Mapping the Arctic

The melting of Arctic ice, coupled with other factors such as the push to discover more oil reserves to exploit, is spurring new efforts to map the Arctic. A US team recently completed a survey of a huge underwater peninsula, known as the Chukchi Cap, on the northern side of Alaska and found that it is actually over 100 miles longer than previously thought. Under certain criteria, a country can claim ownership of the sea floor off its coasts, and exploit the resources beneath it. Other countries, such as Canada and Russia, are also mounting expeditions to explore and map areas of the Arctic off their coast.

While these mapping expeditions are providing us with new information about the geography of our planet, unfortunately they are also opening the way to further depleting our finite resources.

via Nature News

First US National Biomass and Carbon Datasets now available

The Woods Hole Research Center has been working on the “National Biomass and Carbon Dataset for the year 2000 (NBCD2000) and have just released datasets from the first nine project mapping zones. All NBCD2000 data products can be downloaded on a zone-by-zone basis from the NBCD2000 project website. The datasets are free, but you do have to register at the site. The NBCD project is a really impressive undertaking, utilizing data from Landsat and SRTM, and derived data products like the National Land Cover Dataset 2001, LANDFIRE (vegetation), and the National Elevation Dataset to model biomass zones.

The team’s hope is to continue releasing datasets approximately one every week or so, until the project is completed sometime in 2009. There is an online mapping tool for viewing and querying the progress of the NBCD zone mapping (although it did not seem to be working correctly when I visited the site). A static map image of the current progress can be found here.

A New Geological Age!

Have humans brought about a new Geological age? Seeing as we’re in a department that shares space with not only Geography but Geology, I occasionally scan for any new Geology news. Apparently this theory has been around for five years or so, but I just ran across it, so I’m reporting now. The idea is that Geological ages are defined by a few specific things, one of which is major change in plant life. The theory is that the impact humans have had on the environment has brought about a fundamental shift, and thus a new Geological age. As the article points out, you can’t just declare a new age – it takes some time and a bit of agreement by the general scientific community. Thus the Geological Society of London have kicked off this effort by arguing their case for in next month’s Geological Society of America issue.

I can’t say I know anything about the validity or lack there of concerning the case, but I do think it’s kinda cool to be living in a brand new Geological age. How often does THAT happen?

Sometimes it Snows in……Baghdad!

Baghdad got its first snow in 100 years on Friday! The snow didn’t accumulate much, so the Baghdad government won’t have to add “snow plows” to its load of materials, but it was a once in a lifetime site. People of all ages remarked they had never seen snow, nor had ever heard of anyone in their lifetime seeing snow in the area before. Some people remarked it was the first time they had ever seen snow, outside of movies.

Solar Headaches to Come

National Geographic is reporting that we can expect a season of intense solar flares for the next few weeks and months. This is all part of a normal 11 year cycle in solar flare activity, but it can lead to some distinct headaches in our tech heavy world. As the article notes, this is the first cycle where GPS is widespread – and GPS is one of the systems most easily affected by solar flares. It will be interesting to see how much impact these flares have on our day to day lives, particularly in the geospatial community. So, for the next few weeks/months, if you’re doing GPS field work, you might want to bring a book!

Japan Wants 30% of Housholds to Go Solar by 2030

Japan has set a target to increase it’s number of solar powered houses to 14 million by 2030. It’s a fairly lofty goal. The exceptionally noteworthy part of this is that Japan is focusing on reducing the costs of panels, increasing the power output, and increasing the ease of installation. Since Japan produces roughly half the solar panels in the world, hopefully some of these improvements will find their way to other shores. I know I looked at solar panels for my house a couple of years ago when I was building. It just wasn’t cost effective for our area at the time. Hopefully with the rising price of electricity, these potential improvements will be a big boon!

Welcome winter

So we have entered the winter season here in the northern hemisphere (welcome to summer down south). I prefer the winter months during this season, mostly cause the thought of Saint Nick in his swimming trunks is just not for me…nope, no way.

BBC travels the Northwest Passage

A story to round out Blog Action Day about current research along the Northwest Passage that will likely soon have new environmental finds. The BBC has had a press crew on the vessel (the Amundsen) that has been passing through the Northwest Passage and they have been showing some of the video on BBC World News for the last week, but you can also view these videos online on BBC web site. There are many Geography questions raised in the video from the scientific mission of the ship across the Northwest Passage to the political issues surrounding the question of whether it lies in national versus international waters.

Either way there should be a significant amount of environmental research to come out of the voyage and work over the next couple of years. You can check out a detailed diary of the journey across the Northwest Passage on the BBC website.