Poland’s Borders, Geography, and Geopolitics.

Poland is one of the largest nations in Europe. It is also a nation that has been through immense changes in its history. It has gone from being one of Europe’s largest empires to not even appearing on the map. Watch video below to see Poland’s borders change from 1635-now.

Now, it is important to consider that the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was at its largest in 1619, after the Truce of Deulino. This truce ended the Polish-Muscovite War, a series of conflicts between the Commonwealth vs The Tsardom of Russia and the Kingdom of Sweden. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth once included nations such as Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Latvia, southern Estonia, parts of Russia, and a tiny sliver of what is now Moldova. The westernmost regions of Poland were not part of that Commonwealth. It was a union between Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

 

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(Photo by Samotny Wędrowiec)

The first Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth started in 1569. Poland and Sweden had a complicated relationship. The Commonwealth would expand east and north, gaining territories such as Livonia and Prussia. These regions would prove to me a subject of contention between Poland and Sweden. Starting in 1648, the series of wars ravaged the Commonwealth. Unlike conflicts of the past, these conflicts were not limited to the peripheral regions. The central regions were affected too. Conflicts with Russia, the Ottoman Empire, Livonia, Ukraine, Sweden, and other neighboring nations would result in its decline. Poland would endure a series of invasions known as “the Deluge”. In particular, from the Tsardom of Russia, Brandenburg, Khmelnytsky Cossack Uprisings in Ukraine, and the Kingdom of Sweden.

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War, and epidemics would decimate Poland’s population, and weaken the Commonwealth. Between 1764-1795, the Commonwealth underwent a series of partitions by Prussia, Russia, and Austria. These partitions took Poland off of the map. Through the 19th century and into the early 20th century, a series of rebellions took place. By 1918, the Second Polish Republic was established.  This lasted until 1939. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. It was a neutrality pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. It was signed 23 August 1939. 1 September 1939, Nazi Germany attacked Poland. On 17 September 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Poland. 2 year later, Hitler would send the German Army on attacks in Eastern Poland, where Soviets had their positions. As World War II concluded, territories were redrawn. Poland would gain what was Germany’s easternmost regions. Danzig would become Gdansk, one of Poland’s port cities today. Poland would also lose its eastern regions. Those areas are now part of Belarus, Ukraine, and Lithuania. The borders were shaped by the demands made by Stalin in the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement, which were brought up in the Tehran Conference of 1943, and again in the Yalta Conference of 1945.

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Poland’s political geography has been shaped by its conflicts with its neighbors. This conflict has a physical geography element to it. Poland today is on the Great European Plain. Most of the nation is flat with the exception of the southernmost parts, where the Tatra Mountains are located. Poland’s location has made it a major thoroughfare for invasion. With relatively flat terrain, there were no buffer zones, except in the south. It has also influenced how its own empire has grown. Poland grew by expanding north, southeast, and east. Going directly south would make invasion difficult due to mountainous terrain. This is particularly so for what is now Ukraine. In the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, it occupied much of Ukraine except for the westernmost regions. The Carpathian Mountains are in Ukraine’s western areas. The rest of Ukraine is much less rugged, and has historically been more prone to invasion.

Poland has had conflicts with Russia, Austria, Germany, Sweden, the Ottoman Empire (at one this empire occupied southeast Europe), and Prussia. Many of the biggest conflicts have involved Russia, Sweden, Germany, and Prussia. Relatively flat land has made invasion strategically easy.  Land plays a big part in war. Land is a resource. This is what should be considered.

Much of Poland has fertile soil, with the exception of the northern regions with its sandy soil. Fertile land for farming has long been a sought after resource. Another resource is warm water ports. Poland gets cold winters. However, its portion of the Baltic coast is warmer than most places along the Baltic Sea, being further south. Land and greater maritime access are often factors in fighting wars. Poland’s geography has been both an advantage and a disadvantage. Advantageous in terms of fertile soil, a greater access to the sea, and a mountainous buffer zone to the south. However, its geography of rolling hills and plains have given it a disadvantage. It has both been able to invade, and at the same time, be invaded from different directions.

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Geography has been a factor in shaping Poland, from its height in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, to the Polish Partition, to what it is today.

 

Iceland, Where Europe And North America Meet.

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There is vast ocean separating North America from Europe. There would be no way that Europe and North America could meet, not with land masses touching.

However, if you go to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, there is something else to be found. A divergent plate boundary in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is where the North American and Eurasian Plates meet. In the country of Iceland, this is known as Reykjanes Ridge. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge goes through Iceland.

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One major feature is the Silfra Fissure. A rift formed by the Mid Atlantic Ridge. This is a divergent plate boundary. The plates are moving away from each other.

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Taking a dive into the spring-fed waters of the Silfra Fissure will bring a point home. At this point, a diver can touch both the North American and Eurasian plates at once.

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The Mid-Atlantic Ridge also plays a role in Iceland’s geothermal power resources. Being a geothermal hotspot, this helps Iceland.

Iceland is located closer to continental Europe than continental North America. However, it is on both the North American and Eurasian plates. It also has some proximity to Greenland, a large North American island ruled indirectly by an EU nation, Denmark. It its own way, Iceland can be considered where Europe and North America meet.

 

The Geography of US/Cuba Relations

 

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90 miles of water separates the U.S. state of Florida from the nation of Cuba. Such a short distance, and yet, much contention.

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Recently, an entry about the potential for a tourism boom in Cuba was written on TheGeoScholar. With President Donald Trump rolling back changes that former President Barack Obama made towards US/Cuba diplomatic relations, particularly in tourism, it looks like such a boom will not be, at least as far as U.S. tourists are concerned.

Essentially, diplomatic relations between the U.S.A. and Cuba have been at a standstill since the 1960s. However, to understand such relations, understanding geography is a requirement.

Cuba is in a strategic position near Mexico, the Bahamas, and the USA. Mexico used to be part of the Spanish Empire alongside Cuba. Simultaneously, the USA expanded in size and influence while the Spanish Empire declined in influence and size. The Spanish Empire was still feared by the USA nonetheless. The British Empire was feared too. Bahamas was a British colony during the expansion of the USA. One fear was that trade routes out of New Orleans would be cut off around the Straits of Florida, where Cuba is located.  ew Orleans has long been a major port in the USA since the Louisiana Purchase. Its location means that ships would pass through the Straits of Florida. There was a fear that either the British Empire or the Spanish Empire could cut off trade routes. This is a major factor in the Spanish-American War taking place.

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There has also been influence by the USA via businesses having holdings in Cuba, particularly in the sugar industry. After the Cuban Revolution took place in the 1950s, the late Fidel Castro took power. After being declared a communist nation, the Soviet Union would use Cuba as a strategic position, being so close to the USA, and the USA and the Soviet Union being enemies of each other. The Soviet Union put missiles in Cuba. With Cuba being a Communist nation, an embargo was put on Cuba. Travel to Cuba via the USA restricted, business and diplomatic ties to Cuba frozen, and thus the current geopolitical situation.

In short, Cuba has a close position to the USA. This has played a major role in geopolitics. On one hand, proximity was one part of wanting to do business. On the other hand, there was also fear, especially with trade routes being a factor. And with

People Shaping The Land: Polders

 

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Geography Is Dynamic. Remember it, and remember it often. Things on the earth are changing all of the time. Many of those things are natural. Many things change because of human beings. One example is polders.

What is a polder? Land which has been reclaimed from a body of water. That is the short definition. It is like making new land out of the water. Draining a swamp, a lake, or the sea(you have to put a wall around a certain area if draining part of the sea). This done by engineering. The video below will give more details.

Land reclamation, the creation of polders, has often been necessary in places where an adequate amount of land was lacking. Human beings would shape the land by changing certain things about the land. In particular, what features are on the land. One example, a very famous one, is The Netherlands. Flevoland, the 12th province of The Netherlands, is a product of this process. Most of the land in Flevoland was only reclaimed in the 1950s and 1960s.  The land was reclaimed from IJsselmeer, a lake. It is home to the city of Lelystad, built in 1967, established as a city in 1980. Another example of Alemere, The Netherlands. This is the newest city in The Netherlands, becoming a municipality in 1984. Like Lelystad, it is located in Flevoland. It is built on reclaimed land. Today it has a population of over 196,000 people.

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Photo by Mark Ahsmann.

If cities like Lelystad and Almere can be created on polders, this leaves much to consider as far as other places that could be built out of land reclamation. Other cities have been expanded due to land reclamation, Singapore, San Francisco, Perth, Dublin, New Orleans, Boston,etc.

With the good comes the bad. Building polders has the advantage of creating more land. That land itself can also be a liability. This is land that was perennially under water. The soil will be very soft and unstable. One thing Singapore did to make sure the land would be stable by leaving the land unused for 20 years. This would give the reclaimed land enough time to settle. There is also the issue of the environment itself. A lake or swamp that existed before will disappear, and with that, the flora and fauna that would have been there. Many will see this as a bad thing, arguing that it would destroy a habitat. Some might see it as a good thing, particularly in the case of swamps. Some will argue that it would get rid of an environment that was poor for habitation.

However one looks at it, polders are an example of people shaping the land for a need. It is geography showing itself to be dynamic. The land changing. In this case, via people.

Explaining The Blue Jay Fan Presence in Seattle.

Photo from Seattle Times.

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In September 2016, a frustrated Felix Hernandez shouted this refrain to booing Blue Jays fans at Safeco Field while pointing downward at the field: “THIS IS MY HOUSE”!!

1977. The Seattle Mariners and the Toronto Blue Jays begin play. Whenever the Toronto Blue Jays come to town, so do Blue Jays fans. In some cases, the Blue Jays’ fans outnumber the Mariners’ fans.

How? Toronto doesn’t even play in the same division as Seattle. Toronto is close to Detroit and Cleveland than it is to Seattle.

Well, the answer is alot closer than you think. Seattle is much closer to Canada than many people realize. Seattle is 142.6 miles from Vancouver,BC,Canada. This is basically a 2 1/2 hour drive. One might think that because Vancouver is so close to Seattle, people in that city would root for the Seattle Mariners. Well……..

Some of this could be blamed on the subpar playing of the Mariners between 2004 and now(out of those years, only 4 seasons above the .500 mark). However, there is a cultural geography component here. Vancouver is in Canada. The Toronto Blue Jays have traditionally represented English-speaking Canada. The Montreal Expos, baseball’s representatives in the Francophone province of Quebec, play in Washington,DC as of 2005. This leaves the Blue Jays as Canada’s sole team. Not that this would matter. Vancouver is an Anglophone city, and it’s closer to Toronto than Montreal. Even if Seattle is the closest city to Vancouver, Vancouver is in the long-reaching sphere of the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays being a Canadian team, people in Vancouver would be more likely to root for the Blue Jays.

In short, Blue Jays fans in Vancouver have an easy drive to Seattle. Could the Mariners and Blue Jays become a big rivalry? Geography is strangely on its side. The Mariners have never really had geographic rivalries. At least not in the traditional sense. However, the geography is in the details. With Vancouver 2.5 hours away, this could really make things interesting.

Catalonia Referendum on Leaving Spain

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Spain is the 4th largest nation in Europe. Currently, there are 46,423,064 people living there. Politically, there is something going on that could affect whether or not the two stats mentioned remain this way.

Spain does not have provinces or states. Instead, Spain has 16 autonomous communities and 2 autonomous cities(Ceuta and Melilla). One of those autonomous communities is having a vote on whether or not to stay, or break from Spain.

That autonomous community is Catalonia. Catalonia is due to hold a referendum on Sunday, 1 October 2017. There will be a vote on whether or not Catalonia will remain part of Spain or become its own country. According to the Spanish Constitution of 1978, Catalonia, along with Galicia and the Basque region, has the definition as a nationality. Catalonia lost autonomy after the Spanish Civil War, and had no such autonomy under the rule of fascist dictator Francisco Franco. After Franco’s death, Catalonia would soon regain autonomy, and its people the recognition as a distinct people.

To put this in human geography terms, Catalans are the name of the people living in Catalonia. Spanish is the official language of Spain. For Catalonia, Spanish is spoken, but Catalan is the official language. Catalan people see themselves as a distinct people. Separatist sentiments are nothing new for Catalonia. This can be traced back to the Catalan Renaissance (Renaixença) of the 19th century. The goal was to revive the Catalan language and traditions. Some people started to demand independence from Spain.

The current upcoming referendum goes back to 2014, when Catalonia held a non-binding vote on self-determination. It was about Catalonia desiring to become a state. In the 2015 regional election, Carles Puigdemont was elected President of the Generalitat of Catalonia. He was the first to refuse to take the oath to the Spanish constitution and its current monarch, Felipe IV.

To understand more about Catalonia and the impact of an independent Catalonia, let’s look at the current geography. Catalonia is located in northeastern Spain on the Mediterranean Sea. Its capital and largest city is Barcelona. 7,522,596 people live in Catalonia. Catalonia has a land area of 32,108 sq km (12,397 sq mi). Catalonia is a highly industrialized region of Spain. Generating 200 billion euros, it has the highest GDP in Spain. Barcelona, Spain’s second largest city, is also home to one of Spain’s largest ports.

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However not everything is great. Its per capita income is 27,000 euros($30,000). This is lower than Madrid, the Basque County, and Navarre. Catalonia has lost almost 1,000 companies to other regions in Spain. Most have been relocating to Spain’s capital, Madrid. Catalonia is also the 2nd most expensive region in Spain to buy a new home. Catalonia’s economic credit rating is considered “non investment” grade. In 2012, Catalonia had the highest debt of Spain’s autonomous communities.

Even with some economic issues, Barcelona still leads Spain when it comes to employment. It is a major industrial center, port city, fashion and cultural center.

If Catalonia does become independent, it leaves much to consider. Currently, Catalonia is a major economic producer and industrial leader in Spain. Its high GDP within Spain leaves much to want to hold onto. Barcelona is the largest port city in Spain, as well as the largest city on the Mediterranean Sea. While Spain has other port cities, Barcelona is powerful. It has the 4th largest GDP of any city in the EU. If Catalonia does become independent, there leaves another question. Will Catalonia join the EU or not? If so, Barcelona will still remain part of the EU. Barcelona is a major producer of automobiles in Spain, and in Europe. It is a major center for tourism with its beaches and being the one of the busiest passenger ports in Europe. Barcelona is a major transportation hub.

Will the referendum pass? This could depend on many factors. So far, cultural ties are a major factor in the push for independence. Could Catalonia do without Spain? Could Spain do without Catalonia? What role will Barcelona play in the EU? Will it join the EU or not?

Hurricane, Typhoon, Cyclone: What’s The Difference?

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Yes, we hear these terms on weather forecasts, those tropical storms that we see causing much havoc. Hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones. Three different weather terms. What is the difference between these three?

Well, not much, except where they take place. Such storms in the Indian Ocean are known as cyclones. Such storms occurring in North America are called hurricanes. In East Asia, they are called cyclones.

Watch the video below to learn about this.