Thursday, 5 June 2014

What is inside the Earth?

This is a great little video clip which demonstrates that we really do not know what is going on inside the mantle, but we are beginning to get an idea ... and crystals in igneous rock are, more importantly, very pretty!

Cross section through igneous rock crystals
John Maclennan from the University of Cambridge's Department of Earth Sciences explains all clearly in this slideshow with a commentry from the Beeb.

Move every mountain ...

This is landscaping on a massive scale! 
Satellite images of western Shiyan between 2010 (Left) and 2012 (Right) show that several peaks have been flattened

In simple terms the Chinese government have decided that they need more flat land to build new cities for their continuously increasing population. So they will take the tops off the mountains and use the rock to fill the valleys. Simple, logical but perhaps not very environmentally friendly.
Owing to the size of their population, China have to do things on a massive scale. The Three Gorges Dam was enormous and the huge impact that it had on local villagers and the environment, was deemed a necessary sacrifice for the electricity and water that the dam promised.
But is this landscaping a step too far? These works will impact upon the hydrology as well as a huge variety of ecosystems. Are there any alternatives?

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Google Car and Geography

Now I don't want to seem negative but ...  I am not overjoyed by the thought of the new Google car, for a whole variety of reasons including the impact that it could have on teaching geography.

Despite the obvious question raised by my children: "where do we sit?"; this is another step along the way to Googletopia, a world where people's freedom to think and make there own decisions are managed to the point of exclusion. Yes, the car is very clever and it could increase traffic flow and improve the efficiency of our road network; but can they not see that it it just, well, wrong? 
Is it not far away from the vision of a future shown in Disney's Wall-E. Here the obese population are ferried around on the floating armchairs to wherever the computer decides.

I know that this is a bit of a diatribe and but we know about Google's clever marketing algorithms: will the route be the fastest, or will it only take you to locations sponsored by Google? I am looking forward to Top Gear reviewing the car and I am sure that Clarkson is already salivating with the thought of all of the witty bilious scorn that he can pour upon it on behalf of the people who actually enjoy driving. 
I suppose that this car is just a natural development from the bliinkered followers of SatNavs: people do not really know where they are going and their mental map of the world is turning into a topological map comprising useful places and their distance apart. As a geographer, this is worrying as it is continuing the erosion of spatial knowledge and understanding that TomTom and friends started a decade ago. It will take away people's curiosity about their world and reduce the opportunities available to explore and ask key geographical questions. The computer-car will obviate the need to look up from our tablets and smartphones and convert our world into a series of 'nodes' where we work, shop, play and live. Geography is about where places are and why. We are interested in the gaps between these nodes and there is a real danger that the majority of our countryside will turn into white space on the computer-car's map: not important; not interesting. How wrong can you get? This is where all of the fun and exciting stuff happens. Do we want to just be parcels carried our road network like bits of unthinking information in a circuit board? 
Nice try Google but I prefer the real world to your virtual motorised bubble.