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.

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.