Rainwater Harvesting, Geopolitics, And The Future Of Water Supply.

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No, rainwater is not some kind of crop. However, the harvesting of rainwater can be one of the most valuable things for human beings. While Earth itself is majority water, most of that water is not usable for human consumption, unless you plan on building a plethora of desalination plants.

Most of the world’s freshwater is locked up in glaciers and ice sheets. Rivers and lakes serve as sources of freshwater. And there is one more source, the weather. In particular, the rain. Human beings have been capturing and using the rain as a water resource for thousands of years. In times when municipal water systems were not available, and water was needed, wherever it rained, that rain could be a source of water for drinking, washing up, irrigation, or in the case of the video below, fountains.

In a world where water is becoming more valuable than ever, rain water capturing still proves to be a beneficial sources of water. In many places, rain that would have simply become storm water runoff is put to good use in ponds and fountains.

Harvesting the rain is often used as a source of drinking water. In Myanmar’s Irrawaddy Delta, there is salt water among the ground water. In a land where rainfall is plentiful, rainwater harvesting is a major source of water.

In places with a decent water supply, rainwater can be a supplement to the existing water supply. It can also be a set-aside in the event that a drought takes place. And in that case, captured rainwater is beneficial in agriculture, as it serves as an irrigation source. Rainwater is often used to recharge the groundwater in some areas. For developing nations, harvesting rainwater is often seen as a solution for combating a scarcity of potable water. In many places, there is plenty of water, but much of it is not drinkable.

Capturing rainwater is nothing complicated. It can be done through simple means. It is often collected in vessels, from rooftops, and it can be harvested from rivers or reservoirs. It is simple, but it will have an impact on the water supply world wide. With more technological innovations, this form of capturing water for human consumption could play a major role in the future. Of course, it has to be conducted the right way. In many places, rainwater is collected from rooftops. There isn’t a guarantee that such water is safe. Birds often land there, and defecate in many cases.

Consider this. Many geopolitical issues in the world are related to the water supply. Water is a major issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Water rights are a major issue in the Middle East. Considering the desert geography the region this will continue to play a role in geopolitics. Rainwater is not equal everywhere. Many places have low rainfall totals. Technological innovations can often be a response to bridge the gap between humans and the environments they live in. It will not be just a matter of harvesting rainwater. It will also be about where that rainwater will go. In theory, rainwater can be collected in one place, and sent to another place. In fact, this is already being done in several places. In California, much of the population lives in areas that get rainfall totals that qualify it as semiarid or desert. The California Aqueduct collects water from the Sierra Nevadas, and through an elaborate network of canals, pipes, and tunnels, that water id distributed to places such as southern California. Aqueducts have been used to distribute water for ages. It was done in the Roman Empire. It can be done today, with even more advanced technology than in antiquity. And even in the Middle East, rainwater can be harvested from high elevation areas. Turkey and Iran have some of the rainiest places in the Middle East. Lebanon has high elevation regions where snowfall is commonplace.

However, water issues go beyond California. How will geopolitics play a role in water distribution, if measures such as distributing collected rainwater take place? Will there be peace as a result? Or will the existing geopolitical problems hinder such solutions? And will it be enough? Where will it come from? Many questions, no easy answers. In the present, rainwater harvesting still has its benefits locally.

Why Geography Is Dynamic.

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Geography Is Dynamic. Let’s break this down a bit.

Geography – The study of the physical features, atmosphere, and the human-environmental interaction of the Earth.

Dynamic – Constantly changing.

Geography Is Dynamic. Why? Because geography is about studying the Earth, and the Earth is constantly changing. Nothing on Earth remains in a static position. The only constant on the Earth is change. Things are always changing. The rate of which things change varies from place to place.

Even within the field of geography, there is a subfield of geography that is specifically about the changes in physical geographic features. It is known as geomorphology. See video below to learn more.

Geomorphology is just one example of how geography is dynamic. In fact, if you look at every subfield of geography, from tourism geography, limnology, urban geography, biogeography, environmental geography, to political geography, geomatics, and cartography. Things are always changing on the planet. All the more reason they need to be studied. And this should be the very first rule of geography. Geography Is Dynamic. It is dynamic because this earth is dynamic.

In teaching geography in the schools, this should be the first lesson. Geography is dynamic. Learning state capital should not be the first thing anyone learns when it comes to geography. Understanding that the Earth is dynamic is the first thing that should be learned.

Why learn geography? Because it’s a dynamic subject. Why is it dynamic? Because Earth is a dynamic place. Things are always changing. We need to constantly study those changes.

#GeographyIsDynamic

Henderson Island, Paradise Lost In Plastic.

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Henderson Island, a small, uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean. An area of about 37.3 sq km. The nearest populated area is 193 km (120 mi) northeast of Pitcairn Island. A Pacific island uninhabited and far removed from humans. It is halfway between New Zealand and Chile. One of the last raised atolls in the world unaffected by human contact. A place complete with beaches. Sounds like paradise, doesn’t it?

Not anymore. Henderson Island has now developed a messy distinction. It now holds the title as the world’s largest density of plastic trash pollution. It has literally become paradise lost in a rubbish tip. Over 38 million pieces of plastic trash have been found on this island. What is even more bizarre is that no one lives on this island. And there are likely places with far more tourism and exploration than Henderson Island.

How does a place get so inundated with plastic trash, without the aid of humans?

Truth is, plastic trash is far more common in the world’s oceans than one might think. There have been reports of plastic trash in the oceans as the Great Pacific garbage patch. It is estimated to be anywhere from 700,000 sq km in area to 15,000,000 sq km in area. To put this in an appropriate perspective, Zambia is over 750,000 sq km in area. Antarctica is  14,000,000 sq km in area. In short, there is enough plastic garbage in the ocean to cover areas ranging from the size of Zambia and higher. Henderson Island is a mere 37.3 sq km. The amount of plastic in the Great Pacific garbage patch is estimated to be enough to cover Henderson Island over 18,700 times.

The truth is, there is a big issue with people dumping their garbage in oceans. It has been documented in affected ecosystems. Many marine animals have choked on or have been strangled to death by plastic debris. And thanks to ocean currents, that trash isn’t going to stay in just one place. 24°21′S 128°19′W is the geographic coordinates of Henderson Island. That is on the other side of the Equator, far away from the Great Pacific garbage patch. So we can rule out that garbage patch as been the cause of the plastic landing on Henderson Island. The South Pacific Gyre has played a big factor. Henderson Island is located towards the center of this Pacific gyre. In short, plastic garbage, which non-biodegradable, is being carried through the lengths of the earth and throughout the oceans via ocean currents, landing in even the most remote places

With plastic showing up in such a remote place, this is the lesson to take from this. The littering that humans can do will not only affect the immediate area. It isn’t just your neighborhood, your city, or even your country. The garbage in the world’s oceans is being carried to other places. It has created a situation where we could create a garbage pit in a place so far away without us deliberately putting it there. A garbage dump on an island where humans have never lived, and it wasn’t brought in by boat or airplane. Rather, by the ocean currents from far away. The litter we dump on the roads, in the oceans, can be carried far away.  It shows that the earth is more connected than we realize, even in the most remote places.

Explaining Appalachian Coal

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Make. America. Great. Again. This is the refrain of now-President Trump’s campaign. The plans to get the USA’s economy to better times. One major part of it is the coal industry. The coal mining and steel manufacturing regions served as a major part of the electorate for Trump.

Here is the truth. A politician can certainly support policies that are friendly towards manufacturing. However, in this case, in 2017, there are many things that the politicians cannot solve. There are things that screaming “fake news” cannot stop.

In terms of the economy, there are factors that need to be considered. It has become cheaper to produce steel in India and China than in the USA. The coal and steel industries in the USA have changed as well. The demand for coal in the USA has not been on the rise, at least in terms of where that coal comes from. The number of people employed by the coal industry has declined since the 1950s.

While environmental regulations have played a role, geography and technology are factors to consider. Let us start with technology. The coal industry has undergone immense automation. And with mountain top removal being a major mode of mining coal, fewer people are needed for mining the coal. But even mountaintop mining causes many problems, from degradation in the local topography to health problems for people.

Hobet Mountain in West Virginia before and after mountaintop removal.

And then where the coal is coming from. Geography lesson now. Low sulfur coal is in higher demand these days. A majority of the coal being mined in the USA is coming from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming.

Decker’s Coal Mine in Montana.

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Central Appalachia’s high-sulfur coal is in less demand these days, at least in power plants. It still has a use in the steel mills. And we segue into steel.

The USA still produces steel, a large amount of it. China leads the world in steel production. However, the USA is in the top 5 in terms of steel production. 78.62 million metric tons of steel were produced in 2016 by the USA. Steel production hit a low of 58 million metric tons in 2009. This likely reflects the state of the economy. Less demand for steel, less production. However, in 2000, 101.8 million metric tons of steel were produced by the USA. The steel industry itself employs fewer people than it did in 1960. That said, the steel industry too has underwent automation. Steel is not as labor intensive as it was in 1960. Fewer people are needed to produce steel. Furthermore, the sources for energy in the steel mills are changing. Anthracite and bituminous coal from Appalachia are used in the steel mills. Coal is used as a reducing agent in steel. Natural gas is also being used. According to the Scientific American, more steel plants are looking for cleaner ways to produce energy for producing steel. The method being spoken of is electrolysis. Natural gas in increasingly being used in steel manufacturing. Coal will be competing with other forms of energy.

And now back to coal. A geological factor. The easy to get to, economical coal seams that served Central Appalachia in its heyday have become nearly exhausted. The coal that is left is harder to retrieve from the ground.

Another factor is transportation. Transporting coal will come at a cost. Appalachian coal tends to be carried over longer distances compared to other kinds of coal. A majority of coal is shipped by railroad, 58 percent.

There is more. The largest amount of coal traveling by railroad goes between Wyoming/Montana and Missouri. Most of the coal coming from Appalachia travels via trucks. Truck shipping has its disadvantages. For starters, the speed limits. Coal cannot reach its destination as quickly compared to rail transportation. Rail transportation is privately owned and pays for itself. The interstate highway system in the USA is not as reliable. The road infrastructure needs constant repairs, and those repairs often come out of the taxpayer’s salaries. The railroad networks are going to be a major factor in the coal industry. Transportation costs have the potential of being higher than mining the coal. Rail transportation tends to be higher due to the railroads taking care of its own infrastructure. And with the cost of transportation comes another issue with Appalachia. Appalachia itself.

Appalachia’s geography presents some particular transportation problems. The Appalachian region is very rugged and mountainous. While the Rocky Mountains are rugged, and higher, there is a difference. The Powder River Basin has more in common topographically with the Great Plains than with the Rockies further West. The Appalachian Mountains could not be easily out-flanked. Even today, the topography of Appalachia makes transportation, while possible, difficult compared to many places. Appalachia has fewer railroads going through the region. With railroad being the main mode of transportation for coal, this will present a problem. Interstates have been built through Appalachia. Cities such as Pittsburgh and Atlanta are served by such interstates. However, Pittsburgh and Atlanta are in more favorable locations. Atlanta is technically not in the Appalachian Mountains, but in the Piedmont. However, Atlanta is close to the region, and some highways that serve Atlanta go through Appalachia. The coal, however, comes from the more remote parts of Appalachia, most notably eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia.

Appalachian coal is increasingly harder to get to. And due to the geography of the region, the coal is also harder to transport out of the region compared to other places. And with more demand for low sulfur coal, less demand for Appalachia’s coal. While it still has a use in the steel mills, the steel mills have their own changes. Changes in technology, the diversifying in energy, these are factors that need to be considered. The Powder River Basin has coal that is easier to reach, and coal that is easier to ship. More coal can be shipped from this region because the railroad infrastructure is more widely available.

The steel industry can get stronger. However, the likelihood of coal being a factor, while still there, will decline in its prevalence. Coal is in lesser demand these days. Even if environmental regulations were to be lifted, Appalachian coal is harder to get to compared to coal from other regions. In the end, geography, impact on an areas’s health, the economics of supply and demand, and technological changes will play bigger factors than any politician ever could.

Red Cedars: A Biogeography Lesson

Those long evergreen trees standing out from the green and tawny grass in fields. They aren’t as tall as pine trees. However, they have their significance.

Juniperus virginiana, the eastern red cedar. True to its scientific name, the red cedar(also known as the eastern red cedar) is actually a type of juniper. This tree has been used for making pencils because its wood is soft, but strong a durable. However, so many trees were cut down that other species of trees were used.

The eastern red cedars can still be found in the USA today. It is exclusive to the eastern USA and grows in a variety of soils. They are typical found in fields, abandoned land, or limestone hills. When land has been damaged, this is among the first trees to repopulate an area. Pioneer species it is called.

Earth Day 2016: Kudzu, invasive species.

800px-Kudzu_on_trees_in_Atlanta,_GeorgiaWhen we think of environmental issues,  we think of dumping oil in sewers, air pollution, oil spills,etc. Rarely do we think of certain plants and animals themselves.

One think to think about is the issue of invasive species. Introducing a non-native species to an ecosystem, and it could harm that ecosystem.

The kudzu is a good example. Kudzu is native to East Asia, and introduced to the USA. It grew unchecked due to no natural enemies and has harmed native plants. To lear more, watch the video below.