Oldest evidence of life on Earth found in Canadian rocks

CBC News link

Fascinating! Carbon, in the form of graphite, that’s 3.95 billion years old – only 500 million years younger than the formation of Earth. Some great scientific ex0lanations in this article, too – rare for pop journalism. Congrats, CBC, for not dumbing it down!


IRIS 3D Earthquake viewer

Now this is a web-based app I could spend hours exploring:

IRIS 3D Earthquake viewer

I can’t wait to introduce it to my classes. What a great way to help students visualize subduction, amongst other things. You really must take a few minutes to immerse yourself.

Night Light Maps Open Up New Applications

Much has been written lately in the popular press regarding the new set of satellite images released by NASA showing Earth at Night. Few sources provide a clearer view of human settlement patterns contrasting heavily populated and industrialized areas with those less populated and/or less “plugged in”; while Europe and eastern North America gleam, much of Africa is dark despite its high population, although the Nile Valley and Delta sure stand out.

I particularly like the Earth at Night images for illustrating settlement patterns across Canada: high concentrations show up as the urban archipelago across the nation; there are regular, evenly-dispersed populations across the plainsfarmland of southwestern Ontario and, of course, the Prairies; mountain valleys in the west clearly show linear patterns as do the coastal margins of the Martimes and St. Lawrence and along with rail and road corridors across northern Ontario, while much of the rest of the Canadian Shield is dark except for randomly dispersed mining and logging settlements and First Nations’ communities.

I highly recommend spending a few minutes reading this article by the Earth Observatory, as it provides an insightful glimpse of the tech behind these wonderful images – ideal for anyone pursuing remote sensing.


The Tribes of London: London OAC Supergroups

I’m always amazed at how way leads to way when surfing the Internet.

This morning, I thought I’d have a look at some geography blogs, just to see “what’s out there”. I subscribe to a few different geography magazines – Canadian Geographic, the Geographical, National Geographic – as well as others that relate to geography such as the Alternatives Journal and New Internationalist. But more and more frequently, I’m finding the content of magazines, while interesting, not entirely engaging. And when consumer-oriented geoinformation is engaging, it becomes melodramatic and too focus on the unique (and sometimes outrageous) experiences of a few people. Many travel magazines fall into this last category.

So, more and more, I’m turning to blogs, particularly those being maintained by geographers doing geography. This morning, I came across the blog Geo: Geography and the Environment. It’s an off-shoot of the peer-reviewed journal, Geo. I was pleased to see it is British in origin; from my experience of three years teaching geography in England, I know geography is alive and well – perhaps the strongest geography program in any secondary setting in the world.

The blog has numerous fascinating insights into what is being done in geography today – cutting edge stuff that forces me to think. Yes – that’s the difference. The articles in many consumer-oriented magazines are predictable; the same old same old, re-packaged in a different context, but few insights that are new or thought-provoking.

I started off reading about the “Geographies of Openness and Information” which charts the spatial distribution of national-level domain names. Of even greater interest to me, with my bent towards wildlife populations, was the article following: “Learning from guano: In search of a paleo-seabird proxy“. It was a year ago next month that I led a group of 23 Grade 8s, 9s and 11s to Galápagos to take part in on-the-ground conservation research, so, to see how researchers are making use of seemingly disparate data and concepts of crater lakes, Nitogen isotopes and anchovy populations in an historical and pre-history context, is, to me, fascinating.

I particularly enjoyed “Mapping the Tribes of London“. The title itself is fascinating, but what I found was a new way of imagining and describing different “cultures” across the human landscape. It immediately got me thinking about my own neighbourhood. I also checked out places I am familiar with from my years in England. Based on census data, researchers are able to predict the type of people living in specific areas: urbanites, suburbanites, constrained cits dwellers, multicultural metropolitans, for example. It would be an interesting comparative study of the structurally homogenous neighbourhoods in my city of Guelph, here in Canada, with my former city of Chelmsford, UK, with structurally heterogenous neighbourhoods: how different is the human mix of people in the quite different styles of neighbourhoods? Are heterogenous neighbourhoods “superior” (however that may be defined) to structurally homogenous neighbourhoods of the same age? Sounds like a Masters or PhD thesis in the making.

Of course, the hazard in this approach is that it may over-average groups of people into homogenous pods within a neighbourhood, but it seems their scale is large enough to allow for variability within a neighbourhood. The data has been mapped as “OACs” (Output Area Classifications) for the country, and, within London as London OACs or LOACs. I’ve linked each of these to map views from the Datashine website – which, in itself, is a true Weekend Wandering. It makes our Statistics Canada look downright dinosaurian.

As well, the term “tribe” seems to be ill-used. While there is a certain level of homogeneity within a tribe (bringing in the idea of Tobler’s first law of geography: “All things are related, but nearby things are more related (similar) than far away things”), within a traditional tribe, there would be daily or, at least, regular interactions within the tribe. Whereas, with this use of “tribe” people of the same tribe may never interact even though they live in the same neighbourhood and ride the same train to work – so are they really a “tribe”.

Much exploration here and much thought needed around this idea of breaking down a country or city into “tribes”. Very dangerous from my North American point of view, which causes me to eschew the hierarchies and divisions my ancestors escaped from and tried not to repeat here in Canada. But that’s a whole other topic for discussion.

Weekend Wandering 10: Reading the ABCs from Space


Back in December of last year, one of the most visually interesting of NASA Earth Observatory’s Features was released – Reading the ABCs from Space. Initially, it sounds a bit juvenile, like being back in Primary School, but when you start looking at the satellite images and the captions below, one becomes more and more engrossed (at least, I did!)

It got me thinking about how to use a resource like this for more than its face value. Right now, my students are working through constructive and destructive geologic processes that form the various types of landforms around the world and it occurred to me that they should be able to make some connections between what they are learning and what the various images show. It needs more thought and a more robust framework. but it’s an idea that will simmer quietly in the background between now and when I present the course again next year.

As my wife Laurie said, “There’s a children’s book in this!” Hmmmmmmm.


Improving Your Hallowe’en Haul

Trick or Treat DensityHere’s a take on statistics that will rot your teeth! CensusMapper.ca has created a series of maps that use census data to predict where the best neighbourhoods are for trick or treating tonight. Just visit the CensusMapper.ca Trick-or-Treat Density map, type your city or town into the Search field and away you go! There is also a slightly different version called Trick-or-Treat Onslaught.

It is nothing short of a brilliant implementation and thoughtful use of statistics and GIS (not to mention colour!) using the mapping API from Leaflet. Kids can use geography to predict candy haul based on the density of trick-or-treating-aged kids living in a neighbourhood. To quote CensusMapper.ca:

This map shows the number of children of prime trick-or-treating age as defined by Stats Canada per km². In plain terms, we map the percentage of children aged 5 to 14 per area.

CensusMapper Drill DownBe sure to click on a census area for a pop-up with more statistics. And if you are really keen, click on the “more…” button on the pop-up to graphically drill down into the data for that segment – very cool!

Even better, though, at least from an academic perspective, are the myriad other maps CensusMapper.ca has created:

and others that deal a range of topics from religion to young adults living at home. Each map is searchable by place name throughout Canada making comparisons between urban areas and rural and urban areas just a jew clicks away. While many of the topics are beyond Grade 9 Geography, they would be welcome for developing higher-order thinking and conceptualization in senior geography courses.

But in the meantime, hand this over to your kids so they can plan their route for tonight’s Hallowe’en outing. And, while they’re out, have them collect non-perishable food items on behalf of your local food bank and the national We Scare Hunger campaign.

Happy Hallowe’en!