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Friday, September 28, 2012

Collins Elementary, Salem -- September 28

42° 30' 52" N
70° 54' 22" W

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EarthView is pleased to be returning to Collins Elementary in Salem, which hosted us nearly a year ago, and which was covered by the Salem News.

EarthView deflates slightly as students enter at Collins Elementary
on September 28, 2012.

The blog post for that visit discusses several aspects of Salem's history and its long-standing importance in maritime trade. It also mentions the Peabody-Essex Museum, a local treasure of global importance. Several new exhibitions each year combine with nearly 2 million objects in the permanent collection to make PEM an ideal place to learn about history, science, art, architecture, and geography.
A painting of a whale boat from the Maritime Art Department at PEM.
EarthView coordinator Dr. Hayes-Bohanan has recently joined a
 rowing club in New Bedford where members
still use this kind of boat (but without hunting).
We encourage Collins students to take advantage of PEM and the many other opportunities to learn about geography -- of the region, the country, and the world -- from the point of view of their home town.

We also want to point out a couple of interesting physical geography stories that were in the news this week from the opposite side of the earth -- fairly close to Salem's antipode. Both stories were mentioned on  BBC radio this Thursday.

The first story is about an earthquake that took place in the Indian Ocean in April, and which scientists have been studying carefully. The BBC summarizes three articles related to this 8.7-magnitude quake from the journal Nature. This event was near a tectonic plate boundary, but it was the largest quake ever recorded that was not directly on a boundary, but rather on a transform fault within a plate. It did not generate a tsunami because movement along transform faults is horizontal, and does not displace significant amounts of water. What is most interesting about this and other recent deep-sea quakes is that it might indicate the eventual breakup of the Indo-Australian plate, which currently carries both the Indian and Australian landmasses.

The BBC also reported on a story related to biogeography. The entire works of Charles Darwin's lesser-known colleague Alfred Russell Wallace have recently been put online. He is credited with reaching the same conclusions as Darwin, based on his experience in Indonesia. In reporting on the story, the BBC mention the related discovery known as the Wallace Line. As described by geographer Dr. Susan Woodward, It is the only place on earth where the dramatically different animal communities are divided by a line that does not correspond to a major topographic barrier, such as a mountain range or ocean.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Brookfield Elementary -- September 21

42° 12' 53" N
72° 05' 52" W

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Just in time (almost) for the autumnal equinox, the EarthView team is making its first visit to Brookfield Elementary School. This will be the last day until March 2013, on which the minutes of daylight will exceed the minutes of darkness in the northern hemisphere.

EarthView has not been to the school before, but it is in the district where our famous Globe Lady taught French and then geography at the middle-school level.

As the earth revolves around the sun, it experiences two equinoxes -- one in March and the other in September -- when every place on earth experiences 12 hours of daylight and 12 of darkness. This happens twice because the sun appears to cross the equator twice as its overhead position passes from its northernmost extent (23.5 degrees north) to its southernmost and back, over the course of each year.

As explained on the very informative Time and Date web site, the equinox can occur on September 22, 23, or 24. This year it is on the 22nd, more precisely it is on the 22nd at 2:49 p.m. UTC, which is 10:49 a.m. in Brookfield. UTC means Coordinated Universal Time (ask the Globe Lady about how this acronym makes perfect sense in French), and is otherwise known as Greenwich Mean Time, for the Royal Naval Observatory near London. Greenwich and London are five hours ahead of Boston and Brookfield, but do not observe Daylight Savings Time.

Some might ask how the equinox can occur at such a precise, single time if it is something that happens all over the world. The answer is that it is defined according to the time that the sun is directly over the equator. More precisely, the equator is at a right angle to the rays of the sun, but to observers on earth, it is the sun that seems to be crossing.

For those who really want to know the details -- or who just want to savor the last bit of summer's sunlight --  National Geographic writer John Roach explains why the 12-hour nights are still a few days away.

National Anniversaries Today

On September 21, 1984, British Honduras declared independence from the United Kingdom, ultimately being renamed Belize. EarthView team member Dr. Hayes-Bohanan (who unfortunately is not part of this year's Brookfield visit) will be making his first trip to Belize in June 2013 to teach about the geography of chocolate. His classes will be in the town of San Ignacio at 17° 10' N, 89° 05' W. How many degrees (and in what direction) away is San Ignacio from Brookfield? You can use a globe, map, or one of the utilities on our lat/long page to calculate the distance. In fact, it would be fun to calculate it several ways, and try to figure out which is most accurate. Then you can calculate how far it will take him to get from the center of San Ignacio to the nearest point in Guatemala, a country he previously visited in 2008.

September 21 is also an important date in two much larger countries, Germany and China. Following World War II, Germany was temporarily divided by four other countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union. On this date in 1949, the parts controlled by the first three of these were joined together to form West Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland), which remained a country until it was reunited with East Germany in 1990. On the same day in 1949, China's communist rulers declared the People's Republic of China.

Storm Anniversary

This date is also the anniversary of one of the most significant storms to strike New England, the Great New England Hurricane of 1938. It took place before hurricanes were named, although it is sometimes called the Long Island Express. More importantly, it occurred before forecasting -- and communicating about -- ocean storms was very sophisticated. The storm's arrival in New England was predicted by one forecaster, but his boss disagreed with the prediction, so the storm arrived with absolutely no warning, carrying winds of over 120 mph, gusting as high as 186 mph. Today, the National Hurricane Center is much better able to predict the arrival, usually reducing the damage.

And Finally, a Book

Just one year before that storm, J.R.R. Tolkien published The Hobbit, introducing an entire imagined world. It may be the only work of fiction with its own atlas.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fixing a Virtual Road

On another blog, I recently wrote about why geographic literacy is still important, even when we have computers to provide a lot of answers to our geographic questions. My article is entitled The Road (?) to Belmopan, and it explains how both Mapquest and Google are making the town of San Ignacio in Belize seem more remote than it actually is.

I thought my colleague in San Ignacio would find this interesting, and she did, but she also found it alarming. People depend so much on electronic maps and directions that an error like this might cause people not to visit her town. For that reason, I have already let Google know about the problem, and I hope it is fixed soon.

The more we know about geography and maps, the better able we are to make appropriate use of electronic and paper maps in order to make better decisions.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Ahern Middle School, Foxboro -- September 14

42° 4' 27" N
71° 14' 18" W

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As the EarthView Team begins its fifth year of geography outreach, it is great to be starting at the Ahern School, which was featured on 10,000 copies of the first official EarthView postcard.
This card has helped us to let many people throughout Massachusetts -- and beyond -- know about EarthView and about the importance of geography education. It includes a link to this blog, which has dozens of articles to help people learn about the geography of their own communities, the geography behind the news, and ways to apply geography to important problems in the world.

We recommend bookmarking the blog at in order to check for updates or just to click on the geography computer games.

This year we introduce three new EarthView Wranglers -- the Bridgewater State University students who help us set up the program for thousands of students each year. New to the team are Macee, Brendan, and Amanda, who join BSU geography professors Dr. Hayes-Bohanan and Dr. Domingo and of course the famous Globe Lady, geography teacher Rosalie Sokol of Sturbridge, by way of National Geographic!

When putting the title on this post, the question of how to spell the name of the town comes to mind. Is it Foxboro or Foxborough? As with some other towns in Massachusetts, both variations are widely used, with the shorter version more popular, even if it is not considered official.

In the wider world, the old German word for "fort" has spawned even more variations. If all of them were used here, Ahern could be in the town of ...

Foxburg (Germany)
Foxbury (England)
Foxburgh (Scotland)
Foxborgo (Italy)
Foxburgo (Spain and Portugal)
Foxbourg (France)
Foxburcht (Netherlands)

In reality, the "fox" portion of the name might be a bit different, though the town is not named for the animal itself, but for Charles James Fox (1749-1806), a member of the English Parliament who supported the American Colonies.

And speaking of forts, our visit comes on the 198th anniversary of the writing of a famous poem about a fort -- Ft. McHenry in Baltimore. On 1814, during the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key had spent the night on a ship in the outer part of Baltimore Harbor, watching a battle at Ft. McHenry. The poem entitled "Defence of Fort McHenry" is now better known as "The Star-Spangled Banner."

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The harbor has long been essential to the economic development of Baltimore and the entire mid-Atlantic region, but it also presents a significant barrier to traffic along the I-95 corridor. Over the past half century, three alternatives have been constructed for crossing the harbor, and two are relevant to today's anniversary. The Ft. McHenry Tunnel is the newest alternative, and the largest tunnel of its kind in the world. The Francis Scott Key Bridge crosses the outer harbor, and Baltimore lore has it passes over the site where Key was anchored that memorable night.

High Above San Cristobal

12º 42' 18" N
87º 00' 18" W

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(c) 2012 Nicaragua News -- Click to enlarge
Fortunately, it appears that nobody was harmed in Saturday's eruption of the San Cristobal volcano in Nicaragua, though close to 3,000 people in neighboring rural areas of Chinandega were evacuated.

Moisture in the eruption's rapidly rising air condensed to form a cloud at the top of the plume, resembling lenticular clouds that can form under certain circumstances over mountain peaks that are not erupting.

As explained in the Line of Fire article on my Environmental Geography blog, San Cristobal is part of a line of fourteen active volcanoes that are found parallel to the Pacific coast in Nicaragua.Use the map below to find some of the others, and notice where they are relative to the narrow continental shelf.

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You can also use the coordinates at the top of this article to compare the location of San Cristobal to your own location. Finally, you can use my "Nicaragua Volcanoes" quiz to learn where each of Nicaragua's volcanoes is found in the lineup!

The latest information about active volcanoes in the United States and its territories can be found at What state has the longest line of volcanoes?