Tweets of a Different Kind

I have subscribed to the wonderfully informative eNature website and email list for years because of the kid in me loves that it is a grown up Ranger Rick. They provide Zip Guides that map animals and plants in your area by zip code. I like when they post information on native bird species because even though I’m not a birder, I participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count every February. This month eNature has a Bird Call Challenge,which would be a great activity for a geography or science classroom or fun home activity.

How Long Is A Piece Of String?


It’s amazing what you can find if you slow down when you’re flipping through the channels.  The other day I happened to stop at PBS and caught this wonderful documentary, “How Long Is A Piece Of String?”, published by the BBC.  It features comedian Alan Davies attempting to accurately measure the length of a piece of string.  Ultimately the documentary becomes an exploration of quantum physics, but along the way they cover a great bit of geography in the form of scale.  In fact there’s a whole bit in the middle there where Davies attempts to measure a bit of coast line, which neatly demonstrates the coastline paradox.  If you want to jump to the paradox bit, it can be found at around 2:15 through just over 5:00 in this smaller video.

Always… Never Forget To Check With The Experts

Thanks to Real Genius for the title. Climate scientists are engaged in a little damage control after Britain’s Time Comprehensive Atlas of the World mistakenly claimed Greeland’s glaciers are melting at a breakneck rate. If you compare the ice cover from 1999 and 2011, the Atlas reports a 15% loss in ice coverage. Climate scientists report the real number is closer to one-tenth of 1%. That’s a healthy difference! Scientists have been quick to point out the error and the publishers are attempting to address the issue (although they go through great pains to keep from acknowledging the Atlas is wrong). Nobody’s really sure why the error was made, however one scientist attempted a little ‘cartographic forensics’ and claims someone has confused a thickness for an extent. The publishers deny this happened, but have offered no alternative theory.

Tracking Happy Feet

National Public Radio (NPR) has been closely following the story of Happy Feet, the penguin who got off course and ended up in New Zealand. They recently posted a heart warming story about the NZEmperor website created by SIRTRACK, the makers of the Sirtrack KiwiSat 202 Satellite Transmitter donated to keep tabs and map Happy Feet’s location. Dr Gareth Morgan, a scientist raising New Zealanders’ awareness of the importance of the area between Stewart Island and the South Pole, is sponsoring the satellite costs. He has a Happy Feet tracking page on his Our Far South website. Everyone interested in the story is waiting with baited breath to see if Happy Feet’s tracking system starts working or why it might have stopped. No matter what happens this was a great news story that might get many citizen scientists involved in learning more about the issues and technology involved in a part of the world they might not normally think about. Dr. Gareth Morgan’s website also discusses his upcoming trip to raise awareness of the region and features a very diverse crew of researchers, conservationists, and others, who are going to be on the trip as well.

Geography Education Specialty Group of the AAG

As some of you may know, I took up the mantle of Treasurer of the GESG this year. Since I have an audience to reach out to through the blog, I thought I would take some time to evangelize the GESG and encourage folks to keep it in mind as they renew their AAG membership to register for the annual conference (mere weeks to go to submit abstracts).

The mission of the Geography Education Specialty Group is:

To promote research, development, and practice in the learning and teaching of geography and to examine and strengthen the role of geography in education by focusing on the development of learners, teachers, curricula, and programs.

This clearly touches on anyone that is in the classroom, working in outreach, or really interested in how people conceive of Geography. There is obviously significant overlap with in membership with NCGE, but working as part of the AAG allows the GESG to build on the presentations and discussions of the larger group of educators and geographers in attendance at the AAG annual meeting. In other words…join both!

If you are a student studying Geography Education, be sure to check out the GESG’s Gail Hobbs Student Paper Competition. It is a great way to share your work and meet Geographers with a similar focus during the sessions (you know, there really are people outside your department). Plus, talk about icing on the cake, there are cash prizes for the competition! Student membership is cheap at $1.

For the non-students, whether you are an AAG member or will be applying in the future and are interested in Geography Education, be sure to add us to your list of Specialty Groups. It is a great way to keep up-to-date with Geography educators in the AAG, and the related activities going on at the annual meeting. Regular membership is a very reasonable $5.

Storm Tracks Move Toward The Poles

Climate models have predicted this for years, but it’s never been observed… until now. Ars Technica discusses the issue in brief. For the non-physical geographers out there (of which I count myself), storm tracks are the mid-latitude storm patterns that bring most of the precipitation to the heavy population centers in the world. As the climate changes, these storm tracks should gravitate to the poles. Scientists have been using data from The International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project to attempt to track the movement of storm tracks. They note lots of issues with the data, but repeated sampling and analysis methods have shown a clear trend – the tracks are moving as predicted. On top of that, apparently we’ve lost 2-3% of our total cloud cover worldwide!

So what’s the takeaway from all of this? It seems to me that the issues with the data combined with the need to track this stuff in a more comprehensive and accessible way point to one major conclusion – we need more satellites to get more accurate and timelier data. It really doesn’t matter where you fall on the climate change issue. Better information can only lead to a more informed scientific community and public, which is always a good thing.

Cicadas, Locusts, and Mapping

Throughout history, cicada and locusts have produced fascination, food, and frustration, among other f words. The Cicada Mania site “Dedicated to cicadas, the most amazing insects in the world.” provides TONS of information on cicadas. Other calls for citizen scientists include those of University of Georgia, Dept. of Entomology, asking for pictures and locations of cicadas and shed cicada skins. Their call recommends that parents participate with their young children because their children will not see this amazing event again until they are adults.

Many countries have set up citizen science watches to keep tabs on what is happening this year. According to a Charlotte news report, the 14 state Cicada Watch citizen science project had hundreds of volunteers in Mechlenberg County, NC alone this year. Other watch projects across take place across the globe. The Australian Government of Agriculture,Fisheries, and Forestry has an up to date section for “Current Locust Situation and News“. The Desert Locust Watch is produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations for desert regions such as the Sudan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia,

Spatial mapping and fish

The R2 Fish School Kit that has been featured on TV shows like ABC News and Animal Planet teaches your fish to play basketball, fetch, and more. It was developed by Dr. Dean Pomerleau and his son Kyle. Their goldfish “Albert Einstein” is the current Guinness World Record holder for the pet fish with the most tricks. These aren’t just parlor tricks, researchers like Dr. Pomerleau have been studying fish intelligence, especially spatial intelligence for a long time.

A study by Seraphina Chung, of the Department of Human Biology, University of Toronto examined the use of different type of mazes to better understand the use of spatial learning by fish in their daily life. Other companies, such as FishBio use different spatial technologies like remote sensing, sensors, and 3-D side-scanning sonar to GPS fish habitats and migration routes.

If you are interested in learning more about fish intelligence and considering the amazing spatial ability of migrating fish, spring is a great time to participate in a citizen science fish count. The Town of Plymouth, Maine Environmental Resources and many others have already started participation in fish counts. If it is too late to do it now in your area, you can mark your calendar for next year.

iTunes highlights learning Geography

In my regular trip to the iTunes App Store today I saw an exciting feature labeled Apps for Learning Geography. The sections featured include Maps, World Facts, People & Cultures, Earth Science, and Games. Some of the apps include the NGS World Atlas, ArcGIS, Geographia, Britannica Kids: Aztec Empire, Dinosaurs iPad, and National Geographic GeoBee Challenge among many others.

I know it is a little sad that I feel excited in my choice of disciplines by seeing it featured on iTunes…but that is just how much of an Apple geek I am.