EarthView team bios, guidelines, and more.

Monday, September 29, 2014

LIFE Bridgewater – September 29

Learn more about Lat/Long

Let Imagination Fuel Education (LIFE) is a network of home-school families in the Bridgewater area. Students complete most of their schooling within their own homes, but gather once each month at the community building of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish to share enrichment activities.

The EarthView visit was a great opportunity for us to share the world with students of all ages – from pre-school through high school – in a single event, along with many of their parents. The families involved in LIFE pursue a variety of curricula, but there was a common thread of engagement and curiosity about the wider world. As a result, we had great conversations with the students about political, economic, cultural, and environmental geography topics.

One common thread in our discussions is the nature of EarthView itself. It is a primarily a physical globe, that represents biomes – the deserts, forests, grasslands and other naturally-occurring plant communities – at a global scale. It also shows landforms such as mountains – which are shown in a rather cartoonish manner on EarthView – and rivers, lakes, and the continental shelf. Errors are very few, such as the unduly large areas of shallow water shown around many of the world’s islands. 
A lot of our discussion was about Africa -- a continent of 55 or so countries (depending how islands are counted) that is much larger and has much more variety than many in the U.S. realize. It is backward in this image, taken from inside EarthView.
Photo: Andrea Fogarty
See more photos on Flickr.
Seeing the earth from inside and out and without distortions leads to a lot of surprising revelations in comparison to the flat maps and small globes most of us are used to seeing. First, Africa is much bigger than many suppose -- second in size and population only to Asia. Second, the Pacific is just one ocean, and it is huge. On many flat maps, it appears as two separate, small bodies of water around the edges. Third, the oceans -- especially the Pacific -- contain far more islands than most people realize, because they show up as such small dots on standard-sized globes.

All flat maps require projection -- a mathematical process of transforming a spherical shape onto a flat surface. This is called projection because the process can be described as if a light were shining through or from within a globe onto a flat surface, projecting the shapes as onto a screen. One of the most common is the Mercator, which was developed for navigation, but which really gives us mistaken ideas about the shapes of continents, and especially mistaken ideas about the sizes of places far to the north.

The size of northern lands in this image compared to the lands near the equator are quite huge, and getting the sizes right has been one of the great benefits of entering EarthView.

Before dividing into age groups for visits inside EarthView, the entire LIFE group gathered to watch its inflation. Remarkably, once EarthView is attached to its fan, it only takes six minutes to rise from the floor to a height of six meters.
 At this stage of the inflation, we might describe North America as "upside down" but in reality the earth is a sphere that has no real top or bottom. Most globes - like most map projections -- put north on top, but there is no real reason to do so.

Another theme of our visit with the LIFE families was the importance of water. Although 71 percent of the planet is covered with water, many people do not have an adequate supply. This is because 97 percent of the world's water is too salty for most uses by humans, and 2 percent is stored as ice. The 1 percent remaining is distributed much differently than population, and some of it is quite polluted.

The result is that about 1,000,000,000 of the world's people do not have access to clean water. We discussed the story of Katie Spotz, a young woman from Ohio who helped to provide water for a few thousand of those people by rowing a boat all the way across the Atlantic Ocean! See her Row for Water web site, or several posts on the archive edition of this blog.

A final theme we discussed is volcanoes. Of more than 1,500 volcanoes on earth, a majority are found along the tectonic boundaries surrounding the Pacific Ocean. Because of early warning systems, injuries from volcanoes have become relatively rare, but there was a tragic eruption in Japan that killed more than 30 visitors in Japan this week. The Smithsonian Institution Volcano site provides details about all of the world's active volcanoes, including spreadsheets and a Google Earth map layer so that people can do some of their own research and comparisons.

One student asked Dr. Hayes-Bohanan about the most amazing place he has visited, and the immediate answer was part of the Ring of Fire -- Cerro Negro in Nicaragua. See two blog posts about it on his Environmental Geography blog.

Dr. Hayes-Bohanan sliding down Cerro Negro in 2012