Geographer’s lightbulb moment suggests mental maps are important

In an earlier post I mentioned two reports in the press about the impact of satellite navigation systems on the map production sector.  I recently read a blog post that suggests that this issue may be more fundamental.

James Ellwood with is GPS and a map

James Elwood is a geographer who worked of the US Bureau of the Census on early GIS applications and mapping.  He is now an independent consultant and has just given a talk at TEDx Vancouver in which he argues that navigation systems need to work more like our mental maps.  They way they currently operate makes us passengers on our own journeys.  This means we could lose the ability to build mental maps of locations we journey through.  And he sums this up: ‘without mental maps we are lost.‘  There are implications here for Geography education, mapping, navigation technologies.

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25 year experiment shows ants can break down minerals, sequester CO2 | Ars Technica

This is a great story about the importance of longitudinal studies in environmental sciences, particularly geomorphology.   Scott Johnson writes in Ars Technica of a 25 year experiment shows ants can break down minerals, sequester CO2.  This article tells how Prof Ron Dorn of Arizona State University started a project 25 years ago that he has only just been able to anlayse now!  The idea came from his professor, Luna Leopold, who encouraged his students to start a longitundinal experiment on arrival in a new job as most geomorphological processes are long term and this would enable them to carry out a long term investigation.  It shows marked differences in rock weathering in a number of location with rocks in ants nests experiencing a far great mineral wethering than any other location.  This seems to be a result of ants moving grains of rock and sand around and this is having the effect of converting atmorspheric carbon dioxide into minerals underground.  This may be a part of the carbon cycle we have been unaware of until now.

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What do we know about epidemics?

Reports in July of chikungunya outbreaks in Central America and the Caribbean, reports of the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa  and more recently Congo reminds us of the potential significance of disease as a threat to civilisation.  WHO’s Disease outbreak news service (DONS) is a useful location for current outbreak news and it also contains links to archived reports.  At the time of writing, DONS has reported in the last couple of months on the following reporting MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus), Ebola virus disease [latest report 30/8/14 of a first case in Senegal] and avian influenza A(H7N9).

Research into understanding of the spread of disease has a number of key interpretations.  Mayer (1996) for example provides a useful introduction to a political ecology approach to understanding the spread of disease, one that has resonance with some of today’s important diseases.  This emphasises the complex interactions between the environment and the outbreaks of disease.  Thus changing the environment can have an impact on vulnerability of populations to disease.  This link between environment and disease is illustrated in Paterson et al’s (2004) study of Ebola and Marburg disease epidemiology.  They find as a result of modelling based on data from actual outbreaks of Ebola and Marburg disease (both haemorrhagic fever diseases) that there are routes and reservoirs that can have their function in the epidemiology of the disease strengthened or weakened depending on certain geographical features of the environment, such as temperature, elevation or land cover.  Alternatively, Glass (2000) shows how certain spatial patterns area apparent in the epidemiological study of disease depending on the particular medium of disease transmission.  This work suggests that what we have discovered about the links between disease and geography may change as our environment changes due to short to medium term climate oscillations and long term climate change, such as has been reported in relation to mosquito-borne diseases such a global review by Reiter (2001), analysis of diarrheal diseases in the Pacific Region by Singh et al (2001) and a WHO (2010) case study report on effects of climate change on diarrheal diseases and malaria in a region of Nepal.  inerestingly the WHO report shows that the data on the physical processes of climate change is of good quality, but the data quality on disease is poor.  This latter report concludes that there is more research work to be done to better understand these threats to civilisation. – a very interesting site – provides an interactive map of the spread of the ebola disease.


Glass, G. (2000) Update: Spatial aspects of epidemiology: the interface with medical geography.  Epidemiological Reviews.  22(1), 136-139 [also available here]

Mayer, J (1996) The political ecology of disease as one focus for medical geography.  Progress in Human Geography  20(4), 441-456.  [also available here]

Reiter, P. (2001) Climate change and mosquito-borne diseases.  Environmental Health Perspectives 109 (Supplement 1), 141-161. [Also available here]

Singh, R. B. K., Hales, S., de Wet, N., Raj, R. Hearnden, M. & Weinstein, P. (2001) The influence of climate variation and change on diarrheal disease in the Pasific Islands.  Environmental Health Perspectives 109(2), 155-159.  [also available here]

Townsend Peterson, A., Bauer, J. T. & Mills, J. N. (2004) Ecologic and geographic distribution of filovirus disease.  Emerging Inectious Diseases. 10(1), 40-47.  [also available here]

WHO (2010) Evaluation of the Effects of Climatic Factors on the Occurrence ofDiarrheal Diseases and Malaria:A Pilot Retrospective Study in Jhapa District, Nepal.  World Health Organisation Technical Report, Kobe City.  [available here]

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Drone video: Devastating aftermath of China 6.5 earthquake – YouTube

More at UoG’s Geography blog Threats2Civilisation.

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The First Map of the Depths of the Oceans


Thap & Heezen's Ocean Floor Map

Tharp & Heezen’s Ocean Floor Map (1977)

THE FIRST MAP OF THE DEPTHS is a great article from the Economist about the first map of the world’s ocean floors which was published in 1977.  The Huffington Post profiled Marie Tharp the earth scientist who was one of the two person team that produced the first map, which includes a brief slide show of her and her work and a link to a Marie Tharp biography.   The technology of mapping the ocean floors has moved on since these first maps according to this Ocean Sciences ocean mapping learning package from NOAA Education.  They are targeted at US grades 5-12, but could be easily adapted for local curricula.  The National Geographic provide this excellent video about mapping the ocean floors.  Of course one  of the latest accessible development is Google Earth’s Ocean Floor element.

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Mark Malloch-Brown: developing the MDGs was a bit like nuclear fusion | Mark Tran | Global development |

Mark Malloch-Brown: developing the MDGs was a bit like nuclear fusion in an interview with Mark Tran of  Lord Mark Malloch-Brown describes his experience of being on the team that drafted the Millennium Development Goals.  If he hadn’t accidentally walked past the head of the UN Environment Programme, the environmental sustimability target [MDG7] would not have made it on.

Let’s hope the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals and the Task Teams working on the Post 2015 Development Agenda (that is those working on what is to replace the MDGs when their deadline runs out in 2015) have a more rigorous approach!

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Big Data: history to scale

Very detailed blog about a useful online mapping project making available of thousands of historical USGS maps of the US from 1882 to the present in a singel interface: Big Data: history to scale.

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