Continents, countries, regions, localities…

Striking Patterns of Population Change in U.S. Metropolitan Areas, 2020-2022

The 2020 to 2022 COVID period saw major population changes in the metropolitan areas of the United States, with some experiencing rapid gains and others rapid losses. Wildwood-The Villages, Florida, for example, saw a staggering 11.75 percent population increase, whereas Lake Charles, Louisiana witnessed a sobering decline of 6.01 percent. Mapping these changes reveals some interesting patterns.

The first map, showing population change in major metropolitan areas (defined here as those with more than 1.5 million people in 2002) exhibits clear regional differences. A stark north/south divide is evident in the region east of the Mississippi River. Here, every major metro area in the South saw population gains, some significant. So too did three out four in the lower Midwest (Columbus, OH, Cincinnati, OH, and Indianapolis, IN), although by smaller margins. By contrast, every major metropolitan area in the Northeast and upper Midwest lost population. In the western two-thirds of the country, population declines were restricted to the Pacific Coastal region. Here every major metropolitan area except Seattle saw a decline. Texas, in contrast, is notable for its rapid metropolitan expansion, with Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio all registering major gains in this period.

Somewhat different patterns are seen on the map of secondary metropolitan areas, defined here as those with populations between 700,000 and 1.5 million in 2022. As can be seen, fewer of these smaller metro areas lost population, indicating a shift from larger to smaller cities. Intriguingly, most of those that did decline are in or near the Mississippi River and the eastern Great Lakes, the main transportation corridor of the central part of the U.S. before the coming of railroads. New Orleans (official, the New Orleans–Metairie metropolitan statistical area) saw a drop of over 3.5 percent. I was surprised to see that New Orleans is no longer populous enough to qualify for the higher categories on this map, as its population has apparently dropped below one million. A major statistical discrepancy, however, complicates this analysis. According to the Wikipedia table that I used to make this map, New Orleans–Metairie had a population of only 972,913 in 2022, having declined from 1,007,275 in 2020. The Wikipedia article on the New Orleans–Metairie metro area, however, gives it a population of 1,271,845 in 2020. But no matter how one looks at it, New Orleans has hemorrhaged population, with the city itself dropping from 627,525 residents in 1960 to 383,997 in 2020.

The secondary metro areas that saw population growth in this period also exhibit some interesting patterns. Those in the Atlantic Northeast all saw minor population gains, presumably due to people fleeing the region’s larger and more expensive major metro areas. Much more rapid expansion, however, was experienced in the secondary metro areas of the southeast, particularly in Florida and the Carolinas. Secondary metro areas in the interior West also saw substantial growth.

Even more distinct patterns are visible on the map showing the fastest growing and fastest shrinking metro areas of all sizes during this period. (Many official metropolitan areas, it is important to note, are not large; Eagle Pass, TX, for example, has fewer than 60,000 inhabitants.) As can easily be seen, most of the fastest growing metro areas are in the southeastern coastal region, stretching from the Gulf Coast of Alabama through the Atlantic Coast of the Carolinas. Florida really stands out on this map. Several smaller metro areas in the non-coastal West also saw extremely rapid growth. St. George UT, for example, went from 180,279 to 197,680 inhabitants, a gain of almost 10 percent. After having witnessed the boomtown atmosphere of Bozeman MT, which does not even qualify for this map with a growth rate of just under 5%, I have a difficult time understanding how the infrastructure of Saint George could keep up with such rapid population expansion.

In contrast, three states stand out for the rapid population decline of many of their metropolitan areas: California, Louisiana, and West Virginia (metro area #16 on this map is Weirton–Steubenville, located in both West Virginia and Ohio). Although metropolitan growth from 2020 to 2022 was concentrated in Republican-voting states, Louisiana and West Virginia form clear exceptions.

The final map shows population loss-and-gain patterns in California’s metropolitan areas during the same 2020-2022 period. Here again the pattern is clear: all coastal metro areas,  which have equable climates but are very expensive, lost population, whereas most less-expensive metro areas in the Central Valley, a region noted for its scorching summers, gained population, as did the similarly toasty San Bernardino-Riverside metro area in Southern California, the so-called Inland Empire. The college town of Chico in Butte County in the northern Central Valley (or Sacramento Valley) however, saw a significant population drop.

Tomorrow’s post will examine the geography of population change in this period in rural counties.

Air-Conditioning Needs and Cartographic Failure at the Washington Post

The Washington Post recently ran an article entitled “Addicted to Cool: How the Dream of Air Conditioning Turned into the Dark Future of Climate Change,” which features three maps of “Summer Days Requiring AC” in the U.S. at different periods of time (1981-200, 2001-2002, and 2060). As expected, the region needing air conditioning is projected to expand. Determining how many days actually “require” air conditioning is, however, an impossible task, as different people vary significantly in their cooling desires and demands, while housing design and shade considerations make big differences as well. Understandably bypassing such complexities, the newspaper used the heat index, a measurement of temperature and humidity, as a proxy. Unsurprisingly, their maps show that a large area of the country already needs summer air conditioning, and that in the decades to come the need for cooling will geographically expand.

The maps included in the article, however, are not impressive, to put it mildly. Their problems are particularly severe regarding California. As can be seen on the map detail of Southern California posted below, the Post’s mapping accurately shows the eastern deserts and the inland western regions as needing air conditioning on most if not all summer days. It also accurately depicts the highest elevation areas as rarely requiring it. But the same map also portrays the coastal zone as AC-dependent. This is not true. Downtown San Diego, for example, has an average July high temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit and an average July low of 66 (over the 1991-2020 period). Further north, in Rancho Palos Verdes, similar conditions prevail. According to Weather Spark, “The hottest month of the year in Rancho Palos Verdes is August, with an average high of 76°F and low of 64°F.” The same site also notes that “Over the course of the year, the temperature typically varies from 51°F to 76°F and is rarely below 46°F or above 84°F.” This is climate that very rarely calls for cooling.

The map is equally inaccurate in its depiction of Northern California. As can be seen on the map detail posted below, it does capture the cool summers characteristic of the coastal regions in and around San Francisco and Monterey bays. It completely misses the fact, however, that other coastal regions also have mild summers. The average July high and low temperatures in Point Arena, Santa Cruz, and Carmel are, respectively 65 and 50 degrees F.; 74 and 54; and 70 and 53 (all based on the climatological data found in the Wikipedia articles on these towns). In Point Arena, one is more likely to want heating than air conditioning in June and July, yet the map indicates that cooling is needed on most summer days.

Other odd features mar the map. As can be seen, the city of San Francisco is mislocated in the bay and on its eastern shore.  The national map also features a faint white line that traces part of San Francisco Bay and would appear to indicate the actual coastline, at least in some areas.  Was one map imprecisely overlaid on another?

Although these problems are serious enough, it is the map of projected air-conditioning needs in the year 2060 that truly fails. This can be seen easily on the paired maps showing current and projected AC requirements in California. Here much of the currently cool Big Sur coastal zone is projected to have much reduced air-conditioning needs by 2060. This region of projected cooling is bizarrely shown as extending over the Santa Lucia Range into the southern Salinas Valley, an area that now experiences warm summers (King City has an average July high of 85 degrees F.). Similarly, the currently warm inland area north of Santa Barbara is shown as being expected to have much cooler summers in 2060 than it does today, while with the rest of Southern California is projected to warm.

One can only wonder whether the cartographers in question actually examined these maps before publication, or, if they did, whether they have much of an understanding of the geography of climate. It often seems that journalists use maps as mere ornaments or, alternatively, to have the appearance of spatial precision without the substance. The maps in this article do little more than make the trite point that “more of us will need air conditioning as the climate warms.” Readers deserve better, especially from a once-great paper that is owned by the third richest person in the world.

Geographical Patterns of Income Inequality in the U.S. at the State and County Levels

I have long been intrigued by the geography of income inequality in the United States. As maps of the GINI coefficient show, income inequality is highest some of the country’s richest states (New York, Connecticut) and in some of its poorest (Louisiana, Mississippi). Similarly, some of the country’s most Democratic-voting states and some of its most Republican-voting ones are characterized by pronounced income inequality. Relatively low levels of income inequality are concentrated in an area that might crudely be described as the center-north-west, with four contiguous states occupying the lowest category on the map (Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota). Low population density characterizes states with low income inequality. All of the states in the bottom two categories on this map except Hawaii have a lower-than-average population density. Politically, these states show the same mixed pattern that characterized the most economically polarized states. Although all the states in the lowest GINI category are bright red on electoral maps, two that fall into the next lowest category (Vermont, Hawaii) are bright blue.

A county-level GINI map clarifies the geography of U.S. income inequality and reveals some interesting patterns (unfortunately, the best map that I could find on this topic is somewhat dated). As can be seen, the elevated levels of income inequality found in northeastern states is largely an urban phenomenon. In the southeast, in contrast, some counties with high GINI coefficients are metropolitan (in southeastern Florida, for example), but others are markedly rural. In Western and Great Plains states characterized by relatively low income inequality, quite a few of their rural counties have high GINI scores.

In North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana, some rural counties characterized by high income inequality also have a high percentage of Native American residents. To illustrate this correlation, I have placed a GINI map of the Dakotas next to one of indigenous population percentage. But there are a few striking exceptions to this pattern, two of which are noted on the map. As can be seen, Divide County, North Dakota has a small Native American population and a high GINI coefficient. Pete Morris’s agricultural explanation of income inequality, outlined in his comment on yesterday’s post, is probably relevant here as well. In contrast, Buffalo County, South Dakota has a large Native American population and a low GINI coefficient. Both of these counties have very small populations. Buffalo County is noteworthy for having the least populous county seat in the United States (Gann Valley, with a population of 14).

In the south-central region of the country, most counties with high levels of income inequality have large black populations. But again, interesting exceptions can be found. As can be seen, Jefferson County, Arkansas has a high percentage of Black residents and a mid-level GINI ranking. In contrast, Marshall County, Alabama has a very low percentage of Black residents and a high level of inequality. Jefferson County, intriguingly, is known for its concentration of “correctional facilities,” mostly located in and around Pine Bluff. Marshall County, Alabama, in contrast, is part of the Huntsville-Decatur Combined Statistical Area, a region noted for its many well-paid technical workers, owing largely to that presence of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, the United States Army Aviation and Missile Command, and the FBI ‘s Operational Support Headquarters. Marshall’s largest city, Albertville, is mostly noted, however, as the home of the fire-hydrant-manufacturing Mueller Company. As noted by the Wikipedia article on the city, “Albertville holds the title of “Fire Hydrant Capital of the World.” To commemorate the one millionth fire hydrant, a chrome fire hydrant was placed outside the Albertville Chamber of Commerce.”

The next GeoCurrents post will examine the geography of income  inequality in the country’s largest metropolitan areas.

Explaining Seeming Discrepancies on County-Level Income Maps of the United States

When working on a recent GeoCurrents post that involved maps of income in the United States, I noticed a few unusual patterns. A number of counties, for example, are mapped as having relatively high per capita personal income and relatively low median household income, whereas in others the opposite pattern obtains. In part this is a matter of household size, an explanation that works particularly well for Utah. Consider, for example Utah County, Utah which is characterized by relatively low per capita personal income, relatively high median household income, and a large number of people per household. In contrast, Grand County is characterized by relatively high per capita personal income, relatively low median household income, and a small number of people per household.

In Utah, the number of people per household correlates closely with religion. Members of the LDS church (Mormons) often have high fertility rates, leading to large households. Utah County, Utah, home of Brigham Young University, is usually considered the cultural center of the LDS faith. As can be seen on the second map below, Utah County has one of the highest fertility rates in the country. In contrast, Grand County has a relatively low fertility level (which is not shown in the map due to its small population) and the lowest LDS percentage in the state. Whereas Utah as a whole is roughly 62% Mormon, in Grand County the figure is only 26%.

These easy correlations, however, collapse when one examines North Dakota. As can be seen on the map below, Cavalier County has the highest per capita personal income in the state, which is why it is outlined with a heavy white line on the map posted here. But Cavalier County is also characterized by relatively low median household income and relatively few people per household. This seeming anomaly can be explained by taking into account the different way that the two income measurements are determined. Median household income is calculated by taking the income of all households in a county and finding the middle point; per capita personal income, on the other hand, is calculated by dividing the total income of all persons in the county by the population. If a county has a small population with a few very high-income individuals, the per capita personal income figure is inflated, whereas the median household income figure will remain low if most households have lower incomes.

If this explanation is correct, one would expect Cavalier County to have a relatively high Gini Coefficient, which measures the degree of inequality. The most recent GINI map of all U.S. counties that I was able to find (posted below) indicates that this is indeed the case. Overall, North Dakota is characterized by very wide range in GINI figures, which is probably largely an attribute of the small populations of most of its counties.

 Regardless of its income level, Cavalier has not exactly been a thriving county over the past century. It had more than 15,000 people in 1920 and fewer than 4,000 in 2020.

The Very Wet and Very Dry Summer of 2023 in the United States (and Its Consequences for the U.S. Corn Crop)

The 2023 meteorological summer (June-August) in the United States was both very dry and very wet, with extreme precipitation variation. As the map posted below shows, this was the driest summer since (at least) 1895 over several widely scattered parts of the country, including western Oregon, southern Arizona, western New Mexico, southern Louisiana, southeastern Texas, and the southeastern corner of Minnesota. The map also shows a small area near California’s Bay Area as having experienced its driest summer since 1895, but this particular depiction is misleading. Like most of the rest of the state, this region experiences negligible summer precipitation, getting a little over a tenth of an inch on average (see the table posted below for Antioch, CA). The difference between 0.01 inches and 0.15 inches may be large in percentage terms, but it means next to nothing in regard to actual conditions.

The 2023 summer drought in southern Minnesota, Iowa, and adjacent areas is concerning, as this area forms the heart of the U.S. corn belt. The official Drought Monitor Map shows severe to extreme drought over much of the same area. Curiously, this map also shows extreme long-term drought in parts of Kansas and Nebraska that experienced well above average summer precipitation this year. Some critics complain that the U.S. Drought Monitor is too slow to revise its mapping as conditions change.

Given such dry conditions over much of the corn belt, one might expect a reduced U.S. corn harvest in 2023. But according to an August 8 Reuters headline, “U.S. Farmers Expect Corn Harvest Could Be Second-Biggest Ever,” with the article explaining that “rains during July shepherded the crop through its critical development phase, offsetting dry conditions early in the season and hot summer temperatures.” A Successful Farming article outlines the problems faced by Minnesota farmers due to a three-year drought, while noting that technical improvements have mitigated the damage:

Bob Worth, president of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and a corn and soybean farmer in Lincoln County, Minnesota, said that improvements in seed technology is saving his farm from complete disaster despite the dry conditions: “If we had the same hybrids that we had in my early farming years,” Worth said, “we wouldn’t have a crop with as little rain as we’ve gotten.”

Despite its relatively healthy 2023 corn crop, the United States just lost its position as the world’s top corn exporter. The title was handed over to Brazil, as was that for soybeans a few years ago. According to a recent Bloomberg report (cited in Farm Policy News):

For more than half a century, US farmers dominated the international market for corn, shipping more of the critical crop than any other country to feed the world’s livestock, fill its stockpiles and manufacture its processed foods. No more. In the agricultural year ending Aug. 31, the US handed the corn-exporting crown to Brazil. And it might never get it back.

Other parts of the United States saw record-breaking precipitation in the summer of 2023. As the first map in this post shows, much of northern New England, eastern Michigan, southern California, central Wyoming, eastern Colorado, and south-central Montana experienced their wettest summer since 1985. Tropical Storm Hilary was responsible for most of this precipitation in southern California, and for some of it in central Wyoming and south-central Montana.

If the summer 2023 precipitation map had included the first three days of September, its depiction of the southwestern quadrant of the United States would have been quite different, showing much higher figures for eastern Arizona, Nevada, and parts of northern California (see the map below). A rare early-September cut-off low-pressure system rotated off the cost of far northern California during this period, bring unprecedented precipitation to many areas, as well as widely mocked misery to campers at the Burning Man Festival in northwestern Nevada.

Note on this map the extraordinarily steep gradient on the seven-day late-August to early-September rainfall map in northern California. Here areas getting less than five percent of average precipitation in this period are almost adjacent to those getting over 600 percent. This seeming anomaly was partly the result of a sharp precipitation cut-off in the recent storm, with entrained bands of rainfall hitting some areas repeatedly while leaving nearby areas completely dry. But it is also, again, a consequence of the extremely dry average conditions in this region at this time of the year.

Immigration and Religion in Turkey’s 2023 Presidential Election

In the Turkish presidential election of May 2023, long-term leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan decisively defeated his challenger Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, taking 52.18 percent of the vote to Kılıçdaroğlu’s 47.82 percent. The results were a surprise to many, as in April most polls had put Kılıçdaroğlu ahead, some by a commanding lead. In this election, Erdoğan’s opposition had finally forged a united front. Pronounced inflation, mounting indebtedness, and a devastating earthquake contributed to a widespread feeling that Erdoğan was headed to defeat. Yet in the end, Erdoğan received a higher percentage of the vote than he had in 2014 and only slightly less than in 2018.

Erdoğan is generally regarded as a strongly nationalist, right-wing populist with somewhat authoritarian inclinations, and for good reasons. Kılıçdaroğlu, in contrast, is a figure of the left, having been vice president of the Socialist International from 2012 to 2014. Yet on the crucial issues of immigration and refugees, Kılıçdaroğlu situated himself to the right of Erdoğan, at least in terms of how the left-right spectrum is conceptualized in the United States and Europe. As the election approached, moreover, Kılıçdaroğlu intensified his anti-immigrant rhetoric, telling his supporters that, “We will not abandon our homeland to this mentality that allowed 10 million irregular migrants to come among us.” (The figure is probably closer to five or six million, which is still a huge number for a country of 85 million.) Kılıçdaroğlu went so far as to seek and gain the support of the far-right anti-immigration politician Ümit Özdağ. A few days before the election the two men signed a seven-point protocol, one line of which stipulated that “All asylum seekers and fugitives, especially Syrians, will be sent back to their countries within one year at the latest.” At roughly the same time, Özdağ released a short film showing “a dystopian Turkey, dangerous for Turks and governed by Syrians, where speaking in Turkish is forbidden.” It quickly went viral on social media.

Did Kılıçdaroğlu’s increasingly harsh immigration stance contribute to his defeat? Some observers think so. According to Sinan Ciddi, “Kilicdaroglu’s turn to the political right appeared desperate and inconsistent, and likely turned off some Kurdish voters.” It is also noteworthy that Kilicdaroglu did not do very well in most areas with concentrated refugee populations (see the paired maps below). But overall, anti-immigrant rhetoric probably cost Kılıçdaroğlu few votes. Turkey’s massive refugee population is widely viewed as placing an intolerable burden on social order and the economy. As noted in a 2019 article, “83 percent of Turks said they view Syrian refugees negatively, while only 17 percent said they viewed them positively.”

Many observers credit Kılıçdaroğlu’s defeat instead to his lackluster campaign, a lack of genuine unity in his camp, and his neglect of core economic issues – as well as to the underhanded methods employed by Erdoğan’s campaign. Ciddi, however, claims that “the uncomfortable truth is that Erdogan won because Kemal Kilicdaroglu was his opponent,” arguing that the 74-year-old candidate’s “nomination was imposed from the top, with little to no deliberation.” A more dynamic opposition candidate who had been selected democratically, he implies, probably would have won.

Kılıçdaroğlu’s religious faith also probably contributed to his defeat. He is a member of the minority Alevi sect, a Shia offshoot that is followed by roughly 15 percent of the population of Turkey, otherwise a strongly Sunni country. Alevism is noted for its liberal and cosmopolitan orientation and for its belief that the core tenets of Islam should be interpreted in a decidedly non-literal manner. According to many strict Sunnis, Alevis do not even belong to the Muslim community. By publicly embracing his faith in the campaign, Kılıçdaroğlu took a calculated risk.  As the French political scientist Elise Massicard argues:

He broke a taboo. Until then, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s Alevi identity had been seen more as an incriminating campaign argument, as Alevis have a bad and often sulfurous reputation among a predominantly Sunni population. In recent years, they have been largely excluded from the power channels of Turkish President Recep Tayyip [Erdogan]’s AKP [Justice and Development Party] and its associated resources. This “coming out” – when everyone in Turkey knows Kılıçdaroğlu is an Alevi – is a way of reclaiming that identity and turning the stigma around.

Did such a “coming out” insure Kılıçdaroğlu’s defeat? I was told as much by a prominent Turkish intellectual, whose anonymity I respect. What is most clear, however, is that Kılıçdaroğlu performed extremely well in Alevi dominated areas. At the provincial level, his best showing was in Tunceli, the only Turkish province with an Alevi majority. (Although no numbers are provided, this is clear on the Wikipedia map of the election posted below.) The same pattern is more strikingly evident on the Electoral Geography 2.0 district-level map. Yet as this map also shows, Kılıçdaroğlu’s margin of victory was even larger in a few districts located far from Tunceli. Some of these showings, however, are explicable on the same religious grounds. Kılıçdaroğlu scored an overwhelming victory, for example, in Damal in the far northwest, and Damal is a district “populated by Alevi Turkmens.” But at the same time, Kılıçdaroğlu did not do well in many areas in Anatolia with sizable Alevi minorities, which might indicate strong anti-Alevi sentiments among their majority populations.

We shall examine other geographical patterns in the 2023 Turkish election in the next GeoCurrents post.

Is Georgia an Asian Country, a European Country, or a Transcontinental Country?

According to many standard geographical reference works, only a few countries span continental boundaries. World Atlas, for example, lists four “contiguous transcontinental countries”: Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, and Egypt. World Population Review adds only Denmark to its transcontinental list, owing to Denmark’s non-contiguous dependency of Greenland, which is oddly excluded from its inappropriate Mercator-projection map (posted below). But as careful cartographers and geographical compilers note, the list of transcontinental countries is considerably longer, especially if one includes non-contiguous cases. The most comprehensive map of such countries that I have found comes from an anonymous Reddit contributor (posted below), as is often the case.

As “Fearlessredditor’s” map indicates, the Republic of Georgia is, by conventional criteria, a contiguous transcontinental country, as is its eastern neighbor, Azerbaijan. According to the most widely used definition, the watershed divide formed by the Greater Caucasus Range separates Europe from Asia in the area between the Black and Caspian seas. Almost all Georgian territory lies south of this divide, but a small area is situated to the north, and is therefore “officially” part of Europe. I have highlighted this remote, sparsely populated area in red on an interesting “Orographic Scheme” map found in the National Alas of Georgia (2018). The road that links one part of this region (Tusheti) to the rest of Georgia has been deemed the “World’s Most Dangerous Road” by one YouTube contributor, but I have been on roads in other parts of the world that I suspect are far more dangerous.

Although now standard, the watershed of the Greater Caucasus is only one of many continental divides that have been inscribed across the Caucasus region. As the Wikipedia map posted below indicates, almost all bifurcate Georgia. Historically speaking, Georgia might therefore be regarded as a quintessentially transcontinental country.

It is also of interest that the boundary between Russia and Georgia passes through many of the highest peaks of the central Greater Caucasus Range, but many of these peaks are located to the north of the drainage divide. A detail of a physical map of Georgia found in the country’s National Atlas (2018) shows this feature; I have highlighted the northward flowing Argun River (Arghuni in Georgian) to make it more clearly visible.

Regardless of its small “European” segment, Georgia is conventionally classified as an Asian country. Most Georgians, however, resent this designation, cogently arguing on cultural, historical, and geopolitical grounds that Georgia should be classified as part of Europe. The National Atlas of Georgia (2018) evocatively describes Georgia as “the balcony of Europe” (p. X). As noted in a Wikipedia article, “Despite its geography, Georgia is considered a European country geopolitically because of its historical, cultural, ethnical, and political ties to the continent.”

In my own view, “Asia” is an essentially meaningless category, and I therefore use the term only in regard to geographical discourse, rather than in regard to geography itself. Southwest Asia, on the other hand, is a serviceable regional designation – but it does not include Georgia (or Armenia). In what world region should these countries therefore be placed? Europe does seem to be the only realistic choice. For historical discussions, however, it might be best to consider the Caucasus as a world region in its own right, one that includes not just Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, but also the greater north Caucasus and perhaps even Iranian Azerbaijan and northeastern Turkey. The final map posted here, by Georgian cartographer Manana Kurtubadze, nicely captures the physical geography of this expanded Caucasus region.

Using “Text-On-Maps” Search to Explore the Mapping of Circassia and the Circassian Genocide

As was explored in the previous GeoCurrents post, Circassia often appeared on maps of Asia and of the world before the twentieth century. But how did the mapping of Circassia change over time? This has not been an easy question to answer, but advances in text recognition are now making it much more feasible. A collaboration between the Machines Reading Maps project and the David Rumsey Map Collection is currently pioneering such a program. Although it is still in the testing stage, the new “text on maps” search function should be both visible and editable by late 2023 through the LUNA viewer system that is used to access maps in the David Rumsey Collection online. This post, like the previous one, relies on a beta version of this technology to quickly locate instances in which the term “Circassia”* (or “Circassie,” in French) appears in geo-rectified maps held in the Rumsey collection. As this system is further honed, many more appearances of the term “Circassia” will probably be found on the maps in the collection. I therefore hope to revisit this issue some months from now to see how the results change. (For more information on on “search maps by words, see this article by Valeria Vitale.)

Preliminary though it is, my investigation yielded clear results. Appearances of the term “Circassia” increase dramatically in the early and mid-nineteenth century and then rapidly diminish, disappearing altogether by the turn of the twentieth century (see the histogram posted below). A single late outlier (dated 1901) turns out to be a historical map, designed to depict the situation not at the time of publication but a century earlier, at the time of Napoleon. Appearances of the French term “Circassie” follow a similar pattern.

The increase in appearances of the term Circassia in the nineteenth century no doubt reflects, in part, the sheer number of maps in the Rumsey collection from that era. But it is also true that Circassia gained attention from the Western public as the Russian Empire engaged in its increasingly brutal war against the Circassian people. Once that war had been concluded, with the Circassian people mostly either expelled or slaughtered, the term “Circassia” on maps receded and disappeared. First the people were removed from the place, and then the place was removed from our maps. Cartographic invisibility no doubt contributed to the erasure of the Circassian genocide from the public imagination.

My preliminary investigation also found changes in the way Circassia was cartographically depicted from the seventeenth to the ninereenth century. Earlier mapping often showed it as extending over a large area, including most of the steppe zone between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea (see the previous post). Later depictions tend to be more modest, limiting Circassia to the northern and especially northwestern portion of the Caucasus and the lowlands immediately north of it. Some maps from the later period, however, severely misconstrue its location. A John Dower map of 1836, for example, misplaces Circassia south rather than north of the Caucasus range. A French map from 1834 places Circassia in the northeastern Caucasus (Chechnya and Dagestan essentially), while a British map from 1844 puts it outside of the mountain zone altogether, situating it in the lowlands to the east of the Sea of Azov. Most interesting is an 1821 table equating modern and classical place names, which identifies Circassia with Colchis (western Georgia) and Bosphorus (meaning the Cimmerian Bosporus, or the Strait of Kerch region).

The Western public was deeply intrigued by Circassian people in the early and mid-nineteenth century, owing both to Russian assaults on the region and to the popular notion that the Circassians were the world’s most beautiful people. But perceptions of the actual geography of Circassia evidently remained rather vague throughout this period.

What Is the Black Sea? (Part 1)

The Wikipedia article on the Black Sea begins by asserting that “The Black Sea is a marginal mediterranean sea of the Atlantic Ocean lying between Europe and Asia…” This definition is not helpful, as it obscures more than it reveals.

Let us begin with the assertion that the Black Sea is a marginal sea. Wikipedia defines a “marginal sea” as follows: “A marginal sea is a division of an ocean, partially enclosed by islands, archipelagos, or peninsulas adjacent to or widely open to the open ocean at the surface, and/or bounded by submarine ridges on the sea floor.” The Black Sea, however, is not even remotely “widely open to the open ocean”: the distance from Istanbul, near the entrance to the Black Sea, to Gibraltar, near the opening to the “open ocean,” is 1,871 miles, or 3,011 kilometers. In the map posted below, I “erased” the Mediterranean Sea to illustrate the separation of the Black Sea from the ocean. Classifying the Black Sea as part of the Atlantic Ocean strains credulity. The very concept of “marginal sea,” moreover, is itself strained. As the second map below shows, many bodies of water that are officially classified as marginal seas are not “partially enclosed by islands, archipelagos, or peninsulas.” None of the officially delimited Antarctic seas have any real degree of surface enclosure. Nor are they divided from the open ocean by “submarine ridges on the sea floor.”

The definition of a “mediterranean sea” (note the lower-case “m”), unlike that of a “marginal sea,” is clearly formulated and technical. According to Wikipedia, “A mediterranean sea is, in oceanography, a mostly enclosed sea that has limited exchange of water with outer oceans and whose water circulation is dominated by salinity and temperature differences rather than by winds or tides.” The same article lists eight “mediterranean seas,” which I have mapped (see below). It also divides this kind of sea into two categories: “concentration basins,” which are saltier than the open ocean, and “dilution basins,” which are less salty (see the second map below). Note that the Mediterranean is itself split on this basis, with the Adriatic forming a dilution basin and the rest of its waters a concentration basin. As these two different forms of “mediterranean sea” are situated on opposite sides of the open ocean regarding salinity, it might be more accurate to label a dilution basis an “anti-mediterranean sea.”

One thing that is clear is about the Black Sea is that it is not part of the Mediterranean Sea. The Wikipedia cited above, however, implies that it is: “The Eurafrican Mediterranean Sea is also a concentration basin as a whole, but the Black Sea and the Adriatic Sea are dilution basins …”  Elsewhere in the article the Black Sea is classified as part of a plural entity dubbed the “Mediterranean Seas”: “The namesake Mediterranean Seas, including the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov, …” Evidently, a certain degree of confusion clouds these categories.

In geo-historical terms, the Black Sea belongs in a category of its own, as will be explored in the next GeoCurrentspost.

Language, Religion, and the Changing Ethnic Geography of the Republic of Georgia

The Republic of Georgia is a clear example of an ethno-national state. According to its 2014 census, 86.8% of its people are ethnic Georgians. Ethnic Georgians are generally reckoned as those people who speak either Georgian or one of its sister Kartvelian languages (Mingrelian and Svan) as their mother tongue. Most ethnic Georgians identify with the Georgian Orthodox Church, although the Georgian-speaking Sunni Muslims of Adjara in the southwest are also included in the ethnic group. As the map posted below indicates, western Georgia (excluding the break-away state of Abkhazia) is overwhelmingly populated by ethnic Georgians, whereas eastern and especially central Georgia are more diverse.

Of Georgia’s de facto lands, the south-central area has the largest non-ethnic-Georgian population. Most language maps of the country show four linguistically marked non-Georgian ethnic groups in this region: Azerbaijanis (or Azeris), Russians, Greeks, and Armenians. The latter three groups are of Christian heritage and the first is of Shia Muslim heritage. As was explored in a previous post, Georgia’s Azerbaijani population is essentially stable. It is a different story, however, for the country’s ethnic Russian, Greek, and Armenian communities. As a result of their decline, Georgia has become more ethnically Georgian than it was under Soviet rule, a process also propelled by the separation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Ethnolinguistic mapping, however, has generally not kept pace with these changes.

As can be seen in the table posted below, Armenians and Russians together accounted for more than 20% of Georgia’s population in 1959. By 1989, however, their joint total had declined to a little over 14%. After independence, the Russian (and Ukrainian) population declined precipitously, dropping to less than 1% in 2014. The population of the Armenian community was roughly cut in half in the same period. The Greek population increased slightly between 1959 and 1989, but it too collapsed after independence in 1991. Most Greek communities in both Abkhazia and south-central Georgia migrated at this time to Greece.

Georgia’s Armenian population is concentrated in the south-central part of the country, although Tbilisi still has a substantial community. As can be seen on the map below, two municipalities in the south-center have large Armenian majorities, Ninotsminda and Akhalkalaki, which are partly located on the sparsely populated Javakheti Plateau. The reduction of Georgia’s Armenian population is related both to local ethnic tensions and to strains between Georgia and Armenia, which are of relatively long-standing. In 1918, the two countries fought an inconclusive border war when they enjoyed a brief period of independence after the fall of Russian Empire. At that time, the large Armenian community in Tbilisi was subjected to various forms of persecution. (In the nineteenth century, Tbilisi had an Armenian plurality.) Since independence in 1991, relations between the two countries have been reasonably good. They are complicated, however, by both Armenia’s military alliance with Russia, which supports Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and by Georgia’s close ties with Turkey and Azerbaijan, Armenia’s main adversaries.

A Wikipedia article outline some of the more specific sources of ethnic tensions in south-central Georgia:

Tensions in Samtskhe–Javakheti have run high at times. One reason is based in the official Georgian language policy that does, officially, not allow the Armenian Language to be used in public or administrative offices, even if citizen and officer speak better Armenian than Georgian.

Some Armenian political groupings of Armenia and the Armenian diaspora, among them most notably the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), claim that Javakhk (the Armenian name for Javakheti) should belong to Armenia,United Armenia shall include all territories designated as Armenia by the Treaty of Sevres as well as the regions of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabkh), Javakhk (Armenian name for Javakheti), and Nakhchivan. However, Javakhk (Javakheti) is not officially claimed by the government of Armenia.

Ethnic Russians in Georgia have historically been concentrated in urban areas, and therefore have a minor presence on language maps of the country. The Russian-speaking area that does appear on maps is found in the now overwhelmingly Armenian-speaking municipality of Ninotsminda. Most of the Russians in this area were Doukhobours, members of a pacifist and long-persecuted religious sect that rejects the Russian Orthodox priesthood and its rituals. The Doukhobours initially settled in the region in the 1840s. Many subsequently moved to Canada, but others remained. In Ninotsminda, they enjoyed relatively “favorable conditions” according to the Wikipedia article on the municipality. After the independence of Georgia, however, most of them abandoned their homes and moved to Russia.

Over the past decade, the population flow between Georgia and Russia has reversed as ethnic Russian now move to Georgia to escape the authoritarian and militaristic policies of Vladimir Putin. According to the official BusinessSetupGeorgia website, “in 2015, the highest number of immigrants in Georgia came from Russia, with a total of 92,937.” This movement accelerated after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in early 2022. Over the next year, more than 100,000 Russians relocated to Ukraine, mostly young men seeking to avoid military service. It remains to be seen whether most of them will remain in Georgia. It is also unclear what effects they are having on the country. According to a VOA article, their presence, along with the money that they carried in, have resulted in an unexpected economic boom, while also driving up rents into Tbilisi. Many Georgians welcome these refugees, sympathizing with their plight and appreciating their technical and economic talents. An article in France 24, however, claims that Russian emigres have found a “bleak new home,” arguing that they have not always been welcomed by local residents.

Many of the former ethnic Greeks of Georgia lived in cities and towns in the Black Sea region, particularly in Abkhazia. Another sizable population, visible on the maps posted above, resided in Tsalka municipality in the south-central region. In 1991, ethnic Greeks constituted roughly three-quarters of the population of the town of Tsalka and its environs. Most of their ancestors had fled the Ottoman Empire and were given refuge by the Russian Empire in semi-depopulated areas. Although identifying as Greek due to their heritage and faith, many if most of these people, known as Urums, actually spoke Turkish (see this 2012 GeoCurrents post on the Urum people). After independence, most members of this Greek community relocated to northern Greece. Some, however, attempted to returned to Tsalka, but found their houses reoccupied, generating another round of ethnic tension.

Religion often trumps language in the generation and maintenance of ethnic identity, as the case of the Turkish-speaking Greek Urums  demonstrates. But in Georgia, ethnic tensions seem to have been more intense among communities divided by language and national origin but united by faith.* Why this should be so deserves further investigation.

*The people in question do not, however, all belong to the same religious branch. The Georgian, Russian, and Greek Orthodox churches are in in communion with each other. That is not the case, however, with the Armenian Apostolic Church, which belongs to the so-called Oriental Orthodox branch of Christianity. Many Armenians in Georgia, moreover, belong to the Armenian Catholic Church, which is under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

The East/West Divide in the Republic of Georgia

The Republic of Georgia exhibits a marked east/west division. This divide is especially notable in physical geography. As can be seen on the first map posted below, western Georgia is dominated but a sizable coastal lowland, with its rivers draining into the Black Sea, whereas eastern Georgia is more elevated and drains into the Caspian Sea. As is also evident on this map, the breakaway Russian client statelet of South Ossetia extends across much of north-central Georgia, partially separating the country’s two macro-regions. As the satellite-based map of Georgia reveals, a band of forested land also marks the divide between the two halves of the country. And as can be seen in the third map posted below shows, the area in which most people speak Georgian and related Kartvelian languages as their mother-tongue is almost bifurcated into eastern and western segments by a band of rough topography that is mostly occupied by non-Georgian-speaking peoples.


Eastern and western Georgia are also climatically differentiated. The west experiences heavy year-round precipitation, with its coastal areas approaching a humid subtropical climate. Eastern Georgia, in contrast, is subhumid, with parts of its eastern extremity verging on semi-arid status. In the east, rainfall is concentrated in the late spring and early summer, as can be seen in the precipitation table posted below.

The division between western and eastern Georgia is also found in the historical and cultural spheres. Through much of the ancient period, western Georgia was dominated by the Kingdom of Colchis, whereas eastern Georgia was dominated by the Kingdom of Iberia. In the 10th and 11th centuries, Georgia was united into a single kingdom that became a powerful empire in the 12th and early 13th centuries. In the post-medieval period, however, Georgia was split into several competing kingdoms, and in the sixteenth century the western half of the country came under the rule of the Ottoman Empire while the eastern half came under the rule of the Safavid (Persian) Empire. In the early 19th century, both halves of the country were annexed by the Russian Empire. Independence as a single state did not come until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Western and eastern Georgia are also differentiated on cultural grounds.  Most notably, western Georgia is characterized by a deeper level of cultural diversity. As the map below shows, the northwest has its own distinctive languages, Mingrelian and Svan. Although these tongues are related to Georgian, they broke from the common ancestral language many centuries ago. Today, however, Mingrelian and Svan are declining and are considered endangered, as local people increasingly switch to Georgian. The breakaway statelet of Abkhazia in the far northwest is characterized by pronounced ethnolinguistic diversity, although its diversity was significantly reduced when most of the local Georgian population was expelled after the break-up of the Soviet Union. In the southwest, the Adjara region is noted for its distinctive dialect of Georgian and for the prevalence of Sunni Islam rather than Orthodox Christianity in most rural areas. Owning to such cultural distinctiveness, Adjara is officially classified as an autonomous region. (As will be explored in a later post, Shia Islam is dominant across much of south-central Georgia.)

Despite such differences between western and eastern Georgia, the country is characterized by a strong sense of national cohesion, with muted regional divisions. Georgia’s deeply rooted national identity will be explored in more detail in later posts. For the time being, I would only note that it may be of minor significance that the demographic core of western Georgia is offset to the east (in the Imereti region), while that of eastern Georgia is offset to the west (in the Tbilisi region). This pattern is clearly visible in the population cartogram posted below.

It might seem surprising that the core area of western Georgia is not located in the Black Sea coastal lowlands. The historical disease environment helps explain this pattern. Until recently, the humid and flat lands of far western Georgia had a high incidence of malaria, reducing its population and marginalized its political and economic position. Malaria was finally eliminated in the 1970s, but it returned after the collapse of the Soviet Union and was not fully extirpated until around 2010.

Wage Differences Across the Republic of Georgia

The GeoStat data page on the Republic of Georgia includes information on the Average Monthly Remuneration in Business Sector by municipality. As Georgia is divided into many municipalities, mapping these data helps reveal the level of economic differentiation across the country (assuming that the data are accurate). As the resulting map shows, income levels in the business sector vary widely across Georgia, with a low of 301 Georgian Lari a month in Shuakhevi in the southwest to a high of 1,814 Lari a month in Bolnisi in the south-center-east. (The current exchange rate is 2.56 Lari to a US dollar).


Overall, the geographical patterns found on this map are vague, with high-, middle-, and low-income municipalities scattered across most reaches of the country. But some patterns can be discerned. The area in and around Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital and by far its largest city, is a relatively high-income area, as would be expected. The Black Sea cities of Batumi and Poti also have relatively high levels of (business) income, the former noted for its tourism-based econony and the latter for its port facilities. But Georgia’s other main urban-focused municipalities (Kutaisi, Rustavi, Gori, and Zugdidi) do not rank high. To some extent, this low showing reflects the industrial decline of the post-Soviet period. As the Wikipedia articles on Kutaisi and Rustavi explain:

Kutaisi was a major industrial center before Georgia’s independence on 9 April 1991. Independence was followed by the economic collapse of the country, and, as a result, many inhabitants of Kutaisi have had to work abroad. Small-scale trade prevails among the rest of the population.

The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 proved disastrous for Rustavi, as it also caused the collapse of the integrated Soviet economy of which the city was a key part. Most of its industrial plants were shut down and 65% of the city’s population became unemployed, with the attendant social problems of high crime and acute poverty that such a situation brings.

In contrast, several primarily rural municipalities have relatively high rankings. Sitting at the top is Bolnisi, an ethnically distinctive area. Its population is primarily Azerbaijani speaking (63%). Its capital, also called Bolnisi, has an unusual ethnic history. Home around 10,000 people, Bolnisi city was established by German (Swabian) immigrants in 1818, who called their new town Yekaterinenfeld. These migrants developed the agrarian and agro-industrial infrastructure of the region, which may contribute to its current prosperity – along with gold mining. As explained in the Wikipedia article:

The main occupations of the colonist Germans were viticulture, horticulture, fruit growing and cattle breeding. At the same time, irrigation, underground drainage and irrigation canals were constructed in Yekaterinenfeld, as well as wine, cognac and cheese factories, and leather and furniture factories. The town’s contemporary economy is mostly agrarian with the notable exceptions of a winery, brewery, and a gold mine in the nearby village of Kazreti.

Several other primarily rural municipalities with relatively levels of business income have strong tourism sectors. These include Mestia in the mountainous northwest, famed for both its natural beauty and its unique architecture. As the Wikipedia article on the town of Mestia notes:

Despite its small size, the townlet was an important centre of Georgian culture for centuries and contains a number of medieval monuments, such as churches and forts, included in a list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The townlet is dominated by stone defensive towers of a type seen in Ushguli and Mestia proper (“Svan towers”). A typical Svan fortified dwelling consisted of a tower, an adjacent house (machubi) and some other household structures encircled by a defensive wall.

Kvareli, a high-income municipality in Georgia’s mountainous northeast, also has a number of tourism attractions, and is noted for its wine production. In west-central Georgia, high-income Kharagauli is the gateway to Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park. Nearby Zestafoni, another relatively high-income municipality, is another important wine-producing area, and is also the site of a large ferro-alloy plant that processes manganese ore. The ore is mined in adjacent Chiatura municipality, which also posts relatively high business-income figures.

These are obviously just preliminary observations, based on casual reading. Much more research would have to be conducted to make any conclusive statements. I was also unable to find any possible reasons for the low levels of business income in such municipalities as Vani and Shuakhevi.

Economic Geography of the Republic of Georgia, Part 1

(Note to Readers: As I have been invited to give a talk at an academic conference on the Black Sea region to be held in Batumi, Georgia in early June, I will be blogging extensively on this part of the world over the next two months. I begin today by posting several simple economic maps of the Republic of Georgia.)

The Republic of Georgia is a middle-middle-income country; according to the IMF, in 2022 its per capita Gross Domestic Product (in Purchasing Power Parity) was just below the global average (19,789 current international dollars for Georgia as compared to 20,886 for the world.) As country-level economic figures obscure regional variation, I looked for a map of “per capita GDP in Georgia by region” but did not find one. After some searching, I did locate an English-language version of a site called “Statistical Information by Regions and Municipalities of Georgia” that provides the data that can be used to make such a map. (Unfortunately, there are some minor informational discrepancies on this site; I used the “comparison of regions” feature rather than the map-based information portal, but I do not know which one has more accurate or up-to-date information.)

My main reason for making this map was to see if there is a significant economic distinction between eastern and western Georgia. As will be explored in later posts, these two halves of the country have very distinctive histories and geographies. I expected to find the highest levels of economic development in and around Tbilisi, located in the central part of eastern Georgia, which is by far the largest city in the country. I also expected to find a relatively high per capita GDP figure for the Adjara region in the southwest, where the tourist-oriented city of Batumi is located. Otherwise, I had no expectations.

The GDP map that I made, posted below, does show Tbilisi as having a significantly higher level of economic development than the rest of the country. Adjara also has a higher level of per capita GDP than the national average, although not by much. Overall, the map reveals Georgia as having relatively minor economic differentiation by region. Overall, the western part of the country has slightly higher per capita GDP figures than the eastern half, with the exceptions of Tbilisi and the region just to its north (Mtskheta-Mtianeti).

Regional per capita GDP figures can be misleading, however, as they do not necessarily reflect average income levels. Fortunately, the “Statistical Information by Regions and Municipalities of Georgia” website also has data on the “Average Monthly Remuneration of Employed Persons.” Mapping this information also shows relatively low levels of differentiation across the country, but in this case eastern Georgia comes out slightly ahead of western Georgia.

In both maps, the western region of Guria is shown as having Georgia’s lowest economic figures. Guria’s relatively low level of economic production might seem to defy the stereotype of the region in Georgian popular culture, which emphasizes the ability of its inhabitants to accomplish tasks very quickly. As noted by Bedisa Dumbadze in an article in Georgian Journal:

The explanation of the region’s name “the land of restless” is absolutely suitable for Gurians. Their smart and comical character is well-known throughout Georgia. The inhabitants of the area are thought to be relatively fast in contrast to the inhabitants of other regions. They have special habit of doing everything in a very fast manner. Sometimes it is really difficult to understand what Gurian person is talking about because they speak really fast. There are many jokes about Gurians always being in a hurry. As a result, they manage to do everything in a very short period of time.

Finally, I use the same data source to make a map of unemployment rates by region. As can be seen, Georgia as a whole has a high level of unemployment, with figures varying widely from region to region. I was surprised to see that Tbilisi has a higher-than-average unemployment rate. Even more unexpected was the relatively low unemployment rate it the eastern region of Kakheti, which is shown as having relatively low economic indicators on the other two maps.

I hope to reach a better understanding of these patterns as I continue to learn about the Republic of Georgia. I also want to see if clearer economic patterns might emerge through more fine-scale mapping. The data source that I used today also has information at the municipal level. As Georgia is entirely divided into 76 separate municipalities, such a map can be constructed for the entire country. Making this map will take some time, but I hope to be able to post it within the next week or two.

The (Temporary) Rebirth of California’s Once-Huge Tulare Lake?

The southern half of California’s vast San Joaquin Valley is almost never depicted as a desert nor is it officially classified as one. But it clearly is a desert by climatological criteria. Most of the San Joaquin Valley gets less than 10 inches of precipitation a year, with much of the southern valley receiving less than seven, and it has an extremely high rate of evaporation from late spring through early autumn. But with abundant water flowing from the adjacent Sierra Nevada range, the southern San Joaquin Valley is a verdant, intensely cultivated land. Before the late 1800s, it was the site of the third largest freshwater lake entirely within the United States (as measured by surface area). But when the rivers that formerly flowed into Tulare Lake were diverted into canals to irrigate crops, the huge lake disappeared. Today, the former lakebed is highly productive farmland with only a few small seasonal wetlands providing natural habitat.

As the paired maps posted below indicates, the extent of Tulare Lake varies greatly in different cartographic depictions. This is because the lake itself varied significantly in size on both a seasonal and multi-year basis. As Tulare Lake did not drain in most years, it would expand in winter and spring and then contract through summer and early fall. It would also grow to an especially large size in wet years and shrink dramatically in dry ones. In particularly wet years, the lake would rise high enough to drain to the sea through the San Joaquin River, thus flushing out any accumulated salt and ensuring that its water remained fresh.

A shallow and nutrient-rich lake, Tulare was extremely productive. The Yokuts people who lived around its shores were reputed to have had one of the highest levels of population density of any indigenous American ethnic group. For several decades after the gold rush, Tulare’s aquatic resources from were shipped in huge quantities to San Francisco. As the Wikipedia article on the lake notes:

Even well after California became a state, Tulare Lake and its extensive marshes supported an important fishery: In 1888, in one three-month period, 73,500 pounds of fish were shipped through Hanford to San Francisco. It was also the source of a regional favorite, western pod turtles, which were relished as terrapin soup in San Francisco and elsewhere.

Turtles in Tulare Lake were so abundant that they were even fed to hogs. Today the western pond turtle is classified as a vulnerable species, suffering from competition with invasive exotic turtle species and undermined by the loss of habitat.

Environmentalists occasionally dream about bringing back Tulare Lake, emphasizing the vital habitat that it once provided and contending that its revival would be a relatively easy way for California to store excess runoff. Such a scenario, however, is extremely unlikely. Not only is the former lakebed highly productive farmland, but it also contains the city of Corcoran, home to some 22,000 residents.

But regardless of human plans and desires, Tulare Lake will probably reappear this spring, if only for a short period, owing to the extremely heavy precipitation that has been experienced this winter in the southern Sierra. Tulare County has already seen levee-breaks and the flooding of several towns, and water is now beginning to accumulate in the old lakebed. Local flooding could easily persist as snowmelt begins in April or May. Noting such factors, a recent article by Dan Walters claims that “It’s almost certain that Tulare Lake will once again spring to life.” Walters concludes by arguing that, “the probability is generating some hopeful, if unrealistic, speculation that state and or federal governments could buy up the lakebeds fields and bring back to Tulare lake permanently.”

This season’s reborn Tulare Lake will probably evaporate over the course of the summer, which will almost certainly be hot and bone dry – as is always is in the San Joaquin Valley. But if California enters a multiyear wet cycle, which is possible although not probable, winter and spring drainage could become a big problem for the farms and towns of the Tulare Basin. The city of Corcoran well known for its continual subsidence, dropping in elevation by about two feet a year due to the overuse of groundwater. Subsidence has already created major headaches for Corcoran. As noted in The Science Times,

The town levee had to be reconstructed for $10 million after the casings of drinking-water wells were crushed, flood areas changed, and the town levee had to be rebuilt. The situation has increased homeowners’ property tax bills by around $200 a year for three years.

Another powerful storm is slated to slam into California on Tuesday, March 21. Like most of this year’s major storms, it will be most pronounced in central and southern California, largely missing the normally much-wetter northern third of the state. More than 48 inches of additional snow is expected in the southern Sierra, which drains into the Tulare Basin. Thus far this winter, the southern Sierra has received an astounding 268 percent of average annual snowfall.

As can be seen on the map posted above, the northern and central parts of the Sierra have also received much higher-than-average amounts of snow this winter, but not to the same extent as the south. This pattern is highly unusual and was not expected. Until recently, the eastern Pacific was under La Niña conditions, which usually means a drier than average wet season, especially in Southern California. By winter 2024, El Niño conditions may assert themselves, which usually means a wetter than average winter for southern and central California. If so, Tulare Lake might fill up yet again.

The Astounding Rise of the Dutch Farmer-Citizen Movement

The Netherlands is one of the world’s most densely populated and urbanized countries. But it is also a farming powerhouse; by some measures, the Netherlands is the world’s second largest agricultural exporter by value, following only the United States. The Netherlands manages to profit so handsomely from farming in such a crowded land by focusing on the intensive production of high-value crops.

By many measures, the Netherlands’ agricultural system operates in an environmentally responsible manner. In 2019, the World Economic Forum lauded the country as a leader in efficient and sustainable agriculture. But Dutch farmers, like almost all others, are responsible for some environmental degradation, which the government of the Netherlands is now eager to reduce. Pronounced opposition is generated in the process. Recent restrictions on nutrient runoff and a ban on neonicotinoid insecticides have been viewed by most Dutch farmers as a threat to their livelihoods. In 2019, a new Dutch party, the Farmer-Citizens Movement, emerged to represent the country’s agricultural sector. This party seeks to enact a “Right to Agriculture Act,” wants to reduce the power of the European Union over Dutch farmers, and is wary of climate mitigation policies. It is generally regarded as a center-right to right-wing populist organization.

In the Dutch provincial election of March 15th, 2023, the Farmer-Citizen Movement achieved a shocking victory, not only coming in first place nationwide (with more than 19 percent of the vote), but also achieving a first-place showing in every province. In the same contest, all the Netherlands’ established parties saw major losses. The only other significant party experiencing a gain was the Party for the Animals (Partij voor de Dieren; PvdD), which took almost 5% of the vote nationwide. Intriguingly, these two growing parties are situated at the opposite ends of the political spectrum, particularly when it comes to agricultural issues. Caroline van der Plas, leader of Farmer-Citizen Movement, has stated that the Party for Animals is one of her party’s two main enemies, the other being Wakker Dier, an animal-welfare organization that seeks to end factory farming.

The recent Dutch election attracted a great deal of interest in the country. According to NL Times, “The turnout stood at 57.5 percent, higher than 2019’s already high 56 percent … [and] likely [to] be the highest since the late 1980s.” Its results have generated much analysis, if not soul-searching, among the leaders of the Dutch political establishment. According to EuroNews, the election represented a “resounding rebuke to Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s ruling four-party coalition.” As the NL Times reported:



Prime Minister Mark Rutte called the BBB’s massive victory “a very clear cry to politicians” and a “very clear relevant signal” from the voter. Rutte told ANP he does not yet know how to interpret this cry. He needs more time to think about it. Sixteen hours after the first results is too early for a “full-fledged analysis,” he said.

The electoral map of the 2023 provincial election in the Netherlands reveals precisely what one would expect: the Farmer-Citizen Movement had its best showing in provinces with relatively low population density and its worst in those of higher density. It might be surprising, however, that it did as well as it did in such thickly settled areas as North and South Holland and Utrecht, taking more than 13% of the vote in all three. But as the agricultural map of the Netherlands posted below shows, even these provinces have a significant amount of highly productive agricultural land. The Farmer-Citizen Movement also finds some support among Dutch urban dwellers; the national economy of their country, after all, rests heavily on its agricultural sector.

Intriguingly, the electoral returns of the Party for the Animals show very little geographical variation. I started to make a map of its vote by province, but abandoned the quest when I realized that it would reveal almost nothing. This party’s vote-share was almost the same in agrarian Drenthe (4.5%) as in highly urban South Holland (4.7%).

As the 2023 Dutch election indicates, Europe is experiencing a political realignment in which the division between rural and metropolitan areas figures more prominently than it did in the past. The same tendency is found in North America. Climate politics will almost certainly intensify this divide. It will be interesting to see how such a realignment plays out in coming elections.