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Articles in Physical Geography

Sochi 2014: A Subtropical Winter Olympics?

By Martin W. Lewis | January 31, 2012 | 20 Comments
Wikipedia map of the Subtropics

In 2010, Foreign Policy magazine asked Russian opposition leader and Sochi native Boris Nemtsov why he opposed the 2014 Winter Olympics in his hometown. Nemtsov’s reply was broad ranging. He decried the displacement of 5,000 people while warning that corruption and organized crime would devour most of the construction funds showered on the city. He began his critique, however, with …

The Afghan “Graveyard of Empires” Myth and the Wakhan Corridor

By Martin W. Lewis | November 9, 2011 | 3 Comments
Map of Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan

The idea that Afghanistan is the “Graveyard of Empires,” a country that perennially entices imperial conquerors only to humiliate and expel them, is often encountered.  This potent cliché has been thoroughly debunked, yet it refuses to die. An October 7, 2011 Time magazine article, for example, opens with the provocative headline, “Afghanistan: Endgame in the Graveyard of Empires.” And as …

The Congo Pedicle and Its Challenges to Zambian Development

By Martin W. Lewis | September 20, 2011 | 3 Comments
Wikipedia Map of Congo Pedicle Road

Namibia’s Caprivi Strip is not the only African panhandle to result from European imperial attempts to reach water-bodies. Cameroon, for example, has a northern protuberance that connects to the much-diminished Lake Chad. The Democratic Republic of Congo’s southern panhandle—officially the “Congo Pedicle”—falls in the same category. The agents of Belgium’s King Leopold II were

International Boundaries, Peace Parks, and Elephants in Southern Africa

By Martin W. Lewis | September 19, 2011 | One Comment
Map of Elephant Distribution and International Boundaries in Southern Africa

Over the past century, a number of “international peace parks” have been established, designed both to demonstrate amity between neighboring countries and to facilitate the preservation of wildlife, habitat, and natural beauty. The first such “transboundary protected area,” as peace parks are more prosaically labeled, was inaugurated by Sweden and Norway in 1914, an inauspicious

Lozi (Barotse) Nationalism in Western Zambia

By Martin W. Lewis | September 15, 2011 | 6 Comments
Map of Barotseland; Lozi Kingdom at Its Height

The deeper roots of dissatisfaction in Namibia’s Caprivi Strip (discussed in the previous post) extend to the colonial dissolution of the Lozi Kingdom of Barotseland. Centered in what is now western Zambia, Barotseland was one of the strongest indigenous polities of southern central Africa, controlling a broad swath of territory that encompassed the Caprivi Strip

The Toshka Scheme: Egypt’s Salvation or Mubarak’s Folly?

By Martin W. Lewis | February 17, 2011 | 2 Comments

Dictatorial rulers often favor grandiose construction projects, on which they not uncommonly bestow their own names. Egypt has been no exception. The world’s largest water-moving facility is the Mubarak Pumping Station, located on an island in Lake Nasser. When such rulers fall from power, their names are often stripped away from such monuments. It will

The Misleading Ecological Footprint Model

By Martin W. Lewis | November 23, 2010 |

The Happy Earth Index, discussed yesterday, relies on the ecological footprint to measure environmental sustainability. The footprint, widely regarded as “the world’s premier measure of humanity’s demand on nature,” is defined as “the amount of biologically productive land and sea area needed to regenerate the resources a human population consumes and to absorb and render

Beyond Economic Development: The So-Called Happy Planet Index

By Martin W. Lewis | November 22, 2010 | 2 Comments

Most measurements of development rely heavily on per capita economic output. While the U.N.’s Human Development Index (HDI) considers education and longevity as well, Gross National Income remains an essential component. The use of such economic data as a proxy for overall development is controversial. Some find it unduly materialistic, focusing on the raw production

Britain Vs. Spain and Spain Vs. Morocco in the Strait of Gibraltar

By Martin W. Lewis | August 23, 2010 | 6 Comments

Maritime chokepoints, where ships must pass through narrow passageways, are sites of geopolitical advantage that have often been contested. Sea-based empires, especially Portugal in the 1500s and Britain in the 1800s, seized and garrisoned towns and fortresses at the entrance to marine chokepoints scattered over vast distances. Today, remnants of earlier imperial projects are evident

Border Delineation and Desiccation in Lake Chad

By Martin W. Lewis | August 5, 2010 |

Unrest in the Bakassi Peninsula should not blind us to the fact that the Nigerian and Cameroonian governments have peaceably settled a long-standing dispute that once threatened to break into war. With UN help, the two countries are setting up 3,000 pillars to demarcate their border, a process that is scheduled to be completed

Election Controversies and Ethnic Complexities on the Not-So-Tiny Island of Bougainville

By Martin W. Lewis | June 23, 2010 |

In June 2010, the Autonomous Region of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea (PNG) voted out three quarters of its parliamentary representatives along with its president. Whereas the outgoing leader was a former revolutionary committed to independence, the newly elected chief executive favors continuing ties with PNG. Most sources, however, do not see a loss of

Struggles over Dams and Waterfalls in Paraguay

By Martin W. Lewis | May 28, 2010 |

The uproar over Kathryn Bigelow’s plans to shoot a film in the Triple Frontier region (discussed yesterday) might seem surprising at first glance. Ciudad del Este and the tri-border zone are already known in Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay for smuggling and crime, and are thus unlikely to suffer much domestically from American movie insults

The Temporary Rebirth of Lake Eyre

By Martin W. Lewis | April 26, 2010 | 2 Comments

As the Southern Aral Sea dies, another massive lake on the opposite side of the world is being reborn, although its life expectancy is not long. When full, South Australia’s Lake Eyre is about the size of Cyprus. More often, Lake Eyre is a giant salt-flat pocked with briny pools. But Ayer’s drainage area is

The Tragedy of Karakalpakstan and the Fall of Khwarezm

By Martin W. Lewis | April 23, 2010 | One Comment

The destruction of the Aral Sea has disproportionally hit one ethnic group, the Karakalpak, a people roughly half a million strong whose name means “black hats.” The Karakalpak homeland is the region where the Amu Darya River once flowed into the Aral Sea. The Karakalpak traditionally farmed the fertile delta soils, fished in the river

The Death, and Partial Rebirth, of the Aral Sea

By Martin W. Lewis | April 22, 2010 |

After touring the remains of the Aral Sea by helicopter in April 2010, U.N. secretary general Ban-Ki Moon expressed shock at the scale of devastation. “It is clearly one of the worst environmental disasters of the world,” he reported. “It really left with me a profound impression, one of sadness that such a mighty sea

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