Lady Lady Bird Johnson. Louis Williams says the current name and its earlier, ruder, variation is disrespectful. He wants the southern Utah canyon to be renamed Grandstaff Canyon. 'I don't think he introduced himself that way and I know that isn't the way his parents named him,' he told 'All the other settlers in this area have got the respect of their given names. So I think we should give a little bit more homage to Mr Grandstaff.' The campaign is one of dozens across the country to rename canyons, reservoirs, lakes and other places still bearing names deemed derogatory. There are 757 places with ‘negro’ in the name from Alaska to Florida and Maine to California, according to an analysis of government records.

It’s difficult to say precisely how many offensively named towns and geographic features remain as state lawmakers don't always agree with federal government on geographical labels, and people have varying levels of sensitivity.

Government mapmakers have however been working for decades to clean up such relics from less enlightened times. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names, a branch of the Interior Department, issued two blanket rules decades ago to erase racial slurs from federal maps.

In 1962, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names replaced ‘N*****’ with ‘Negro’ in the names of at least 174 places, when 'Negro' was still widely considered an acceptable alternative.

Along with Negro Bill Canyon, there are more than 700 other places with 'Negro' in the name including Free Negro Point in Louisiana and several Little Negro Creeks.

‘Jap’ was switched to ‘Japanese’ in 1974 in dozens of places.

The also remain more than 800 places with ‘squaw’ – an offensive word for a Native American woman with sexual undertones - in their title including South Dakota's Squaw Humper Dam, Squaw Humper Table and Little Squaw-Humper Creek.

A handful of state legislatures have banished select racial slurs from their maps, yet there remain places such as Arizona’s Dago Spring and Gringo Gulch, Florida’s Jew Point, New York’s Polack Swamp, Indiana’s Redskin Brook and Chinaman Bayou in Louisiana, to name just a few.

GOP presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry got into trouble last year, after it was revealed his family had long held a lease on a hunting camp in Texas known to many locals as ‘N*****head,’ a name that appeared on a large rock on the property.

Perry claims his father painted over the name as soon as he bought the land, although some in the area dispute the governor’s timeline. N*****head was a fairly common place name in the 19th century.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Explorers Jourmal: Explorer of the Week: Brendan Buzzard

From National Geographic:  Explorer of the Week: Brendan Buzzard

Where do we all belong? How do we as individuals and species fit into the spaces of the world? These are questions that fascinate conservationist Brendan Buzzard, whether he’s following a herd of elephants in the desert or simply sitting at his desk writing an essay. Growing up in Southern and East Africa set Buzzard up for a lifetime of interest in wildlife, and he uses this passion to work on their behalf as a conservationist and storyteller.
What project are you working on now?
Right now I am working on two things. The first is a book based around a number of walks I have done over the years in the northern rangelands of Kenya, which includes the expedition supported by the NG Young Explorers grant. Sometimes I was following wildlife, sometimes moving with pastoralists as they shifted grazing areas, sometimes alone. The book is a story of time and place, of a changing landscape, its people, and its wildlife.
The other thing I am doing is putting together a walking expedition for 2013 that will follow elephant movement routes for about 600 kilometers through Kenya’s Rift Valley.  Given increases in poaching as well as rapid habitat fragmentation, elephant ranges in many parts of Africa are shrinking as they (and other wildlife) become confined to core protected areas. In Kenya, there are many good conservationists already engaging these issues, but there is still much to be done, and the reason for this walk is to bring attention to the need for connectivity. I will be adding updates to my blog as I move forward with the planning process.
Picture of an elephant
Photograph courtesy Brendan Buzzard
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I grew up amid the wildlife landscapes of Southern and East Africa and all I have ever wanted to do is be in the bush around wildlife. When I wasn’t in school, I’d be out exploring. As I spent more time around wildlife and saw the threats that they face, I decided that I had to work on their behalf as a conservationist and storyteller.
What’s the biggest surprise you’ve discovered in your work or in the field?
I am most fascinated by the question of belonging, how we as individuals and as a species fit into the spaces of the world. We all have origins and labels, things that we carry and that claim us, like our cultures, our languages, our skins, our beliefs, and our ideas.  Because the world isn’t neat, many of us blur these lines even while we are defined by them, and being both social and ecological creatures we occupy and shape various historical and geographical niches. It is in this context that I want to understand belonging, so whether I am out following a herd of elephants on foot in the desert of northern Kenya or sitting at my desk writing an essay and digging into memory, I am trying to understand how to be human in a human world, while also a member of just one species in a more diverse and complex system of life. I have not discovered an answer yet, but I feel like the questioning is just as important, a turning over of ideas, an asking if that is really the way you see things, if that is truly what you believe, and as you ask these things you evolve in a way, you move forward, and this always astonishes me—the ability to exceed ourselves.
Have you ever been lost? How’d you get found?
I was lost once, when I was a little kid. I was in Berlin with my family and something caught my eye—I don’t remember now what it was—and I simply walked off to explore. After a while I realized I was alone in a big city. It was a rainy day. Somehow I managed to get back to the place where I was last with my family, and my mother was there. It was very scary.   

What are you reading right now?
One Day I Will Write About This Place, by Binyavanga Wainaina. It is an incredible memoir. Wainaina’s narrative is a story of time and place, of puzzles and mosaics, of the world processed by one Kenyan man that has found his way toward writing. His story of Kenya and Africa is one account of place, but through his grace with words and his ability to see, his account is one to be trusted and admired.
If you could trade places with one explorer at National Geographic, who would it be and why?
For as long as I can remember, National Geographic explorers have been an inspiration.  When I was growing up and developed a love for wild animals and places, I was fascinated by the work and energy of people like Jane Goodall, Michael Fay, and the Jouberts. Because we all have our own ways of approaching the world, I could not trade places with any of them, but they remain important figures for me that I continue to turn to for inspiration.
What do you think National Geographic explorers will be exploring in 100 years?

Explorers seem intent on ordering space, if not for a scientific reason, then to understand something of themselves. These spaces are ever changing, and as our world becomes more globalized and technological, I can understand how some explorers describe the Earth as becoming a smaller place. But I don’t always feel that way. Great geographical puzzles remain. There is so much we don’t know about the intricacies of ecological systems or the patterns of the deep sea, the inner workings of the human body and the arrangement of the universe beyond our planet, the evolutionary history of our own species and the need to develop a language—a way of speaking—that includes us as ecological members. So, to be honest, in a hundred years exploration will not be that different than it is now. The scale of inquiry will change, as will the tools to do it with, but the desire to answer questions, to see and know, to understand ourselves in spatial and temporal contexts, will remain constant. It is this curiosity that is at the heart of exploration.
If you were to meet your eight-year-old self, what would you say?  
Keep imagining. Follow your dream. And don’t listen to anyone who tells you it is not possible.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Geography students going places

From the Tahlequah Daily Press:  Geography students going places

TAHLEQUAH — A common misconception about geography is that it’s all about maps and where things or places are located.

Next week is Geography Awareness Week, and it’s set aside to observe how humans, things, and places are connected. The theme this year is “Declare Your Interdependence.”

Geography, or the study of the Earth’s features, is the relationship identification of everything sharing space, said Northeastern State University Assistant Professor of Geography Dr. Christine Hallman.

“It’s more than just locating a place on a map. Usually that’s what you think geography’s all about – countries and rivers, and that’s part of it, but that’s just a small part of it,” she said. “Geography is everything, spatially – anything from studying weather patterns to urban sprawl, to studying past climates to politics and economics. Geography, really, is everything in a spatial way.”

One of the activities NSU is conducting in conjunction with Geography Awareness Week involves a geocaching exercise with seventh-graders at Tahlequah Middle School, said Hallman.

“I and several assistants – a retired professor and a few NSU students – will be teaching seventh-graders to use GPS units to find coins from all over the world [strategically placed on their campus],” she said. “All seventh-graders at Tahlequah Middle School will get the opportunity to participate in this treasure hunt.”

Geocaching is a recreational activity wherein participants use a handheld Global Positioning System, or GPS receiver, to hide and seek containers that will hold a designated item selected by the participants. Position coordinates are used to trace a route that will present other points, or map numerical designations, to follow until arriving at the end destination. The exercise teaches a person how to consider start and end points, while exposing the him or her to land features along the anticipated route.

An activity suggested by National Geographic includes students investigating their interdependence by completing a global closet calculator, which is an interactive game that collects the contents of their bedroom closets by origin to generate a map showing individual global footprints.

Maps have changed greatly over the years, and whether using an electronic device or a compass to determine direction when going from point to point, today’s technology has helped geographers see everything spatially in great detail, said TMS geography teacher Austin Elliott.

“Satellite images have increased the accuracy of maps, but they still show some distortion on a large scale,” he said. “The most reliable map is the Robinson Projection. It still has distortion, but shows the least amount.”

Hallman said technology influenced the changes in how maps are created, but noted that how people viewed or used the map also provided a change in direction of its use.

“Thousands of years ago, humans still created maps – they were just on cave walls. It’s sort of interesting how humans have always been thinking about their environment spatially,” she said. “At first, they might have thought about star patterns and then how it relates to them. So you’re going all the way from there, to pen and ink maps, to today, where it’s dynamic computer maps.”

Keys geography teacher Amber Kinney said hers is a subject that can open the mind and ears of a student who otherwise may think the class is simply about pinpointing places on a map.

“Geography is such a broad field that includes all elements of education: history, culture, government, economics, math, science, literacy, language,” she said. “The amazing thing about teaching geography is getting students involved who aren’t usually that responsive in other social studies classes, and then learn about all these other subjects without even realizing it.”

This year, Kinney’s classes conducted activities similar to the global closet calculator suggested by National Geographic.

“We are continuously looking at ways that we are all connected throughout the world in my geography classes. This week, we are focusing on China, and our connection with China historically, culturally, and economically,” she said. “[On Thursday] for example, we took a virtual tour of a Walmart in Shanghai as part of our global connection discussion.”


Monday, November 19, 2012

Super Quiz: Geography

From NWAOnline:  Super Quiz: Geography

1. What is a loch, as in Loch Ness?

2. What is the smallest province in Canada?

3. What is the world’s largest coral reef?

4. Which country’s name is derived from “equator” ?

5. What is the westernmost large city located in continental Europe?

 6. The one-time leader of this country wrote The Green Book.

1. Loch is Scottish for Lake
2. Prince Edward Island
3. The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia
4. Ecuador
5.  Lisbon, Spain
6. Moammar Gadaffi (author of  The Green Book: The Solution to the Problem of Democracy, The Solution to the Economic Problem, The Social Basis of the Third Universal Theory)


Teen geography buffs plot courses to victory in contest at Oxnard College

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Teen geography buffs plot courses to victory in contest at Oxnard College

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Teen geography buffs plot courses to victory in contest at Oxnard College

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Teen geography buffs plot courses to victory in contest at Oxnard College

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Teen geography buffs plot courses to victory in contest at Oxnard College

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Teen geography buffs plot courses to victory in contest at Oxnard College

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Teen geography buffs plot courses to victory in contest at Oxnard College

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Venice ’70 per cent underwater’

Venice   is a city in northeast Italy sited on a group of 118 small islands separated by canals and linked by bridges.It is located in the marshy Venetian Lagoon which stretches along the shoreline between the mouths of the Po and the Piave Rivers. Venice is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. The city in its entirety is listed as a World Heritage Site, along with its lagoon..
Venice is the capital of the Veneto region. In 2009, there were 270,098 people residing in Venice's comune (the population estimate of 272,000 inhabitants includes the population of the whole Comune of Venezia; around 60,000 in the historic city of Venice (Centro storico); 176,000 in Terraferma (the Mainland), mostly in the large frazioni of Mestre and Marghera; 31,000 live on other islands in the lagoon). Together with Padua and Treviso, the city is included in the Padua-Treviso-Venice Metropolitan Area (PATREVE) (population 1,600,000).
The name is derived from the ancient Veneti people who inhabited the region by the 10th century BC. The city historically was the capital of the Venetian Republic. Venice has been known as the "La Dominante", "Serenissima", "Queen of the Adriatic", "City of Water", "City of Masks", "City of Bridges", "The Floating City", and "City of Canals". Luigi Barzini described it in The New York Times as "undoubtedly the most beautiful city built by man". Venice has also been described by the Times Online as being one of Europe's most romantic cities.
The Republic of Venice was a major maritime power during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and a staging area for the Crusades and the Battle of Lepanto, as well as a very important center of commerce (especially silk, grain, and spice) and art in the 13th century up to the end of the 17th century. This made Venice a wealthy city throughout most of its history. It is also known for its several important artistic movements, especially the Renaissance period. Venice has played an important role in the history of symphonic and operatic music, and it is the birthplace of Antonio Vivaldi.

From BBC:  Venice ’70 per cent underwater’ 

‘Acqua alta' occurs mainly between autumn and spring
‘Acqua alta' occurs mainly between autumn and spring
The phenomenon of acqua alta (high water) has been particularly severe in Venice this year.

Around 70 per cent of Venice was flooded after several days of relentless rain and rising sea levels, which reached a peak of 1.5 metres (five feet) above normal – the sixth highest tide levels since 1872.

‘Acqua alta' occurs mainly between autumn and spring when a combination of astronomical tides, scirocco (strong south winds) and seiche (the periodic movement of sea waters) can cause a larger inflow of water into Venice.

Elsewhere in Italy, the bad weather led to the evacuation of 200 people in Tuscany, as the heavy rain flooded homes and caused mudslides.

The most affected region was the province of Massa and Carrara, which produces the famous Carrara marble.

Streets in Pisa were also flooded and homes left without electricity.

The bad weather is said to be heading slowly towards the centre of the country and is set to hit Rome.


In U.S., geography is politics

From  In U.S., geography is politics
Author Timothy Heleniak is the director of the American Geographical Society.

PEOPLE who voted for Mitt Romney in the presidential election are amazed that he lost because they don't personally know many people who didn't vote for him.
Likewise for President Obama's supporters. Because they have few close acquaintances who voted for the other party, they are puzzled that the margin of victory wasn't higher.
As in many recent presidential elections, this year's was close in the popular vote. The reason for that closeness is that we have segregated ourselves geographically into such like-minded clusters.
The clearest reflection of that segregation is the Electoral College, which shows that there are a number of reliably red or reliably blue states and a small number of swing states.
But things are more obvious at the finer geographic scale of 3,000 U.S. counties, which are even more reliably red or reliably blue; often more than three-quarters of the electorate in many counties cast ballots for one party. Reliably Republican are rural, small-population counties in the Great Plains, the South, Utah and neighboring states and the South. Reliably Democratic are Washington, D.C., Indian reservations, black-majority counties in the South, major universities, high-amenity counties on the West Coast, large metropolitan counties and Vermont.
At an even finer geographic level of neighborhoods, political party preference is even more skewed toward one party or another. A major explanation for this is the high rate of mobility of the American population — 1 in 8 of us move each year — and how we end up residing near other like-minded persons.
Although there are many issues that cause people to vote for candidates — the proper role of government in people's lives, the place of the United States in the world, abortion and gay marriage — people don't usually select a place to live based on the political affiliation of neighbors, but rather on lifestyle and other characteristics and amenities that then translate into political preferences. But knowing where a person stands on one issue is a fairly reliable predictor of that person's political party affiliation and stand on other major issues.
A number of recent studies show that neighborhoods or clusters across the country explain how we have become so polarized. The most prominent describes "The Big Sort," or segregation by lifestyle. It showed that The Big Sort was also an arrangement by political party affiliation, which has become extreme since the 1970s. We also segregate in the clubs we belong to, in the TV and radio stations we listen to and in the periodicals we read.
We have become increasingly less exposed to viewpoints that differ from our own. We rarely know or associate with people who think differently from the way we do.
Think of the last time you were at a party that was divided roughly equally between liberals and conservatives. Typically, any gathering of friends or acquaintances will result in 90 percent or more consisting of like-minded persons with similar views on a range of social and political issues. For the one or two oddballs who hold views that are opposite yours, you will not only disagree and not understand them, you will likely question their mental stability.
This same segregation into opposite ends of the political spectrum is taking place in Congress as well, certainly in the House of Representatives, where redistricting creates safe and extreme districts. These are the people we voted for, so we have the Congress we deserve.
The high levels of racial segregation in the United States seemed to have peaked and are subsiding, but political segregation is increasing. One possible way to shift the political debate and expose the country to different solutions would be to eliminate the Electoral College. This is unlikely to happen because of the high hurdle of needing a constitutional amendment to do so and vested interests in retaining it. However, eliminating the Electoral College and bringing more voters into the discussion could produce a different set of issues, different candidates and different solutions. It's something worth trying, since the current system doesn't seem to be working.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Esri Celebrates National Geographic's Geography Awareness Week

From HeraldOnline:  Esri Celebrates National Geographic's Geography Awareness Week

— /PRNewswire/ -- Esri—in partnership with the City of Redlands, California; University of Redlands; Colton-Redlands-Yucaipa- Regional Occupational Program (ROP); and Inland Valley Newspapers Group—will host a series of activities that will educate about the importance and value of geographic information systems (GIS). The events are part of National Geographic's Geography Awareness Week, which celebrates geography worldwide and will take place November 11–17, 2012.
"We've lined up fun, informative activities for all ages," says Jacqueline Gimenez, Global Marketing Programs manager at Esri. "This is the most comprehensive set of geography-related events organized for the City of Redlands since GIS Day began in 1999. Our goal is to show how geography and GIS improve the community and impact citizens' daily lives."

The week's events will kick off on Tuesday, November 13, at 5:30 p.m., with a presentation by former National Geographic chief cartographer and current Esri staffer Allen Carroll at the Redlands Forum on the Esri campus. He'll share his experiences creating story maps and discuss the value of using maps and GIS to tell stories.

Celebrating GIS Day on Wednesday, November 14, Esri and its partners will provide interactive demonstrations, engaging presentations, and a special reception at the Redlands A. K. Smiley Library from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. This free event will be open to everyone.

GIS Day is an opportunity for Redlands residents to understand how GIS is used within their community. Several representatives from the five local hosts will give presentations on how their respective groups use GIS to improve the community. Student GIS projects will be featured, allowing a glimpse into how this technology will be used by future GIS professionals.

As a special treat, there will be interactive opportunities at the reception for children to learn about the importance of geography. Esri staff will read geography-related stories to children inside the library during two story times.

To round out the events, historical maps from the University of Redlands library collection will be displayed at the university and at the Smiley Library throughout the week.

Read more here:


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Scarcity of Water and Land Shifts Geography of Food Production and Irrigation Networks to China’s Northeast

From Circle of Blue: Scarcity of Water and Land Shifts Geography of Food Production and Irrigation Networks to China’s Northeast 
OU YI, Heilongjiang Province, China — On the south side of the two-lane highway leading to the largest farm in China, the angled sun paints a curtain of water from a spray irrigation rig the colors of a rainbow. All aluminum tubes and angled corners, the rig spans a sugar beet field so large that a tractor at the far end looks as small as the period at the end of this sentence. On the highway’s north side, men and women wield shovels to tap mud against the walls of new concrete irrigation canals. Loose ends of white scarves that the women wrap around their hair and faces fall to strong shoulders. The sounds of the construction project — tap, tap, tap — mix with laughter on a sunny June morning. Pride and good cheer are evident everywhere on the state-owned, 120,000-hectare (296,000-acre) You Yi Farm.

Sixty years ago, more than 100,000 Chinese soldiers were dispatched here to plow virgin prairie and plant rice and corn. Last year, Heilongjiang and its network of state-owned farm enterprises became the top grain-growing province in China, making up about 10 percent of the nation’s 571-million-metric-ton grain harvest, which was the world’s largest. By any measure, Heilongjiang’s farm productivity is an exceptional achievement that is celebrated nationally.
In fact, the northeast region of China — which includes not only Heilongjiang, but also neighboring Liaoning and Jilin provinces — harvests more than 100 million metric tons a year, or about 18 percent of the country’s grain, and is now among the world’s most important breadbaskets.
By 2020, China anticipates needing nearly 600 million metric tons of corn, rice, and wheat annually, which is about 5 percent more than is grown now, to feed its people — and China is counting on these three northeastern provinces to deliver 80 percent of that increased harvest.
In elevating Heilongjiang and its neighboring provinces from the bottom of the farm production pack to the very top during this decade, China has shifted the geographic center of its grain harvest from Henan and other central provinces to the northeast, where there is abundant water and some of the world’s most fertile black earth.
Advocates say that plans to rebuild and expand irrigation networks here will increase crop yields. But deep doubts abound in universities and on the street with regard to China’s relentless pursuit of ever-larger harvests and the rising risks to erodible land, water supplies, water quality, and public safety that China seems prepared to accept in its northeast and other farming regions.
“China has reached the stage where these concerns cannot be ignored, and they aren’t being ignored,” said Qian Yi, a professor of environmental policy and dean of the Qingdao University of Science and Technology. “We’re doing better, but we still have a lot of problems. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

How China, a nation that knows starvation, developed such assurance is a history lesson in the convergence of central planning, technology, and human determination with fertile ground and ample water resources.
Good Soil, Ample Water
You Yi and much of Heilongjiang Province is located atop a crescent of deep and fertile black dirt, comparable to Ukraine’s wheat region and America’s Midwest Corn Belt, that reaches from the Russian border north of here all the way to Jilin Province, thousands of kilometers to the south.

hough there are other soil types, northeast China’s black earth, encompassing 10 million hectares (25 million acres) and irrigated by the ample waters of the Songhua River Basin, supported 60 percent of Heilongjiang’s 55.7 million metric tons of grain that were harvested last year. That is more than double the harvests of wheat, rice, corn, and soybeans that Heilongjiang’s farms produced in 1991, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics.
Considering that the national grain harvest rose from 435 million metric tons in 1991 to 571 million metric tons in 2011, Heilongjiang’s grain producers — by themselves — have accounted for almost one-quarter of China’s steadily increased harvests.
And Chinese farm authorities are now pressing these northeast farms to produce even more. One signal of the geographic shift in production is to provide farms with cleaner sources of water and to provide water to land that is not currently irrigated.

Li Fanghua, a senior engineer at the Water Conservation Institute of Heilongjiang Province, said that northeast China is determined to keep its place in the nation’s rice and corn pecking order. According to Li, 80 percent of the anticipated increase in the nation’s grain harvest over the next decade will occur because of the increases in yield from better water and more water to larger expanses of lands that are not served by irrigation channels. There is no question, she said, that northeast China will achieve its grain production targets.
“Our geography. Our weather. The amount of land we irrigate and will irrigate,” Li told Circle of Blue. “We will reach and exceed those targets.”
Such tactics make sense. Heilongjiang has 80 billion cubic meters (21.1 trillion gallons) of fresh water in reserve, some of the most abundant and accessible freshwater resources in the country. Precipitation and river level records show they are also among the most stable.
Heilongjiang also has an irrigation network as extensive as any in China.
In 2010, according to provincial records, 5 million hectares (12 million acres) were irrigated here, which is about one-third of the province’s total 16 million hectares (39.5 million acres) of cropland. Earlier this year, China’s central government announced a five-year, $US 6.3 billion (38 billion RMB) program to rebuild and expand irrigation networks in Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, and eastern Inner Mongolia. Replacing northeast China’s leaky, half-century-old, mud-bottom irrigation canals with concrete channels and expanding the irrigation network to the expanses of farmlands that are not currently irrigated will raise yields per hectare by an estimated 20 percent or more over the next decade.
“We have enough water,” Li said. “But it is not distributed everywhere. There are 240 million mu (16 million hectares, 39.5 million acres) of farmland here. One-third is irrigated, and two-thirds of farm production comes from irrigated land. You can see why irrigation is so important.”
Fertilization and Pollution
Good soil and seed. Adequate nutrients and moisture. These are the essential elements of crop production in every nation, including China. Since a catastrophic famine from 1958 to 1962 caused the starvation deaths of 30 million to 45 million Chinese peasants — the result of the central government’s focus on industrial advancements instead of grain production — a top priority of modern-day China’s leadership is generating sufficient stores of food.
China has plenty of good seed and nutrients. The nation’s network of agricultural universities and its big grain companies have developed strains of rice, wheat, corn, and soybeans that grow well in China’s various climates and soil types.

Northeast China’s powerful harvests — along with increasing farm productivity in Hebei, Henan, Shandong, and several other big agricultural provinces — have clarified China’s proven capacity to feed itself. The prospect of food shortages is no longer in question, at least not for decades, say You Yi Farm managers and agricultural authorities.
The bounty of Chinese harvests is on display in the outdoor markets of Harbin, Heilongjiang’s capital. Crowds of buyers press around vendors offering a cornucopia of grains, vegetables, fruits, meats, and other foods in an abundance, color, and variety that is rarely matched in the United States. Likewise, indoor supermarkets are a rushing stream of shoppers, gathering up fruits and meats and packaged products, most of which are produced in China.
What is in worrisome is the damage to the nation’s water and land that China appears ready to accept to ensure that its growing population — with its much stronger appetite for grain-fed beef, pork, and chicken — is handsomely fed.
The risk to natural resources is apparent here. Heilongjiang’s farmers are among China’s heaviest users of fertilizer to boost yields, which have doubled from 2.5 metric tons per hectare (2,200 pounds per acre) in 1994 to more than five metric tons per hectare (4,400 pounds per acre) in 2010.
Men fish along a draining canal fed by the Liaohe River near Xinmin in Liaoning Province.
But provincial environmental reports show that Heilongjiang’s $US 22.4 billion (RMB 135.6 billion) farm sector uses 74 percent of the province’s water supply and last year contributed most of the 3.81 million metric tons of ammonia and nitrogen in the province’s treated and untreated wastewater.
The result is excessive levels of water pollution.
On the national level, Chinese farmers applied 55.6 million metric tons of fertilizer to grain fields in 2010, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. That is more than three times as much nutrients as U.S. farmers used that same year and a big reason why runoff from farm fields is a critical water pollution problem in China.
Some 60 percent of the waters of the Songhua River Basin, which supplies water to this region’s irrigation networks, are rated as so contaminated with agricultural chemicals and industrial wastes that they are unfit for human contact, according to China’s Ministry of Water Resources.
Erosion and Desertification
The environmental risks of expanding grain production also apply to the land, which is in short supply, according to Duan Aiwang, the dean of the Farmland Irrigation Research Institute in Xinxiang, a city of 5.7 million residents in Henan Province, the nation’s largest wheat producer.
“It is difficult to find new farmland in China,” he explained. “In central China, we are already using every piece of land. In northern China, there is land, but there isn’t much water.”

China’s response to these impediments is to expand irrigation networks to Heilongjiang and three other northeast provinces, including a plan to open highly erodible grasslands to crop production.
A five-year research program on erosion by scientists at the Heilongjiang Agricultural Modernization Research Institute found such serious soil erosion in the black earth crescent that, in some places, fertility and organic matter had dropped by more than 50 percent. The researchers also found that the original thickness of the black earth, which measured 30 centimeters to 100 centimeters (12 inches to 79 inches) deep before the great grain expansion, was 0.3 to 1 centimeters (0.1 to 0.4 inches) thinner.
There are few large stretches of unbroken and fertile prairie left in the eastern regions of Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning provinces. As a result, Duan told Circle of Blue, central government planners are giving serious consideration to opening crop production to 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of highly erodible, high plains grasslands where the dry western regions of the three provinces bump against the border with Inner Mongolia.
China’s experience with grasslands agriculture has been miserable, say global experts. According to conservative estimates by the United Nations, Inner Mongolia is losing about 5,000 square kilometers (1,900 square miles) annually to the desert — in other words, an area the size of New Hampshire is lost to sand and wind every five years.
The prospect of plowing grasslands in northeast China invites further abuses to the land, raising alarms among land and water conservation groups who consider the proposal a serious ecological mistake.
“It is a terrible idea,” said Li Qinglu, a retired chemical engineering professor, grasslands expert, and consultant to PanJin Environmental, a non-profit group in Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning Province. “Productive cropland depends on water. There is not enough water in those areas. The land is dry.”
Li explained that an early experiment in grasslands cultivation after World War II resulted in such extensive erosion and destertification in western Liaoning Province that government authorities quickly curtailed the project and focused on restoring the damaged land.

“Our grasslands recovered quite well,” Li told Circle of Blue. “Grass grew waist high. There was still some damage, but it was not serious.”
In 1983, though, as the central government called for more grain, grasslands in the region were reopened to cattle and sheep grazing and some dry-land crop production. Again, Li said, huge expanses turned to dust. The depleted land no longer was capable of growing crops, and farming stopped.
There is ample reason for China’s farm authorities to view the country’s grasslands as a potential source of new cropland. Of the country’s 330 million hectares (815 million acres) of undeveloped grassland, almost half are located in the desert regions of northern China.
When asked about the effects of developing new irrigated cropland from these desert grasslands, Duan Aiwang acknowledged the high risks.
“Water shortage is serious there,” he said. “If we develop new irrigation, we will carefully research the situation.”
Irrigation and Production
China irrigated 62.6 million hectares (154.7 million acres) in 2010, the latest year for accurate figures, or a little more than half of the 120 million hectares (300 million acres) of the country’s cultivated cropland. Much of the nation’s irrigation network is constructed of leaky concrete trunk canals and mud-lined feeder networks that lose water.
The national network is divided into 6,000 local irrigation projects, said Duan of the Farmland Irrigation Research Institute. Each of the 285 largest irrigation districts, he said, water more than 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres).
Because canals and feeder lines are expensive to build and rebuild, China’s program to modernize and expand its irrigation network — the most extensive of any nation — has not attained the same level of attention or funding as other infrastructure programs, like high-speed rail, highways, and the South-North water transport project, to name a few.
Still, China has increased the expanse of irrigated cropland an average of 645,000 hectares (1.6 million acres) a year since 1990. A $US 6.3 billion (38 billion RMB), five-year project to expand irrigation in Heilongjiang and three other northeast China provinces represents the largest single investment in canal modernization and expansion in recent memory, Duan said.
No province irrigates more land than Henan. Duan’s second floor office is within sight of northern Henan Province’s wheat fields. A latticework of canals transport water from the Yellow River to irrigate about half of the 5.28 million hectares (13 million acres) of wheat in Henan that is irrigated. In all, 5.1 million hectares of Henan’s 9.7 million hectares (12.6 million acres of 24 million acres) of land sown in grain is irrigated.
The next closest province was Heilongjiang. Because adequate moisture is so critical to crop yields, it is not surprising that Heilongjiang and Henan are China’s two largest grain producers.
50 Years of Centralized Farming
Not all that long ago grass was all that grew where the state-owned You Yi Farm now operates. In the early 1950s, Mao Zedong’s central government first dispatched 100,000 soldiers to northeast China’s wild prairie to turn virgin black dirt to produce grain. Waves of other settlers dragooned by the government also were sent to Heilongjiang throughout the 1950s and 1960s to break the prairie and to sow grain.
The You Yi Farm is the first, and — at 120,000 hectares (296,000 acres) — the largest of 114 state-owned and state-managed farms in Heilongjiang Province. You Yi means “friendship,” and the farm, one of 177 similar large projects nationwide, takes its name from the cooperative agreements that Mao’s government signed with the Soviet Union for assistance in developing the prairie.

The farm, established on 20,000 hectares (49,500 acres) in 1954 when the Soviet Union provided a grant to China, was the beneficiary of squat, gray tractors and Soviet advisors who taught the Chinese soldiers how to mechanize agriculture and how to build settlements. The earliest farmers lived in wood and mud huts without running water and endured winters that can be Siberian cold and summers that can be desert hot.
Zhao Yu Fu, a 49-year-old agricultural technology specialist, was raised on You Yi Farm, where his parents worked starting in 1958 and where he has spent his entire career. He remembers, in the 1970s, when he was a teenager, the relationship between China and the Soviet Union grew tense. By then, the farm was managed with military discipline, Zhao told Circle of Blue, and he can recall how he and other teenage sons and daughters of the first-generation farmers were trained in the use of firearms and field maneuvers.
“The mindset was military. We prepared for invasion, if it came,” Zhao said. “Our mindset was defense. We trained in a bootcamp. We learned to use a bayonet. We ran a lot. The border is just a 300-kilometer drive from here.”
During a mid-morning tour of the You Yi Farm, Zhao dropped to his knees at one end of a long row of planted soybeans to explain some of the farm’s agricultural prowess.
The contemporary farm employs 120,000 people and is managed from a city of 40,000 of the same name. You Yi’s yields are prodigious — 350,000 metric tons of corn, 650,000 metric tons of rice, 150,000 metric tons of sugar beets. Most of the harvest is irrigated, and 70 percent to 80 percent is exported to other provinces.
The You Yi Farm used to be a huge producer of soybeans, Zhao said. But provincial and central government officials determined that it is cheaper to import the bulk of the nation’s soybean demand, he said.

From one end to the other, the row was covered with a thin sheet of clear plastic. Zhao dug beneath the plastic and pulled a thin plastic tube, with perforations every few centimeters, from the dark soil. There are thousands of linear meters of similar drip irrigation tubing just beneath all of the planted rows in this field. Zhao explained that the tubing prevents evaporation and saves water by delivering moisture directly to plant roots.
Chinese agronomists, he said, had worked with Israeli drip irrigation specialists to develop the system of drip tubing and plastic covering. Chinese engineers built the equipment to bury the tubes and simultaneously seal the rows.
The visual effect is arresting. The sun reflects off the plastic, like tin foil in an oven. The dark soil runs to the horizon in straight black lines. Early in the planting season, You Yi grain fields look like huge bakery shelves, with long rows of neatly wrapped loaves of fresh-baked bread.
“We spent 10 years developing this system,” Zhao said. “In the dry season, it has a big benefit. The ground stays wet. Yields stay high.”