Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Geographic Geekery
What do geeks do when on the phone late at night? They compare the details of small islands on their giant world maps, of course. This past weekend's educational exploration led to the following interesting discovery: the island of Bouvetøya. It's in the middle of the South Atlantic, surrounded in all directions by miles and miles of ocean. All the islands to its west to South America are claimed by the UK, all those to the east are claimed by France, South Africa, or Australia. Who claims Bouvet? Norway.

I can only speculate that at some point, Norway decided it wanted to be like the other cool countries with islands, and went looking for a bargain. Maybe it thought it had gotten a really excellent deal. But there's a reason that Norway was welcome to it. As Paul Carroll, a self-proclaimed lover of all the Subantarctic Islands, puts it on his informational site:
Bouvetøya lies at 54º 26' South, 3º 24' East and is roughly four miles long by three miles wide, rising to 780 m at Olavtoppen. The centre of the island contains the ice-filled crater of an inactive volcano known as the Wilhelm II Plateau. Glaciers cover most of the island, the two largest being the Posadowsky Glacier on the north coast and Christensen Glacier on the south. Steep cliffs as high as 500 m surround the island. Offshore, navigation is difficult due to poor charting and volcanic activity which creates shoals and shallows...

The island is covered in an ice sheet several hundred feet thick, and sheer ice cliffs fall vertically towards black beaches formed of volcanic sand. The sea is close to freezing throughout the year, often covered in ice or stranded icebergs.

As one might imagine, the weather at this location in the 50th latitude is very inhospitable. Fair weather is extremely rare, and the mean temperature is minus 1.5ºC.
The history of the island since its discovery reveals that several countries have considered establishing weather stations on the island, but have been constrained from doing so by, er, the weather. Eventually, an automatic station was established, after about 50 years of trying. It seems the most successful thing done with the island has been to declare it a "nature reserve."

For further geo-geekery, the address label insert that came with my latest National Geographic had 5 quiz questions on it. Given that one of them was about North Carolina and another about Chile, I did quite well. Wanna try?

  1. Which continent produces the least vegetation?

  2. According to the 2000 census, nearly 30 percent of the foreign-born residents of the United States are from what country?

  3. An archipelago is a group of what physical features found in a body of water?

  4. North Carolina's most populous city is also an important financial center. What's this city's name?

  5. What mineral resource is Chile's main export?
Now I kind of wonder if people in other states got a different Q4, and if they made different questions for subscribers in other countries. I can't think of anyone I know with a National Geographic subscription in another state at the moment, though.

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