Samuel Raphael Franco

posts by Samuel Raphael Franco

Storm Season & The Many Gifts of NOAA in Google Earth

Happy Labor Day, readers. This the time of year that brings together Hot Dogs and Hurricane season. A time to celebrate change, whether it is global climactic change, or a change in season.

The 2010 year is characterized by a strong la Nina in the equatorial Pacific, which means a warm and wet winter for the Northern & Eastern United states, while the west coast is due for a cool and cold winter. This and with elevated sea surface temperatures, should lead to a strong season of storms for the USA.

This sets the stage for an interesting final quarter of the year in climatology, highlighted by the inevitable Atlantic Hurricane season. Unsuspecting vacationers were hit by the Nor’Easter Hurricane Earl, this weekend, the first strike in what could be a screwy season.

The following KML files are designed to help track the remainder of coming the domestic & international, season of storms, floods and wildfires. By the end of this post your Google Earth Browser should be outfitted strongly enough to render the television weather man an insult to your intelligence.

The best source for this information, as always, is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. Over the past few years, the organization has compiled an invaluable library of Google Earth and GIS Resources on the web.

Beginning with the Hurricanes, there is no better place to go than NOAA for historical storm data. This KML file, containing all the Past Atlantic Storm Tracks, could have saved Galveston, TX, from meteorological hubris a hundred years back.

To track the Atlantic Hurricane season at anytime, just using a web browseruse this resource.

Weather Historians and storm chasers will also appreciate this KML file, featuring more than 50 years of Tornado tracks and data from NOAA.

The newest feature on the NOAA index of Google Earth friendly files, is this file, which tracks both ongoing and imminent floods in the United States with a live feed. Kudos to NOAA on this new release, this is difficult data to find.

A few weeks ago we posted on the series of catastrophic fires and drought across Russia. Now you can track all of the major fires, worldwide, using this KML file, from NOAA. As well, you can use this KML file to track and map drought conditions.

NOAA has also put together a richly detailed digital map on the progress fighting the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. This NOAA-produced map is one of the most reliable and constantly updated maps on the spill cleanup, with dozens of layers of information.

And to close this map overload, here’s a little bit of Apocalyptic Geography. This KML file envisions the home of GeoCurrents, San Francisco Bay, one hundred years in the future, swallowed by the deluge from rising sea levels. (Source: USGS in Google Earth Forums)

Storm Season & The Many Gifts of NOAA in Google Earth Read More »

Announcing the Google Earth Atlas

Update: Since our site upgrade the features of the Google Earth Atlas are temporarily unavailable. We will update this page when the Atlas becomes functioning once more. is proud to present a brand new feature, the Google Earth Atlas.

The Google Earth Atlas is an archive of all of the site’s work in Google Earth to date, in one place, with links to the KML/KMZ files, and the companion posts on

The Google Earth Atlas can be permanently accessed here:

The Archive will be constantly updated, as it works to become one of the web’s top resources for historical geography in the medium of Google Earth.

Represented are many of the world’s most fascinating spaces: Icelandic volcanoes, Pakistani barrages, Kyrgyz city squares, smelters on the sites of former Soviet gulags, and an infinite array of crop circles & hedge mazes.


Announcing the Google Earth Atlas Read More »

Pakistan’s Fatal Floods in Google Earth

“This disaster is worse than the tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the Haiti earthquake,” commented Maurizio Giuliano, a spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). (Source)

The Indus River as of 8-21-10 via NASA/MODIS

More than 20,000,000 have been displaced, more than have 1500 perished, as the worst Monsoons in Pakistan’s 65 year history as a modern state have inundated the country with record breaking floods. At least 6 six million people are now in immediate need of aid; threatened by disease, disenfranchisement, and dislocation. Starvation looms as600,000 tons of wheat have been lost, along with whole villages’ entire means of sustenance.

The city of Muzzafargarh is a microcosm for the entire disaster. Sitting on the banks of both the Chenab and Indus rivers, the city was devastated when Monsoons caused the Indus to flood and change its course through the center of town. More than 90,000 people were evacuated from the city to 49 camps, without any guarantee of compensation or investigation of the cause of the floods, as pointed out by respected NGO OxFam International.

The combination of climate and chance spelled doom for cities like Muzzafargarh. The summer’s monsoons were fed by record sea-surface temperatures, which enabled even stronger monsoons. Combine this with excess glacial melt due to global warming, and the result is far too much stress on the Indus River’s system of canals, floodgates, dams, and barrages, all of which make up the world’s largest irrigation network.

Partner these climate factors with a network of neglected and poorly conceived dams and you have a disaster of a colossal scale. It appears that the critical point in the flooding across Waziristan and Punjab was the flooding of the Taunsa Barrage, which allowed the Indus to cut a new course across Central Pakistan.

You can add another dimension to your understanding of the Pakistani floods, by viewing the region inGoogle Earth. As a companion to this post, please download this google earth file.

Included in the post are satellite overlays from MODIS/NASA, marking the Indus’ change in course throughout August, as well as dramatic imagery of the monsoon storm clouds, the major barrages of the Indus river, and hundreds of user uploaded pictures of life in rural Pakistan.

If that’s not enough, make sure to take a look at this NASA image, to see exactly what it looks like when the Indus changes course through a village.The floods did not discriminate between Northern and Souther Pakistan. The areas of Kyhber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Sindh, Swat, and Balochistan were all severely affected by the flooding, leaving the entire country in turmoil.

A number of human rights issues are sprouting up around the floods. NGO workers, journalists, and reporters have been denied access to relief camps. Minority Ahmaddiyas have been denied rescue, or even barred from camps. Outreach and relief efforts are still inadequate: more than half a million families are without shelter, while only 98,000 have received tents.

Meanwhile, the global community has responded sluggishly, pledging more than 800 Million Dollars in International Aid, with only 36% donated. America, Pakistan’s military ally is the primary donor, followed by a team of UN-member states.

The World Bank recently extended Pakistan a 900 million dollar loan, but it’s hard to be optimistic they’ll ever see that money again, given the Pakistani government’s demonstrably weak ability to manage the country. These floods present a major challenge in which Pakistan needs to prove itself a functional state for its own survival’s sake.

The world must heed its attention, oversight and will towards Pakistan, a state in great need, regardless of political situation. As if half a decade of drone attacks needed to be compounded by a once in a century environmental disaster. Even nuclear-rival India has donated to the relief effort. You should as well.

(image via NOAA)

A Historic July in Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies is thought to be a contributor to record flooding in Pakistan. Part of a disturbing trend likely to continue with Global Warming.
A barrage in Pakistan during more peaceful times.

Pakistan’s Fatal Floods in Google Earth Read More »

Scorched Earth: Russia Burns

(Photo CreditsNASA/MODIS)

Pictured above are NASA images of the Summer’s temperature anomalies that caused a massive drought, the resulting smoke from forest fires which have caused more than 100 fatalities on the way to blanketing in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine in smoke since the beginning of August.

Moscow has been covered in smog, death rates in hospitals have spiked, and contaminated radioactive land in Chernobyl has burned. A ban on Russian grain exports went into effect yesterday as fires and drought have hampered at least 1/5 of the total supply.

The cost of the fires is now at a staggering $15 Billion, a figure more than that of Hurricane Katrina or the BP Spill Cleanup, and a figure estimated to be 1% of Russia’s total 2010 GDP.

Global Warming and feverish storms catalyzed the fire, but the blaze has reached disastrous proportions, through preexisting environmental degradation and local mismanagement, and the response has been hampered by government secrecy.

This video from Nasa, show’s the chronology of the outbreak, in terms of Carbon Dioxide Pollution:

This post by the cyber-cartographer “Kite Surfer” in the Google Earth Forum points out that 30 of the 50 major fires during the first week of August occurred in areas of major deforestation. More blood, ash, and toxic phlegm, can be tied back to the hands of large Russian logging and forestry operations when one considers the fact that many of these corporations were put in charge of fire control, neglected their tracts, allowed fuel unharvested fuel to build up, and failed in suppression.

A response to this post by Google Earth Boards Member MarkoPolo, outlines the crux of the issue here, citing a paper published in ‘Wildfire Magazine’. These fires are not merely a periodic natural disaster, they have been compounded by systematic mismanagement:

From THIS cover article in the July/August 2010 issue of “Wildfire” magazine entitled “Russian Disarray”: “Currently, the (Russian) state cannot legally derive profit from owning the land, such as by selling timber to fund forest management, but it can sell the land to private parties. As a result, large forest areas are being sold non-competitively for use as private hunting preserves, and private companies are harvesting large areas without returning profits or reinvesting in the land or management of the forests. In the absence of formal regulation, Russia has an extremely low efficiency in the use of forest resources: today only 28% (165 million square meters) of the logged timber volume (609 million square meters) is actually used. The cut (but unused) timber volume has led to a fuels buildup that is feeding large fires. Recent satellite images reveal that most large fires now occur in the band where most logging occurs.”

For more direct visual evidence, download this Google Earth File, which outlines areas of Deforestation and Major Fire Area. In order to view the file, download Google Earth, and then open the kml file in your browser.

The fires are proving to be a major albatross for both Vladimir Putin and Dmiti Medvedev. In early August, Medvedev was hasty to respond, more concerned with corrupt projects for 2014 olympics and his own leisure.

Vladimir Putin, however, topped his counterpart’s response with this this ridiculous PR stunt, flying a water bomber over the blaze:

The two have also shifted blame, chewing out regional authorities for their lack of response to the fires. Ironically, the lack of local accountability is a product of an executive power grab in 2004, which banned the direct election of local governors and kept individual candidates off the ballot.

These measures caused local fire prevention prefectures to lose their teeth and funding, exacerbating today’s problems. The firefighters are armed with technology as old as their website: Fireman.Ru, a fascinating database of songs and proverbs from Russian Firefighter lore, undone only in translation by the idiomatic expression. This poem, from the “Do Not Joke With Fire,” section of the site, makes for a much more immediately satisfying moralist read than a Chekhov Play:

... Splattered on the driver field of diesel fuel,
Then the pitch with home-grown tobacco cigarette.
He crushed his cigarette butt into the ground somehow
However, cases have been tobacco.
Wally gone, flashed tires,
Over the field went up suffocating fumes:
The ears are burning – kaloriyki and dumplings
Loaf of wheat bread burn.

Moral – do not smoke in a fire zone?

To close this post, here is a videos of the awe-inspiring ferocity of the firestorm:

Here’s to the safety of those fighting the blazes and touched affected by the drought.

Scorched Earth: Russia Burns Read More »

A Summer in Worldwide Human Rights Abuses–Illustrated In Google Earth

While the BP Oil Spill and the World Cup have stole headlines this summer, a number of disturbing trends have passed through the cracks of newswires without garnering a fraction of the fanfare.

To stay informed on the most pressing issues and abuses across the world, there is seldom a better resource than Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch is one of the world’s foremost watchdog agencies for news, policy briefings, and investigative journalism without borders. Their mission statement is a reflection of their status as an indispensable NGO:

Mission Statement:
Human Rights Watch is dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world. We stand with victims and activists to prevent discrimination, to uphold political freedom, to protect people from inhumane conduct in wartime, and to bring offenders to justice. We investigate and expose human rights violations and hold abusers accountable. We challenge governments and those who hold power to end abusive practices and respect international human rights law. We enlist the public and the international community to support the cause of human rights for all.

This post illustrates the epicenters of the articles highlighted this summer on the Human Rights Watch website, through the medium of Google Earth.

To view the presentation: download and open this file in your Google Earth browser.

Each place-mark in the presentation has an original short summary of the infraction on human rights in question, as well as link to the original article on HRW.

There is no tour mode for this file, so please spend some extra time exploring the linked articles, and exploring the nearby panoramio photos of the areas.

The presentation is dotted with hundreds of photographs of Jamaican slums, Ossetian rubble, Saharwi Refugee Camps, Corrupt Zimbabwean Diamond Mines, and Kyrgyz Steppes to be discovered, in some of the most dangerous areas of the world for a journalist to visit.

A Summer in Worldwide Human Rights Abuses–Illustrated In Google Earth Read More »

The Geography of the Whale Ship Essex in Google Earth

This week’s presentation is an illustration of the ill-fated voyage of the Whale Ship Essex, the real life whaling voyage that inspired Moby Dick, in Google Earth Tour mode.

To view the tour, the companion to this article, first download Google Earth, then download this file.

The story of the Whale Ship Essex begins in Nantucket Harbor, 1819. Under the direction of Captain Pollard and First Mate Owen Chase, 19 other sailors embark on a two year journey in search of riches through the Azores, Cape Verde, and around Cape Horn to the great Pacific whaling seas.

The sailors then proceed to harvest an innumerable quantity of now endangered species.

In perhaps nature’s cruelest and most ironic twist of fate, 3500 miles west from coast of South America, the Essex is struck twice at full speed in the bow by an enraged Sperm Whale. With all hands out, harpooning the whale’s kin in a shoal, the sailors can only rush back to salvage what little they can from the sinking the vessel, to begin their struggle for survival on the open ocean.

The sailors are forced to the extremes of human persistence: cannibalism, delirium, storms, drinking their own urine, ennui, sickness, hunger, thirst, disease and distrust, as they float towards the hope of survival.

Luckily for historians, there is an excellent account available, penned by the voyage’s first mate Owen Chase. While some of the truths of the encounter may be concealed or embellished in this account, Chase’s account of human suffering in the Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex, rates as one of the most colorful maratime histories ever penned.

With these tortures considered, this GeoCurrent’s post highlights the mistakes in Geography made by the sailors on the essex, while outlining the major milestones in their journey from Nantucket to the open ocean, and back.

Even if Cannibalism and Whaling aren’t quite appealing to your tastes, its worth knowing what’s become of the Society Islands and Sandwich Islands. The sailors neither knew where they were at the time, and thought the islands were full of cannibals. A stern Geography lesson would have had them steering with the wind for Tahiti. The mistake forced them down a 95 day, 3500 mile long path towards cannibalism.

The sailors also flunked their Geography Bee, mistaking Ducie Island from Henderson Island, but, er… everybody makes that mistake. These two islands play a smaller role in todays world scene, as the sailors from the Mutiny on the Bounty are no longer taking refuge, ceding the spotlight in the 21st century, to Pitcarin Island, home of the world’s smallest democracy.

Bon Voyage.

(First mate owen chase wants you to learn Pacific Geography

And to Stop Whaling. Yes. You, Japan)

The Geography of the Whale Ship Essex in Google Earth Read More »

Compass Roses & Marriage Proposals: Visual Poetry in Google Earth

We are in the midst of a golden age for ephemeral and accidental art. Google Earth has allowed the anonymous artisans of crafts that best viewed from thousands of miles above the earth’s surface, to find a forum for their work. Some of these works are painstakingly terraformed for years, while others are mere accidents and oddities. This post serves as a visual essay and tribute to the former and the latter. The goal of this week’s GeoCurrentCast is to create a visual essay on humanity, in the same vein as Koyaanisqatsi.

This post encompasses the best of our etchings on the landscape: crop circles with the inspiration of Da Vinci, placed compass roses to fit the scale of the earth, and offered marriage proposals acres wide. These are complemented by both chessboards and toilets fit for giants, as well as rusted out architectural sushi in the middle of Kuwait. There is an eerie intangible poetry of excess in the scale and shape of these monoliths, megaliths, and desert spires.

All of this, is presented in Google Earth’s Tour Mode.

To access the tour first download Google Earth, then download this file. Double click the video camera icon in Google Earth to start the tour.

Included as a bonus to the tour are the 150 most unusual buildings in the world, one of the finest collections of man made oddities to date. Originally created by the folks at Village of Joy, and compiled for Google Earth by munden at the indispensable Google Earth Hacks.

If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to our feed on twitter.

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Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Capped: Here’s the So What.

This week the Deepwater Horizon Response team successfully capped the leaking well with its team of Remote Operated Submarines. While it is still not certain that these caps will hold, or entirely end the disaster, it marked the first time since April 20th, that oil stopped leaking into the Gulf.

A look at BP’s live feeds of the spill, is indeed a sight for sore eyes.

A look at the most recent Google Earth imagery, however, is still an eyesore.

After 87 days, and more than 90,000,000 gallons of oil spilled, this is certainly a cause for tempered celebration, as if we were a triple amputee, elated at the fact that we get to keep our final limb.

The Gulf is now four days free of additional leaking, yet the figure of 581 miles of oiled shoreline, is a guarantee to increase. Seven thousand vessels and 40,000 hands remain deployed on cleanup process, with years of work ahead.

As of July 12, BP spent an estimated 3.5 Billion on its cleanup processes. This is actually a meager figure, considering their average annual revenue exceeds 12 billion.

Imagery from the day before the end of the spill from MODIS/Skytruth shows a significantly lessened sheen on the surface from a month ago:

Surface reports, however, are a tempered method of assessing the damage. Much of the accessible oil on the surface was burned off in the largest “controlled burns” since the first Gulf War. The these burns have created elevated levels of Methane, Hexane, and other Neurotoxins in the air from New Orleans to Florida. An artist, quoted in the Christian Science Monitor, compares the smell to huffing oil paint.

What comes up, must come down, and now the Gulf States will have to content with exponentially larger quantities of sulfur dioxide in their rainfall, leading to a contamination of inland freshwater ecosystems.

The sheen is at its most megalithic below the surface, with slicks the size of small states. While the surface is certainly clearer, the effects are starting to make themselves known up the Atlantic Coast.

As we reported earlier on GeoCurrents, the Sheen had entered the North Atlantic Loop Current, and this has been corroborated with reports of oil washing ashorein near Jacksonville and St. Augustine, on Florida’s Atlantic Coast.

The video below represents and academic projection of the oil’s progress from the loop current, through the Atlantic coast.

While this continues, our elected representatives will continue squabbling, pretending to act in our best interests while their proposed ban on drilling is related only to worker fatalities, without sufficient environmental safeguards.

The congressional attack on BP for their supposed under the table dealings to free the Libyan Lockerbie bomber is but another attempt to divert attention and culpability through the fearmongering veil of terrorism. After all, if Cheney had not been looking tosave his billionaire cronies a few meager thousands by reigning back safety standards, the disaster may have been prevented altogether.

However, America is now in an era of de-facto legalized bribery through its lobbying machinery, leading to “Pervasive Corruption and a Poverty Trap.” Look for our elected representatives to follow all the red herrings in its investigation of its patrons.

Unfortunately we don’t have one of Dashiell Hammet’s Continental Operatives, with an oiled gull as his client, to go Blood Simple on those behind this once in a generation disaster, and those preventing proper regulation.

The hones falls on us to do what we can, to support forward thinking organizations and representatives. The gulf ecosystems have been irreversibly damaged, and organizations such as the International Bird Rescue, the National Wildlife Rescue, and A Matter of Trust are in need of financial support at this time to continue their efforts for years to come.

An ideological shift, however, is an even more important development that must result from the disaster. A new crop of muckrakers, reformists, and activists must spring forth to remove this country from the belly of its dying machinery.

After 87 days and 90,000,000 Gallons, the status quo has remains. The cap on the well may stop the flow, but the social and political ills are still gushing torrents.

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Capped: Here’s the So What. Read More »

People Per Goal & The Economic Geography of the World Cup

The group stage of the World Cup offered an opportunity for outliers on both ends of the spectrum of economic and population strength to compete on equal terms.

World Cup competitors have a mean population near 50,000,000 million. The median sits far below that at 22,578,572. The majority of the competing nations are of modest size, but the inclusion of hundred million plus superpowers like the USA, Brazil, and Nigeria significantly skew the mean.

The discrepancies in Per Capita GDP, are a little more muted than those in population, but mismatches, such as Ghana’s $ 1500 overcoming the USA’s $45,000 a year advantage. Sixteen of the top 50 countries in Per Capita GDP are represented at the World Cup. Honduras, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, North Korea, and Paraguay had the chance to at least quintuple their respective countries’ Per Capita GDP Earnings from the $30,000 per player bonus for advancing to the knockout stage.

The mean per capita GDP for a country competing in this years world cup stands at 20441.44 Centers, well above the world average. Still, the twenty fifth percentile in Per Capita GDP for world cup competitors stood at $7574 USD, which is fairly close to the worldwide median in this category.

Now, considering the graphs above, take a look at the comprehensive performances of the participants in the World Cup during the Group Stage.

Which countries were the most efficient at producing goals per citizen? It seems the USA and Nigeria left far too many (goal)mouths to feed, while it takes the support of only a few thousand Uruguayans and Paraguayans are required to produce goals with their fascinating efficiency, well ahead of the world Average of 16976995 people per goal.

And how much, do we, the people, in theory pay to support these social structures that allow for these goals? The average citizen of a world cup participant nation earned 8361 dollars per goal their country scored. Not a bad haul, but it your country wasn’t scoring like North Korea, it may be off to the coal mines for a few years.

If Ghana can continue their impressive run, they’ll not only capture the hearts of all of Africa, but also cement their status as rather impressive statistical outlier, against the world’s remaining industrial superpowers and population centers. Its one of the few times where we can say that the world’s rich and the poor truly compete on a level playing field.

You can play with all the World Cup figures and selected CIA World Factbook information more in this spreadsheet. Feel free to import more data, and share your graphs and findings in the comments section. Bonus points awarded for the craziest regression line.

People Per Goal & The Economic Geography of the World Cup Read More »

The Geography of FIFA & International Recognition

FIFA divides the world into the six regions:

These six “continents” hold a a quarry of curiosities.

Palestine competes as its own country in the South Asian Football Federation, and is a FIFA member. On the other side of the West Bank, Israel is the only country in the region that competes in the European UEFA.

The South American nations Suriname, Guyana, and French Guina, all compete in the North America & Carribean CONCACAF. Curious to see these three nations classified as Carribean, while the evidence points that they clearly lie on the South American continent.

Australia is, strangely, excluded from the Oceania region. Oceania is the smallest region, and receives the fewest bids to the world cup. Kiribati, Micronesia, Niue, and Palau are all part of the Oceanian regional football federation, but are non-FIFA members. New Zealand is the region’s lone upstart representative in the World Cup.

The United Kingdom does not recognize FIFA so that Scotland, Wales, and the English can settle their differences on the pitch. The fact that the UK scoffs at the idea of performing as a single state can be bolstered by the fact that nearly the whole of their former empire competes in the Commonwealth Games.

Other UN states that are not in FIFA include Monaco, Kosovo, Nauru and the Vatican city.

Nauru has declined FIFA membership, as the washed up phosphorous mine has no space or money to spare on football. What will happen to the Tuvalu and Maldives’ federations, as their countries sink. The rule to date has been no country, no state.

After a few head scratchers with the continental groupings, the real fun starts when you get into the areas that begin to call into question the difference between a country and a state.

FIFA really gets interesting when you look into the provisional members of the Nouvelle Nouvelle Fédération-Board, whose members are composed of people without states, new states, and sovereign territories. FIFA has its eyes on would be states, to assist their international recognition on the pitch, should the receive international recognition. Their list of provisional members is an impressive list of obscuro-geography:

The Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Casamance, Western Sahara, Yap (a Micronesian state), Zanzibar, Sardinia, the Kingdom of the two Sicilies, Easter Island, Maasai, and the micrnoation of Sealand all have made inroads with FIFA through this program for future membership.

Sicily and Kurdistan have already played an international friendly, facilitated by the Nouvelle Fédération-Board. Which now hosts the VIVA world cup, the creme de la creme for non-FIFA-member states. Padania, a province of Northern Italy, most recently defeatedIraqi-Kurdistan for the title of best football team without an internationally recognized state.

For those who are curious, Tibet has been repeatedly thrashed on an international stage. And it’s doubtful China will allow its membership any time soon.

The Assyrian people, a diaspora of 3 million, have a larger population than this world cup’s tiniest contender, Slovenia, a population of 2 million. Still, without an internationally recognized state, a world cup berth is a dream that must follow a revolution.

Many of these tiny countries will remain provisional members, and it’s doubtful we’ll see an independence movement hinging on FIFA membership on its core ideal. Don’t be surprised if you see Somaliland, Greenland, Kosovo, Zanzibar, and Iraqi Kurdistan make the jump to full time membership in the coming decade.

Greenland’s admission begs the question of whether the state should compete in CONCACAF or UEFA, with European cultural ties, but is part of the North American continent.

FIFA recognition would likely follow a tremendous milestone in international recognition.

With that said… Go Zanzibar!

The Geography of FIFA & International Recognition Read More »

South Africa’s Soccer Stadiums & Slums in Google Earth

The World Cup has come to an exciting start this week, with no shortage of triumph and tumult.

To begin, take a fly around the Republic of South Africa and be sure to check out all of the host cities. Google Earth has released 3D models of all ten stadiums, as well as new panoramic photographs of the venues via street view mode.

To download a tour of the venues, download this file, created by the good folks at Google Earth (also responsible for this wonderful Jacques Cousteau Inspired KML recently).

While the goaltender blunders and vuvuzelas have stolen the headlines over the first week, riot police deployed tear gas and rubber bullets on South African World Cup employees staging a peaceful protest, after they were drastically underpaid from their agreed wages or not paid at all.

For a drastic counterpoint to the fantastic 3d images of the world cup stadiums- Point your browser to the recently evicted sweltering sandy shantytown of Blikkiesdorp.

South Africa has made great strides since the release of Mandela 20 years ago. Still this news, paired with a flyover of the cities surrounding the venues reveals the extent of inequality.

The road to the world cup was paved with evictions and ‘voluntary relocation programs,’to, dare I say, whitewash the rougher edges city for the thousands of oncoming & certainly judgmental western eyes and voices.

It would best serve FIFA and the South African to consider a ban on enforcing shady business dealings with tear gas, rather than a ban on vuvuzelas or even condoms, in exchange for the illusion of safety and security.

There’s a bit more of a health risk involved.

South Africa’s Soccer Stadiums & Slums in Google Earth Read More »

Deepwater Horizon: Grassroots Mapping & Spill Projections

Since our last post on the Gulf Oil Slick, little progress has come, with the exception of a small containment dome & riser pipe to mitigate a minor percentage of the of the total flow.

The addiction to oil has made this Gulf Spill, something of an inevitability. After all, a spill near this calibre happened decades ago with Ixtoc, yet the rules had not tightened. This photograph, posted in the google earth forums, shows the Gulf of Mexico at night. The sheer volume of lights offshore highlight the ubiquity of gulf drilling operations.

The oil has been flowing for so long, now, that the slick has now progressed out into the Atlantic, via the Gulf Stream Loop Current. A visualization of this is available in this projection below from UCAR.

Here we’d like to highlight a major ongoing development in the geographic web to monitor the spill, Grassroots Mapping, brought to our attention by SpatialSustain.

This campaign is centered on getting as many kites outfitted with observation censors in the sky to act as independent observation stations on the gulf.

For up to date spill estimates and figures, please continue to consult Skytruth, as your primary source for information.

Deepwater Horizon: Grassroots Mapping & Spill Projections Read More »

A Photo Tour of How Russian Billionaire & New Jersey Nets Owner Mikhail Prokhorov Made His Billions


(Translation: About the Planet and the Children, )

Mikhail Prokhorov is the former CEO and billion dollar shareholder in the Norlisk Mining and Metals company, as well as rapper Jay-Z’s current business parter, as majority owner of the New Jersey Nets. HIs photo has been intentionally excluded from the series above, so that his name will be associated with pollution, above all else. He once was the baron behind, Norlisk, a secretive siberian smelter city, tabbed by the BBC as the world’s largest producer of acid rain.

Prohkorov, a charming 45-year old, has made more headlines recently for hisflamboyant private life, than pollution, but. Prokhorov’s dossier, aside from chronic pollution, also includes bribery, seizure of public property via emminent domain, and business deals with Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.

The Smelter city of Norilsk was originally founded as a Stalinist Gulag in 1937. The temperatures are so extreme that between 1939 and 1959, the gulag claimed at least 16,806 lives. Ten degrees above zero (Fahrenheit) is warm weather in Norilisk. The sun does not shine for six months a year. Temperatures can fall to seventy below. There is a nineteen mile wide dead zone surrounding the city, few babies are born healthy, and the acid rain blankets an area the size of Germany. These are the daily realities of those who toiled to form the base of Prokhorov’s fortune.

This man could be LeBron James’s new boss, for all we know. He’s going to be signing the checks to former Stanford Star Brook Lopez. Yet it is unlikely the press, or national basketball association will make any mention of his pollution of the world’s air and Russia’s water. While Prokhorov has since sold his stake in Norlisk, the environmental damage that occurred during his leadership as director has been devastating.

National Basketball Association’s willingness to turn ablind eye to political, geographic, and environmental is unsurprising. While the Norwegian government sold their shares in Norlisk because it did not want the environmental damage on their conscience, the NBA is not nearly as progressive an organization. Ecological morality is once again overlooked for the prospect of an extra few millions.

It’s fitting that Prokhorov is set to be the boss in New Jersey, of all places, because when you think Prokhorov, think Pollution (with a capital P).

The images used in this post were all generated in google earth from screenshots or the panoramio tool.

For a flyover tour of Norilsk in Google Earth, download this file.

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Mile Long Tube to Mitigate Gulf Spill

Today, the Unified Area Command for the response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil spill successfully inserted a mile long, four inch wide, riser pipe to the major leaking pipe behind the spill. The initial media estimates report that the tube can divert some of the oil from the pipe behind 85% of the spill to the surface.

Carrying the diverted spill, will be the Discoverer Enterprise Drillship, a modern marvel of engineering itself, deemed worthy of this bombastic promotional video by Deepwater. Perhaps their the BP PR squad thought that American’s could rest easier with the Enterprise in control.

The riser tube insertion is the first truly good news from the Gulf since the Rigs Explosion. While a containment dome was placed over one of the main spill areas, it did not change the rate of flow from the spill to the ocean, instead diverting the spill to the other ruptures at a higher rate of flow.

There is no guarantee of the success with the Riser tube, despite the good news. While its insertion was the first ever success at such depths, the pipe can still fail over the coming week. Methanol must continually be pumped into the pipe at over 120 degrees to prevent the formation of ice-like crystals in the pipe, and the hardware must hold up at extreme depths. The blowout preventor site is still badly leaking, and may still require a Junk Shot to be plugged. Furthermore, millions of gallons of oils are still spilling into the gulf, the well has not yet been plugged, and a relief well, the only sure fix, is still months away.

This comes as the US calls the riser pipe, “No Solution”to the spill, and scientists have discovered ten-mile wide, three miles across, hundreds of feet thick, up to four thousand feet beneath the Ocean’s surface. These slicks are set to become megaliths demarking Oceanic Dead Zones the size of Manhattan. In these areas, Oxygen levels are down more than 30% already, making it doubtful any life could survive. If the oil spill is to benefit anybody (aside from Halliburton), it’ll be the scavenging Giant Isopods.

The trajectory of the Oil spill can be tracked today, as always, via NOAA. The spill is now looming over the Mississippi delta, despite the Miles of boom line. NOAA, as well as the New York Times Spill Tracker, do not take into account the underwater plumes, and still use the rosiest possible estimates. The best bet for spill tracking, as showcased last week on GeoCurrents, remains SkyTruth.

For those interested to researching the historical parallels between the Deepwater Horizon Spill and Response and its most comparable predecessor, the IXTOC-1 spill, NOAA’s Incident Report, is an invaluable resource. The IXTOC was the most devastating spill to date, and layers of IXTOC oil can still be found in Texas beaches. The leak spewed for almost ten months, at twice the depths, until a relief well ended the crisis. While this did not carry the same urgency as the Deepwater Horizon Spill, and technology has improved at extreme depths, there are a number of historical lessons to be take from this case.

Attached below is the Spill’s trajectory forecast for today from NOAA. Even this report admits that Tarballs should begin to hit the Gulf-Stream Loop Current this week. There are already reports surfacing of a strong petroleum smell nearing Tampa, Florida.

There’s a lot riding on that 21 inch wide pipe.

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The Latest on the Gulf Oil Spill in Google Earth

The Gulf Oil Slick as of 5/8/10

After last week’s dystopian projections on GeoCurrents, last Monday’s New York Times countered with unreasonably rosy projections. Good news sells papers. The article conveyed a sense of hope in its readers that the spill, was not as large as feared, and could be easily plugged as soon as this week. Their only quote from a so-called “Marine Biologist,” was, “The sky is not falling.”

Unfortunately, the rosy Monday articles were wrong, and their estimates on the breadth of the spill were embarrassingly low, based on faulty estimates fed to them from government agencies (see also: Iraq). Skytruth, for example, has found that initial official government and BP figures, widely quoted by the press, have been generated via ballpark estimate without proof. A NOAA Admiral is quoted, calling any estimation, “Impossible.”

Hate to break it to ya, Chicken Little, but the sky is falling. The proof can be found in the clouds of sludgy soot, bridging the ocean to the land. The proof can be found in the fact that the working environmental response plan, can be simplified as, “call us when you find dead stuff.” The proof can be found when even Al-Jazeera is sympathetic to this travesty. Just look at all the dead sea turtleswashing ashore.

The Reuters Factboxsince the spill, reads as a list of sequential failures, grand in scope and cost. The capping dome/containment system put in place days ago, has failed due to the buildup of ice-like Methane crystals / the inability to skirt the laws of physics. The rupture is more than five thousand feet below the surface of the sea, and must be accessed by these machines, as humans cannot survive at such depths.

As predicted, on GeoCurrents, last week, the slick hit the fragile Chandeleur Barrier Islands, home to the Breton National Wildlife Refuge. The Northeastern part of the slick has made its way towards the Mississippi delta. The next major milestone for the oil would be the gulf stream.

The title, worst-case-scenario, does not involve hyperbole on our part. The oil is as thick as crude comes, buried deep, and threatening the whole of the Gulf of Mexico. Until a relief well is dug (if even, possible, three months from now), the three main options to slowing the spill are: plugging the spill with a new smaller dome, cutting the pipe (which could actually increase flow), and plugging the hole with material with a “Junk Gun,” which sounds more like an item from Captain Nemo’s Nautiulus, than an effecive deterrent to what is quickly becoming the worst environmental disaster of all time.

While we can’t plug the spill from home, knowledge of the spill, is power, as always. To stay up on the true extent of the spill, here are some more of the latest tools for tracking the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in Google Earth.

This GeoCurrentcast utilizes the most recent layovers available in the google earth community, combined with an original lecture, backed with the most recent Satellite Data and Imagery. The visible surface size of the slick, current flows, satellite images, and rupture sites are all marked in this file.

To view this file, open Google Earth and download this file. Then double click the video icon in Google Earth to play the tour. You can toggle the satellite imagery, overlays, and information in the Google Earth Browser on your own, outside of tour mode.

Finally, take the time to play with this web-module, which will compare the size of your own city, to the size of the oil well.

Below is a map of the spill’s forecasted trajectory through Wednesday, generated of by NOAA today (Sunday, 5/9):

A look at the above image, alongside our Google Earth Current flows, shows that within the next two weeks, the oil slick could get dangerously coast to catching a ride on the Gulf stream loop current.

So, while we await the sum totals of disaster, and are forced to burn crude a so thick and heavy and deep, not even hydrocarbon-starved microbes can decompose the oil. Instead, part of the procedure is to torch these now desolate grey-watered ocean wastelands.

Once the worst of the slick has burned off, diluted, and moved beyond the gulf, the United States will still be left swathes of unanswered questions on ecological recovery, liability(the BP FAQis a great source), social justice, and the future of Offshore Drilling in world energy policy. Hopefully this inexcusable tragedy can be used is utilized as a rallying point for change, otherwise it’s all for naught.

We’re sticking to the grim prediction at that the Deepwater Horizon spill will be a record breaker in terms of total volume and dollars.

We are all guilty.

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