GeocurrentCast

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)

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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.

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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 GeoCurrents.info that the Deepwater Horizon spill will be a record breaker in terms of total volume and dollars.

We are all guilty.

The Latest on the Gulf Oil Spill in Google Earth Read More »

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spillustrated in Google Earth

The last few Geocurrentcasts have featured environmental disasters on a massive scale, and this week’s spill in the Gulf may top them all. If the fissure in the Ocean continues to spew anywhere near its current rate, and attempts to plug it have failed decidedly so far, the Deepwater Horizon spill is likely to become the largest oil spill in history.

Google Earth aficionados have been on the forefront, tracking and illustrating this disaster.
This week’s Geocurrentcast is a compilation of the work done this week in theGoogle Earth Forums, with a short lecture attached.

To view the Oil Spill, first download Google Earth, then download and open this KML file.

For those interested in tracking the official response and latest figures, use this website as a primary source.


The total damage is expected to be a number of billions monetarily, but the real loss comes in terms irreversible environmental damage. Not only is the Gulf thick with millions of gallons of sludge, but fires are being set to control the spill, leading to plumes of smoke on a scale previously unseen outside of the Gulf War (see also: Werner Herzog’sLessons in Darkness).

If you thought the originalGulf Dead Zone was getting lonely, just until the casualty estimates for this accident are finally tabulated. For example, don’t look for a jump in sea turtle populationsthis decade, or maybe ever again.

After the Exxon-Valdez Oil spill, less than 25% of the wildlife in the affected area survived. Still, the sting did not resonate with many worldwide, because of its relatively desolate Alaskan location. The Deepwater Horizon’s spill has hit the core of our country and has only just begun to menace fishing, agriculture, air traffic, and the environment.

Some have sprung into action for the cleanup, with a Philippine cleanup crew, starting a hair donation program soak up. Still, as they say, you can’t unfry an egg, so stock up on shrimp before its too late.

As the slick approaches the shore today, it begs the question, is this wake-up call the world needs to begin acting in earnest against the rape of our planet, or is it but another astounding milestone in the history of crimes against the planet?

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Mining Scars & Smokestacks: Industrial Topography Illustrated in Google Earth

Our Geocurrentcast this week, aims to illustrate some of the most awe-inspriing images of the impact of industrialization. This week’s Google Earth tour looks at man’s physical impact on the surface of the earth through our thirst for mining ore, gold, boron, diamonds, uranium salt, natural gas, oil, and even the wind.

The tour takes time to stop with the army of Alexander the Great at the Khewra Salt Mines of Pakistan, resists Pinochet at El Teniente and El Chuquicama in Chile, and adds an extra karat of guilt to your grandfather’s wedding ring during its stop at the hand dug mines of South Africa.

The goal of this tour is to instill a deeper curiosity on issues extraction, energy use, consumption, land reclamation and industrialization through satellite illustration.


To view this tour, first download Google Earth.

Next, download the tour as a KMZ file, and double click the movie icon the places menu of Google Earth to play the tour.

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The Eyjafjallajokull Eruption Illustrated

As a companion to this post, there is a short google earth tour that will enable you to explore the eruption area in Iceland, and fly to other eruption sites of the past.

To access the tour, first download Google Earth, then download this KML file, and finally double click the video icon in the places menu.

There was significant volcanic eruption in this morning between the Eyjafjallajokull & Myrdalsjokull Glaciers in Southern Iceland. The eruption brought about a glowing, thick, viscous lava flow through the glacial ice and left a plume of smoke and steam more than a kilometer high.
The eruption forced a prompt evacuation of nearby villages, including farming villages Hvolsvollur, Vik, and Skogar. Skogar is a sleepy town of herders, which occasionally attracts wayward, glacier bound tourists, to the local folk museum, shown below. I’ve never seen a photograph, which did less to dispel those elvish stereotypes surrounding Icelanders.
This eruption will not threaten human lives. Abandoned livestock are the most at risk from the gases. It is the flooding that follows that will cause the most problems. The volcanic runoff and heat from the eruption could create spouts of hot water that may melt the glacier.
The biggest threat, in this scenario, would be is a subsequent eruption of the nearby Katla Volcano, a few miles to the northeast, underneath the Myrdalsjokull Ice Cap. Such an eruption would melt the cap and set off catastrophic flooding.
Hopefully, history will not repeat itself, but the odds are not in the Icelander’s favor. According to wikipedia: Over the past 1,100 years, Eyjafjallajokull has erupted three times: in 920, 1612, and between 1821-1823. Each of these incidents directly preceded a major eruption in the nearby subglacial volcano,Katla.[9]

 

The Hekla Volcano, above, is proof in itself why Iceland is such a captivating location for scientists and ecotourists, alike. These eruptions should only add to the mystique.















Our fingers here are crossed that Iceland can escape without a second eruption, and that this video is the worst of the damage. The Icelanders had a rough 2009, highlighted by the crash of their banking system. An eruption at Katla would make those problems seem as far off as Bjork’s time with the Sugarcubes.
Now, if they’d only stop selling whale at the supermarkets in Reykjavik…

This post was made possible by information from theSmithsonian’s Global Volcanism Program

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GeoCurrentcast Episode #8- Central Africa

GeoCurrents is proud to present our eighth installment in the Geocurrentcasts series, an in depth illustrated lecture profiling the history and geography of current global events.

This week’s episode takes us to Central Africa, providing a comprehensive look at the history, linguistic diversity, and geography of the region, using the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a focal point. This comprehensive lecture captures the terrors and tragedies of King Leopold, Rwanda and the Sudan; polarizing figures like Mobutu and Lumumba; the historical meaning of the Rumble in the Jungle; plus everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Chad.

Click here to watch or download this presentation.

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Geocurrentcast Episode #6- Iraq, January 2010

Geocurrents.info is proud to present the latest installation in our ongoing Geocurrentcast series of video geography lectures.

This lecture provides a thorough review of regional geopolitics in Iraq, the upcoming census, new developments in the US campaign, and a detailed history of Iraq through today. This is a must watch for anyone interested in the intricacies of the country’s delicate ethnic geography.

Click to watch or download Geocurrentcast Episode 6: Iraq in 2010.

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Geocurrentcast Episode #5- Afghanistan

I am proud to present to all of you the fifth installment in our ongoing series of Geocurrentcasts Video Lectures, which focuses on the history and geography of Afghanistan and the ongoing US Campaign.

Please post questions, feedback, and other relevant discussion on the lecture in the comments section of this post.

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