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.

The Normandy Landings

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June 6, 1944. The largest seaborne military operation would come into fruition. It would be a military operation that would alter the course of WWII, the Western Front. The Normandy region of France was under Nazi occupation at the time.  Allied forced landed on the beaches of Normandy. What would becoming known as D-Day would begin the liberation of northwest France from Nazi occupation.

With war, there is an immense amount of geography that is involved. With geography, there are maps to go along with this.

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This is a naval map showing the bombardments, areas cleared of land mines, the code names of the beaches under the invasion, locations of the ships involved in the D-Day invasion, the batteries. If you look towards the far east, you can see where the city of Le Havre is.

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Remember this. The invasion occurred on beaches, but it wasn’t just beaches involved. People live in places where the invasions take place. Cities, towns, that were under the occupation of the Nazis, being freed by Allied forces.  Le Havre is an important maritime city with a tradition as a seafaring city.  Le Havre was under Nazi occupation. Being a port city, the Nazis destroyed port facilities in Le Havre. Le Havre was destroyed by war.

And then there is the weather. Weather is influenced by geography, and often part of the geography. The day of the invasion was planned by many factors. Tides were a big factor. Considering the cycle of the moon, high tide was taken into consideration. A dawn invasion would be ideal. A time would be needed during the transition between low tide and high tide. And with the full moon, the moon’s illumination would also help pilots. Obstacles on the beach could be seen, and at the same time, soldiers would not deal with as much exposure during the invasion. The invasion was originally scheduled for June 4, 1944. However, high winds and heavy seas made such a task impractical.

On the day of the invasion, this was the weather map below.

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To give a lesson in weather, H = High Pressure. L = Low Pressure. In the Normandy region, there was an occluded front. Notice the low pressure system between Scotland and Norway. And then notice the cold front coming from Norway and Sweden. Then notice the Azores High Pressure System off the coast of Portugal. A warm front clashing with a cold front, resulting in an occluded front in France, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Germany.

The invasion of Normandy proved to be the beginning of the end of the Nazis in the Western Front. So much involving geography and weather went into this invasion. Planning the invasion involved maps, geographic knowledge, knowledge of tides and weather.

 

Qatar’s Air Travel Dilemma

A small peninsula jutting out into the Persian Gulf has made the news on the week of June 5th, 2017. Why?

Because that peninsula is the nation of Qatar, and it involves the nation’s airspace. Or rather, how diplomacy is affecting airspace. This past week, the nation of Qatar is undergoing accusations of funding terrorism in the Gulf region. As a result, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates have discontinued ties with Qatar. To put this into a geopolitical perspective, check out the map below.

map-of-qatar

Qatar is surrounded by the nations that are cutting diplomatic ties with it. There is something more to consider: Travel. Air space.

If an airplane flies out of Qatar, it will be entering the airspace of ALL THREE of the nations cutting ties with it. This is a problem because airplanes flying out of Qatar are not allowed into the airspace of those countries.

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Photo by Business Insider/IVAO

Look at this map. Bahrain’s airspace sits in between Qatar’s airspace and Iran’s airspace. In short, Airplanes from Qatar cannot go anywhere. A small amount of airspace would be a problem. However, geography is about LOCATION. If Qatar’s airspace could extend directly to Iran’s airspace, a ban on Qatar planes into surrounding airspace would be costly, but tolerable.

Qatar Airways has its base in Doha, the capital of Qatar. Flights bound for Qatar wouldn’t be able to Doha without traveling through airspace it is banned from traversing. What will this cost? This would cost Qatar Airways a large amount of money. If all flights to and from a certain place are grounded, this costs alot of money. And then people have to fly back to Qatar.

Currently, UAE, and Bahrain are part of the  International Air Services Transit Agreement. Legally, they cannot prevent flights from Qatar from traversing their airspace. However, the aforementioned nations could opt out of the treaty. Saudi Arabia, however, is not part of that treaty and can enforce a travel ban on planes flying from Qatar. What would this cost?

Travel to the African continent would essentially be longer and more costly. Flights to South Africa would be hit hard. And this is if flights from Qatar Airways are allowed to fly through UAE airspace, because that is the route flights would have to take if they are banned from traveling through Saudi Arabia’s airspace.

The Gulf region in the Middle East has historically been a contentious region. There have been many conflicts over a millennium. This is just the latest. Could another war break out in the region? How will Qatar’s economy be affected by this? If people cannot easily fly to a place, they will likely not want to do business there, or be tourists there. There are so many implications to consider. Geography, geopolitical, and economic.

How Geography Helped and Hurt Buffalo.

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Today, the city of Buffalo has a population of 258,071 people. This is a far cry from its 1950 peak of 580,132 people. Buffalo’s rapid fall in population is characteristic of American cities located in the Rust Belt(such as Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, etc). However, with Buffalo, one particular case to consider is geography.

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Geography has helped Buffalo grow. It is also been Buffalo’s down fall. Buffalo was a major break-in-bulk point. This is where goods are transferred from one mode of transportation to another. Buffalo is located along the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Goods would often traverse from the upriver cities such as Montreal and Quebec City to Detroit and Chicago. After the Erie Canal was built, this connected Buffalo to New York City via the Hudson River. With Niagara Falls standing between Buffalo and the rest of the watercourse, a stop at Buffalo would be necessary. Goods would have to change modes of transportation at Buffalo. Goods coming from upriver along the Saint Lawrence Seaway would break bulk in Buffalo, and goods would be shipped further west from there.

And then Niagara Falls itself was a major benefactor. The waterfalls provided water power for the mills that would crop up in Buffalo. Buffalo became a major flour milling center.

This is where geography has become Buffalo’s downfall. The Welland Canal was built in the province of Ontario, along the Niagara Escarpment. The Welland Canal extends from Port Weller,ONT to Port Colburne, ONT. Because of the canal, ships traversing the Saint Lawrence Seaway can travel west and descend the Niagara Escarpment without going to Buffalo,NY.  There is no need to break bulk anymore. In addition to the decline of the steel industry in Buffalo, the city of Buffalo would be bypassed because of the canal. Fewer ships going through the canal means fewer goods going in and out of Buffalo.

Buffalo’s geography helped it become a major shipping and manufacturing center. Geography would also hurt it. Break in bulk shipping has been declining due to containerized shipping. However, for Buffalo, the ability to be bypassed due to an alternate waterway expedited this process.

 

Buffalo’s economy is transitioning from a mainly manufacturing economy to an economy centered on the medical industry, financial industry, biomedical engineering, education, and technology. There is one thing hurting Buffalo, in geographic terms. There is a trend for more working professionals to move to large southern cities(such as Atlanta, Charlotte, and Nashville), Texas(Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin,etc) and western cities(Phoenix, Denver, Portland, etc). Buffalo has a markedly lower cost of living than the aforementioned cities. However, these cities have an advantage. These cities have milder climates than Buffalo. Even with Denver’s cold winter, it has the advantage of being less cold, having drier air and having the Rocky Mountains nearby for recreation.

There is something else to consider. Buffalo is the snowiest city of 250,000+ residents. The city gets close to 95 inches (240-241 cm) of snow each year. Buffalo is the 8th largest metropolitan area in the Great Lakes region.  Of all of the metropolitan areas, only Buffalo is projected to lose over 150, 000 people (not just Buffalo city). Cleveland is next on the list in terms of snowiest cities with 250,000+ residents. However, it occupies the 4th highest spot for Great Lakes metropolitan areas. Of the top 5 metros in the Great Lakes region, only Cleveland metro gets close to 90 inches of snow annually. Chicago, Milwaukee, Toronto, and Detroit all get high snowfall totals. However, none of those metros average snowfall totals above 55 inches of rain annually. Buffalo and vicinity averages 95-100 inches of snow annually. While this is good for the slopes of the Rocky Mountains, it isn’t good for living in urbanized areas. While the Great Lakes region becomes very cold in the winter, the most populated areas of the region are in the areas that don’t receive the most snow. Why does Buffalo get so much snow, but not Detroit, Chicago, or Toronto?

The Lake Effect. This is what happens when northwesterly winds swept down the Great Lakes. Chicago and Toronto are located on the western and northern shores of their respective lakes. The winds hit those cities before hitting the lakes. Buffalo and Cleveland, on the other hand, are along the southern and eastern shores of their lakes. The winds pass the lakes, picking up moisture, and then snowfall is deposited in large amounts on those cities. Cleveland became markedly larger than Buffalo and has not had to deal with the same geographic bypassing that Buffalo has dealt with. Detroit, though part of the Great Lakes region, is on the Detroit River, and not on a lake. It doesn’t get much of the lake effect. And being a river city, Detroit is still an important shipping corridor.

If leaves alot to wonder what might be next for Buffalo. Manufacturing and transportation geography helped Buffalo. The decline of manufacturing and its geography have hurt it as well. It has gone from a break in bulk point to being bypassed thanks to the Welland Canal. It has gone from a major manufacturing center to becoming a city where white collar industries are the growing industry. Buffalo’s economy can still benefit from white collar industries. Its low cost of living could make it a place for a young professional to move to. However, its particularly harsh winters are likely to make a comeback difficult. The trend in the USA is to move to cities in the southern and western USA. This is due to relatively milder climates, more recreational opportunities, and the growing economies in many of aforementioned places. While the Great Lakes region is not a place where many professionals are seeking to move to as a whole, Buffalo is being hit particularly hard by its own geography.

Peachless in Georgia

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If you go to Georgia, one thing you will quickly figure out is that it’s called “The Peach State”. It isn’t just a nickname. It is a big part of the state.  Georgia isn’t the biggest producer of peaches, but it’s among the top 4 states.

California – 620,000 tons

South Carolina – 60,800 tons

Georgia – 33,000 tons

New Jersey – 21,050

Source: http://www.agmrc.org/commodities-products/fruits/peaches/

California produces 49 percent of the USA’s peaches. However, it’s the 3rd largest state in the USA. Georgia is a leading grower of peaches. And it has the climate for it. A state with a humid, subtropical climate with cool to mild winters and hot summers is climate that peaches can grow in. Peach crops are tolerant to frost. However, Georgia gets lesser amounts of cold weather compared to other regions in the USA, considering that it’s in the Southeastern USA.

This year, however, Georgia may not be a big leader in peach production. Why? WEATHER. For those who do not get the difference between weather and climate, a simple explanation. Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get. Watch the video below to get a better idea.

This is what happened. Georgia had one of its warmest winters ever. Apart from the ice storm that hit the Atlanta area on 6-7 January 2017, there are many days when high temperatures reached the upper 60s/low 70s. Temperatures dropping below freezing serves to prevent blooming from taking place. Unless there is a guarantee that no killing frost will take place, it is best not to have prolonged periods of warm weather in the winter. Georgia had these prolonged periods of warm weather, and then in early March, a freeze took place. This killed half of the state’s peach crops. The plants likely bloomed too early and were not given a chance to become full-grown peaches thanks to an early March freeze.

What impact will this have? Let us start with the price of peaches. Supply and demand applies to economics, and this can be affected by things such as geography and weather. Fewer peaches, but the demand remains the same, the prices goes up. Farmers will also be at a loss. Money will be lost because of the loss of product.

Weather is different from climate. What can be grown in a geographic area is often determined by climate. Weather, on the other hand, isn’t as certain.

Photo by WABE 90.1

Ottawa,Capital Of Canada, Why Geography Matters

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As of 2017, the nation of Canada will be 150 years old. With that said, let’s do a little quickfacts.

Capital: Ottawa.

Anyone could memorize the capitals of nations and provinces. However, there is more to a capital city than that.

Ottawa isn’t the largest city in Canada. It’s not even the largest city in Canada’s most populated province, Ontario. Both titles are reserved for Ontario’s capital and largest city, Toronto. What would give Ottawa the title, Capital of Canada?

Well, geography matters. In Ottawa’s case, very much so. Look at where Ottawa is located. It is in Ontario, but it straddles the border with Quebec. It sits between an English speaking province and a French speaking province. Ottawa metro itself is a bilingual area. French and English are spoken here. It is roughly equidistant between Windsor,ONT, on the border with Detroit,USA, and Quebec City, Quebec. This is the most densely populated area in Canada, with metropolitan areas such as Toronto, Montreal, Quebec, Hamilton,etc.

Now lets take a trip further back. Ottawa was founded as Bytown in 1826. At the time, Canada was Upper Canada and Lower Canada. Ottawa was in Upper Canada. The capital was York, now called Toronto. Quebec City was the capital of Lower Canada. In 1841, the Province of Canada was founded. Kingston (not to be confused with Jamaica’s capital city) was the first capital. Then it was Montreal. Next was Toronto. After that, the capital switched between Quebec and Toronto until 1866. In 1857, Queen Victoria (this was before Canada became a sovereign nation) ordered the capital be built and moved to Ottawa. Why Ottawa?

Ottawa, at that time, located around woodlands and relatively remote. And yet, this was chosen for capital city. It was further away from border with the USA. It is located on the Ottawa River, giving access to Montreal. The Rideau Canal would given Ottawa access to Kingston. Ottawa is also centrally located relative to Montreal, Quebec, Toronto, and Kingston.

 

Geography matters in why Ottawa is the capital of Canada. It mattered in 1866, and it matters now. Movement played a factor. Place as well. Capitals aren’t just randomly placed.

Nashville, Why Geography Matters.

Nashville today, the capital, and second largest city in Tennessee. It is known as the epicenter for country music in the USA. However, one thing has not been considered about Nashville, GEOGRAPHY.

Why geography matters for Nashville. Consider the reason it was founded. Many do not know that the Cumberland River was and is a big part of Nashville’s raison d’etre. Nashville’s location along the Cumberland River allowed for riverboat travel. The Cumberland is a tributary of the Ohio River. This means goods from Nashville could be shipped to markets in the Upper South/Lower Midwest USA. Nashville is close to Tennessee’s geographic center, and being on the Cumberland, it was on a major trading route.

Nashville today is still an important center for barge travel. Barges still traverse the Cumberland River today. Goods still travel by river to, through, and from Nashville. Of course, nowadays, airplanes and trucks travel in and out of Nashville as well. However, the river is still an important, though not always appreciated, part of Nashville’s geography. The Riverfront has become a place of recreation, thus, geography continues to shape Nashville. The barges remain, but now, recreation, from walking trails, to the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium, are along the Cumberland’s waterfront. Many do not know how important the Cumberland is and has been for Nashville. It isn’t located on more prominent rivers like the Ohio(like Pittsburgh and Cincinnati area) or the Mississippi(with St. Louis, New Orleans, and Minneapolis are located on). However, it is a river city, and the river shapes Nashville, just as much as country music and Greek Revival architecture does.