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Articles in Physical Geography

The Political Regions of Europe and the Fallacy of Environmental Determinism

By Martin W. Lewis | November 8, 2015 | 28 Comments

GeoCurrents reader Rafael Ferrero-Aprato recently brought to my attention an interesting map of political divisions in Europe made by the Dutch electoral geographer Josse de Voogd and reproduced by The Economist in 2014. Josse de Voogd notes the difficulties and limitations in making a map of this sort: “Some countries [are covered] in much greater detail than others and there …

Eco-Authoritarian Catastrophism: The Dismal and Deluded Vision of Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway

By Martin W. Lewis | October 9, 2014 | 115 Comments

(Note: The following post strays from the usual geopolitical concerns of GeoCurrents into the realm of environmental politics. It also deviates from the norm in being a polemical review of a particular book. Regular posts will resume shortly.)
As with so many other hot-button debates, the climate change controversy leaves me repelled by the clamoring extremists on both sides. Global-warming denialists, …

Saint Martin/Sint Maarten: An Island Divided

By Claire Negiar | April 7, 2014 | 9 Comments

(Note: Today’s post is by Claire Negiar, a Stanford senior, soon to graduate. Claire will be writing a few posts over the coming weeks, many of them focused on France and French dependencies.)
Saint Martin. Sint Maarten. A crossroad between North and South, split between France and the Netherlands, Saint Martin has known a different fate in the aftermath of decolonization …

Australia’s Climatic Anomalies

By Martin W. Lewis | December 7, 2012 |

(Having just returned from a family trip to Australia, I feel compelled to muse over a few Australian topics over the next few days….).
In the various indices of the world’s “most livable cities,” those of Australia generally rank quite high. In the Economist Intelligence Unit‘s (EIU) most recent global liveability report, Melbourne places first, Adelaide fifth, Sydney seventh, and Perth …

Indo-Australian Plate Rent Asunder Beneath the Ocean

By Nicholas Baldo | September 28, 2012 | 3 Comments

In April 2012, two massive earthquakes hit northern Sumatra. The earthquakes—one of magnitude 8.2 and the other 8.6—were far in excess of what one would expect to encounter many miles from a tectonic plate boundary. Indeed, “strike-slip earthquakes”, where pieces of crust rub against each other laterally, had been completely unknown in the area before the two quakes.

Extreme Salt Lakes Around the World

By Nicholas Baldo | August 21, 2012 |

The world has many famous salt lakes. Central Asia’s Caspian and Aral Seas, alongside the Dead Sea between Jordan and Israel, are perhaps the best known. Utah’s Great Salt Lake and California’s Mono Lake and Salton Sea are also by no means obscure. These bodies of water are all fascinating in their own right, but by the standards of the …

Visualizing California’s Soggy Past

By Nicholas Baldo | June 29, 2012 |

A previous GeoNote highlighted a collaborative effort to map historical changes in California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin RiverDelta. In a similar spirit, the fantasy satellite map shown at left, created by Central Valley geographer Mark Clark and noted by Frank Jacobs, imagines what the entire state might have looked like in 1851. Perhaps the map’s most salient feature is massive Tulare Lake, …

And the World’s Rainiest Place Is???

By Martin W. Lewis | May 12, 2012 | 2 Comments

A recent GeoNote stressed the impossibility of accurately measuring the coastlines of countries, owing to the intricacies of fractal geometry. But even without fractal complications, many basic geographical measurements are difficult if not impossible to specify. “What is the rainiest place on earth?” seems like a simple question, but it is not.
One problem with determining the world’s wettest place is …

Yakutia’s Mir Mine: The World’s Largest Hole?

By Martin W. Lewis | May 5, 2012 |

A number of websites provide lists of the “world’s largest holes,” most of which are gargantuan open-pit mines (given the realities of the internet, several of these sites are quasi-pornographic). Although the actual lists differ, several put Russia’s Mir diamond mine, located in Yakutia (Sakha Republic) in the first position. The Wikipedia article on the mine claims that it is …

The Pleistocene Great Lakes of Western North America

By Martin W. Lewis | April 16, 2012 |

Several recent GeoNotes on lakes and their islands mentioned only currently existing lakes. If one goes back into the Pleistocene epoch, however, the situation was very different. 18,000 years ago, some of the world’s largest lakes were located in the Great Basin of western North America. Today, only remnants exist, although several, most notably Utah’s Great Salt Lake, are still …

Mapping Loess Soils in Europe

By Martin W. Lewis | April 13, 2012 | 4 Comments

The distribution of loess has played a significant role in human history. These fertile, easily worked soils provided the agricultural foundation for several early civilizations. Chinese culture originated in the Loess Plateau and adjacent areas of the North China Plain (itself formed from eroded, river-deposited loess), and Neolithic farmers in Europe mostly cultivated loess, avoiding heavier soils for millennia. Even …

Lakes on Islands in Lakes: Toba and Taal in Indonesia and the Philippines

By Martin W. Lewis | March 29, 2012 | One Comment

For those interested in geographical superlatives pertaining to islands and lakes, Elburz.org has an interesting list, beginning with the world largest island (Greenland) and largest lake (Caspian Sea). It continues with the largest lake on an island (Nettilling Lake on Baffin Island in Canada), the largest island in a lake (Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron in Canada), the largest island …

René-Levasseur: The World’s Second Largest Island in a Lake?

By Martin W. Lewis | March 28, 2012 | 3 Comments

The Wikipedia’s list of the world’s largest islands in lake has some intriguing features. Four of the top seven positions are occupied by islands in North America’s Great Lakes: Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron (or Lake Michigan-Huron, which is actually a single lake), Isle Royale in Lake Superior, St. Joseph Island in Lake Huron, and Drummond Island, also in Lake …

Misleading Lists of Large Lakes

By Martin W. Lewis | March 1, 2012 |

Conventional lists of the world’s largest lakes by area are often misleading. Most claim that the Aral Sea is one of the Earth’s most extensive bodies of inland water, some placing it in the fourth position, and others, including infoplease and factmonster, in sixth place. In actuality, the Aral Sea has virtually disappeared, and now is essentially a massive salt-flat, …

The Centrality of the Caucasus

By Martin W. Lewis | February 7, 2012 | 5 Comments
London to Mumbai Great Circle Route, Passing Through the Caucasus

For the past month, GeoCurrents has focused on the Caucasus, exploring the region’s history, languages, cuisines, and more. Two additional posts will conclude the series. We will subsequently pause to introduce some new features of the blog, and then we will move on to examine a different part of the world.
The current series began by asking a seemingly banal question, …

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