Tag Archives: Atmosphere & Biosphere

The Future of European Aviation?

by Benjamin Sacks

Proposed European FABs.

Proposed European FABs.

The eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökul volcano on 20 March 2010 demonstrated the weaknesses in Europe’s diverse air traffic control network. As a massive ash cloud up to 8 kilometres high gradually extended across western Europe, forcing the cancellation of thousands of flights and stranding millions of passengers across the entire continent. Although European air controllers correctly prioritised passenger safety above all other factors, the scenario left many airline industry commentators and journalists frustrated with the European Union’s apparent inability to swiftly and effectively act on changing meteorological and airline information. With few exceptions, the maintenance of separate airspace quadrants by each EU member, each with different processes, response mechanisms, as well as external pressures from airlines and politicians, all contributed to delayed and even contradictory responses in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, and Oslo.

In Eyjafjallajökull’s wake, the International Aviation Transportation Authority (IATA), in cooperation with the EU, proposed the establishment a single European air zone, divided into nine ‘functional airspace blocks’. Citing the current system’s woefully inefficiency – e.g., ‘With fewer air traffic controllers the United States FAA [Federal Aviation Authority] is able to deliver 70% more controlled flight hours than Europe]’ – the IATA / EU consortium called for a reorganisation, or ‘rationalisation’ of air traffic control hierarchies, technological modernisation, and substantially better (and more transparent) communication between national aviation authorities. Optimistically entitled ‘Single European Sky’ (SES), officials set a date of 4 December 2012 for its implementation.

But, as Dr Christopher Lawless (Durham University) reminds us in his March 2014 Geographical Journal commentary, 4 December 2012 came and went with little change. Only two of the nine blocks – Denmark-Sweden and UK-Ireland – had reached operational status. National-level aviation oversight bodies – intended to be the vanguard of transnational cooperation – had made little progress in communicating or facilitating with their neighbouring counterparts. Bickering, unsurprisingly, had early on replaced collaboration. At the EU Aviation Summit in Limassol, Cyprus, Siim Kallas, European Commission joint Vice President and Transport Commissioner, attacked EU states for ‘their “undue protection of national interests’” (Lawless p. 76).

Of the seven non-operational airspace blocks, two (Iberian Peninsula and Central Mediterranean) had not even progressed beyond the ‘definition stage’ (p. 77). Fearing the loss of their jobs and the complete overhaul of learned ATC procedures, French and German air traffic controllers repeatedly threatened strikes.

Lawless examined SES’s problematic history through Sheila Jasanoff and Sang-Hyun Kim’s 2009 paradigm of ‘sociotechnical imaginary’. The European SES programme sought to mix technological requirements with larger political aspirations, inevitably leading to discord between various member states. Airlines, already struggling to break even financially, balked at restructuring costs (p.80). Spatially, air spaces were eventually designed along largely existing geographical and geopolitical lines, as the UK-Ireland, Denmark-Sweden, and Italy-Mediterranean sectors clearly demonstrate (p. 78). In reality, these geopolitically-influenced air spaces make little sense with the traffic patterns of most passenger flights:

[T]he highest density region of European air traffic…spans a corridor encompassing the airspace of the UK, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. Under the current arrangement, this straddles four separate FABs…(p. 78).

Lawless concludes by calling for a comprehensive inquiry into sovereign states’ concerns, risk assessments, and considerations, and re-drawing the air space landscape in a more logical (and less state-specific) manner. Ultimately, he stressed that even such ‘apolitical’ projects as SES are unfortunately ridden with politics, negotiation, and self-interests.

The SES debate will continue to fascinate observers for some time. Agonising, protracted discussions over the future of London’s airspace – the world’s busiest – between Conservative officials, led by Boris Johnson, and Labour opponents seem unlikely to end amicably, or soon. This regional crisis, combined with Britain’s current national debate over its long-term role within the EU, will only further complicate the SES’s possible re-development and implementation.    

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Gertisser R, Eyjafjallajökull volcano causes widepread disruption to European air trafficGeology Today 26.3 (May-Jun.: 2010), 94-95.

books_icon IATA / EU, A Blueprint for the Single European Sky: Delivering on safety, environment, capacity and cost-effectiveness, 2011.

books_icon Lawless C, Commentary: Bounding the vision of a Single European SkyThe Geographical Journal, 180.1 (Mar., 2014): 76-82.

60-world2 Sacks B, Eyjafjallajökull: Geography’s Harsh ReminderGeography Directions, 18 February 2011.

60-world2 Q&A: EU response to Iceland volcano ashBBC News, 25 May 2011.

60-world2 Iceland volcano ash: German air traffic resumingBBC News, 25 May 2011.

60-world2 Hofmann K, French, German ATCs postpone strikes over Single European SkyAir Transport World, 24 January 2014.

 

Seeing glacial change: optical consistency through the camera and the archive

Martin Mahony

The Gangotri glacier in India, source of the Ganges river. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Towards the end of last year I visited an exhibition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Museum entitled ‘Rivers of Ice: Vanishing Glaciers of the Greater Himalaya’. The exhibition presented the work of mountaineer, photographer and filmmaker David Breashears, who had recently trekked through the Himalaya to produce updated photographs of glaciers which had been caught on film by earlier explorers. The exhibition blended the scientific iconography of climate change with that of the intrepid explorer, with the ice picks and ropes of the geographic expedition juxtaposed against the graphs and satellite imagery of climate science (see here).

My interest in glaciers grew from some empirical work I’ve been conducting on the contestation between the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Indian government over the possible rapid melting of Himalayan glaciers. In the IPCC’s 2007 report, it was asserted that the glaciers could entirely disappear by 2035. This claim was refuted by a government-sponsored review conducted by an Indian glaciologist, which reported a mixed pattern of advancing and receding glaciers and challenged “the conventional wisdom” of climate change causing rapid melting, as the Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh put it. The 2035 claim was later revealed to be ill-founded, having been picked-up from a magazine interview with a glaciologist in the 1990s and eventually finding its way into the IPCC report.

Melting ice has become a visual icon of climate change. Images of polar bears stranded on diminished ice floes and juxtaposed ‘then-and-now’ photographs of shrinking glaciers often dominate media coverage of the issue. There is something very tangible about disappearing ice, perhaps because its relationship to warming temperatures is much more direct and imaginable than the more complex causal links between global warming and the occurrence of extreme weather events. The vulnerability of ice to human-generated heat neatly captures the sense that human activities are impinging on and endangering a fragile natural world.

Scientific knowledge of melting ice is, however, deeply complex. As shown by the IPCC incident, it also sometimes the topic of heated scientific and political debate. In a recent paper in The Geographical Journal, Ulrich Kamp and colleagues provide a window onto the complex methods of detecting change in mountains glaciers, while also offering a fascinating account of how different sorts of data can be combined to produce new scientific understandings. The authors visited the RGS archives in London to access data and photographs from a 1910 RGS expedition to the Turgen Mountains in Mongolia led by Douglas Alexander Caruthers (1882-1962). After reviewing field notes and photographs from the expedition, the authors made their own way to the Turgen Mountains to reproduce the images made by Caruthers and his team.

By carefully positioning and calibrating their cameras, Kamp’s team was able to produce images suitable for detailed comparison. The anthropologist and philosopher of science Bruno Latour has often noted how much scientific knowledge production depends on achieving “optical consistency”, in order to find regular avenues through geographic space. The optical consistency achieved by the 21st century explorers enabled them to compare the pixels of their new images with scanned versions of the 1910 pictures, in order to ascertain precise measurements of ice loss. The authors are then able to conclude that glaciers on the lower slopes of the mountains have shown a marked retreated over the course of the last 100 years, and that continuing climate change will likely see that trend continue.

The image of the geographer-as-explorer has long since receded from imagination (at least those of academic geographers). However, Kamp et al.’s study demonstrates that where a key variable of scientific research is the passage time, there is great value in revisiting the archived work of geographers of old.

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India ‘arrogant’ to deny global warming link to melting glaciersThe Guardian

globe42 IPCC officials admit mistake over melting Himalayan glaciersThe Guardian

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Ulrich Kamp et al., 2013, Documenting glacial changes between 1910, 1970, 1992 and 2010 in the Turgen Mountains, Mongolian Altai, using repeat photographs, topographic maps, and satellite imageryThe Geographical Journal, DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00486.x

The Rise of the South: Beyond Expectations or a Warning about Our Future?

Jen Dickie

New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina: A Texas Army National Guard Blackhawk black deposits a 6,000 pound-plus bag of sand and gravel on-target, Sunday, September 4, 2005as work progresses to close the breach in the 17th Street Canal, New Orleans. (U.S. Army Corp of Engineers photo by Alan Dooley).  This work is in the public domain.On the 14th March, the United Nations Development Programme published the 2013 Human Development Report, The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World, which describes how the “rise of the South is radically reshaping the world of the 21st century, with developing nations driving economic growth, lifting hundreds of millions of people from poverty, and propelling billions more into a new global middle class”.  Crediting sustained investment in education, health care and social programmes as well as increasing international engagement, the report states that the “world is witnessing an epochal global rebalancing”.  Whilst the UN’s press release focuses on the “massive poverty reduction” and that more than 40 developing countries have demonstrated growth beyond expectations, Claire Provost highlights some of the more negative findings from the report in her article for The Guardian.  Her article focuses on the warning from the UN that unless action is taken to tackle environmental threats such as climate change, deforestation and air and water pollution, the number of people living in extreme poverty could increase by up to 3 billion by 2050.  The report highlights that climate change is already exacerbating “chronic” environmental threats, and stresses that although everyone is affected, “they hurt poor countries and poor communities the most”.

In an article for The Geographical Journal, Nigel Clark, Vasudha Chhotray and Roger Few discuss the relationship between natural hazards and disasters and how best to address the “uneven exposure and resilience of different social groups”.  They argue that human-induced climate change and its associated impacts have further added to the already complex nature of natural disasters.  Questioning the concept of global environmental justice, they discuss issues such as the tendency of powerful political and economic actors to take advantage of disasters and how traditional coping mechanisms have been eroded by ‘global modernising forces’; however, they state that whilst aid responses can be distributional and/or rights-based, the idea of justice is likely to stem from “ordinary human virtues of care and compassion”.  Following this argument, Clark et al., offer the notion that current generations of humans may be more likely care about the environment and the challenges it, and our future generations, face if we consider ourselves as owing an incalculable debt to past generations who survived a magnitude of natural disasters and therefore made our existence possible.

As growth in developing nations continues, the challenges facing them will change.  The UN highlights that sustainable economies and societies will rely on new policies and structural changes, and that these are needed if human development and climate change goals are to be aligned.  However, it is clear that policies alone will not be enough.  If we can show the same resilience and respect for our environment as our ancestors did, and view our actions as something we ‘owe’ our future generations, perhaps attitudes will change.

books_icon Nigel Clark, Vasudha Chhotray, Roger Few, 2013, Global justice and disasters, The Geographical Journal, DOI: 10.1111/geoj.12005

60-world2 Environmental threats could push billions into extreme poverty, warns UN, The Guardian, 14th March 2013

60-world2 Press release: “Rise of South” transforming global power balance, says 2013 Human Development Report, accessed 18th March 2013

60-world2 Human Development Report 2013, The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World, accessed 18th March 2013

The Icelandic Ash-Cloud Saga – Three Years On

By Catherine Waite

In the spring of 2010 the global media was dominated by stories of disruption as a result of the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull. Despite being a significant volcanic eruption, the direct consequences of this event were never really a matter of life or death given the comparatively remote location of the volcano. However, Eyjafjallajökull’s eruption will be remembered due to the world-wide disruption that ensued. In the week following the eruption over 95,000 flights were cancelled and 10 million passengers were stranded (Adey et al. 2011).

Natural hazards such as volcanoes, earthquakes and hurricanes are widely seen to be part of the realm of geographical research but studies published in journals including Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers and The Geographical Journal  clearly demonstrate the full scope of geographical research potential that events such as this stimulate. In Donovan and Oppenheimer’s (2011) work on the reconstruction of geography in relation to the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, they argue that

“the apparent breakdown of communication between scientific research, policy-makers and the public is the manifestation of a wider problem – one that is well-suited to geographical research, combining as it does both human and physical dimensions” (p.4)

This relationship between these stakeholders is demonstrated in today’s ruling at the European Court of Justice regarding compensation claims made to airlines following the eruption. This case brings together members of the public, airlines, national and European justice systems and others such as the hotels, restaurants and firms whose business was affected by the disruption.

Consequently the significance of geography to this story is clear. The eruption itself will obviously be subject to geographical study but geography as a discipline is also well suited to study the short and long-term impacts of this event as well as considering solutions and mitigation methods to prevent disruption of this scale happening again in the future.

books_iconAdey, P., Anderson, B. and Guerrero, L.L. 2011 An ash cloud, airspace and environmental threat Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 36 338-343

books_iconDonovan, A.R. and Oppenheimer, C. 2011 The 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption and the reconstruction of geography The Geographical Journal 177:1 4-11

books_iconDonovan, A.R. and Oppenheimer, C. 2012 The aviation sagas: geographies of volcanic risk The Geographical Journal 178:2 98-103

60-world2BBC News Ryanair ash cloud case: EU’s top court rules against airline 31st January 2013

Aviation Sagas: When Human and Physical Collide

by Jen Turner

Helicopter_against_clouds

On Wednesday 16th January, two people were killed and 13 injured when a helicopter crashed into a crane in central London.  Police said the helicopter had hit the crane on top of The Tower, One St George Wharf at about 08:00 GMT.  About 90 firefighters attended the scene near Wandsworth Road in South Lambeth.

Part of the crane was left hanging from the side of the building. London Fire Brigade reported that part of the tail section of the helicopter landed on roof of the building and the main section landed in Wandsworth Road, hitting two cars. The fire from the helicopter ignited two buildings. Police understood that the helicopter was on a scheduled flight from Redhill in Surrey to Elstree in Hertfordshire. A spokesman for London Heliport at Battersea said the pilot had requested to divert and land there due to bad weather.  The BBC weather centre said weather observations at the time of the crash showed very low cloud but not thick fog. The nearest observation site was London City Airport which at 08:00 reported 700m visibility with broken cloud at a height of 100ft.

The impact of geographical events upon aviation transport have been widely considered within the geography discipline.  In a 2011 Geographical Journal article Amy Donovan and Clive Oppenheimer discuss events of April 2010 when the Icelandic volcano – Eyjafjallajökull – erupted, demonstrating the increasing vulnerability of the modern world to relatively small volcanic eruptions when air traffic was halted across the world (an impact directly felt by geographers such as myself ‘stranded’ Stateside after the Association of the American Geographers Annual Meeting in Washington). In a later commentary, Donovan and Oppenheimer reflect on several recent incidents involving intersecting human and physical geographies, including the eruption of Grímsvötn volcano in South Iceland in May 2011.  Furthermore, in March, the devastating M9 earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan showed that even the best prepared nations face massive losses as a result of geophysical hazards.  By bringing these and other examples to light, Donovan and Oppenheimer use recent geophysical events to explore the intersection between the human and physical geographies of risk, examining in particular the peculiarities of volcanic risk to draw conclusions about social management of uncertainty more broadly.

Whilst it is likely that last week’s helicopter crash in London was a horrific accident, and a distant comparison to the geohazards that are the subject of the paper mentioned, there is no doubt that it remains another indicator of the fragile relationship between human and physical infrastructures, and the catastrophic events that any damage to the equilibrium may cause.     

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Amy Donovan and Clive Oppenheimer, 2011, The 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption and the reconstruction of geographyThe Geographical Journal, 177: 4-11.

books_iconAmy Donovan and Clive Oppenheimer, 2012, The aviation sagas: geographies of volcanic riskThe Geographical Journal, 178 (2): 98-103

60-world2 London helicopter crash: Two die in Vauxhall crane accidentBBC News, 16 Jan 2012.

 

Antarctica: Frozen Diplomacy

600px-Antarctica_6400px_from_Blue_MarbleBy Benjamin Sacks

On 18 December 2012, William Hague, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, announced that the southern portion of the British Antarctic Territory, spanning from the southern edges of the Ronne Ice Shelf to the South Pole, had been renamed in honour of Queen Elizabeth II. In celebration of the Diamond Jubilee, the 169,000 square mile, unpopulated region is twice the United Kingdom’s land area. There is considerable precedent for ceremoniously naming parts of Antarctica. Britain had previously named the the region near the Dumont d’Urville Sea George V Land, and Princess Elizabeth Land near Prydz Bay and the Amery Ice Shelf. Norway, which along with Britain was the chief explorer of Antarctica in the early twentieth century, named a large swath of the continent after its monarchs.

The legal framework behind Britain’s decision to rename a portion of its Antarctic territory is, to pardon the pun, ‘frozen’. Britain’s claim to much of West Antarctica is, like the claims of six other states, held in permanent limbo under the terms of Antarctic Treaty, safeguarding the continent against future development, which became active on 23 June 1961. As such, although Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, France, and Norway all made territorial claims, their respective holdings are not necessarily recognized by any other state, and all countries are free to conduct scientific research in any part of the continent.

It is important to keep in mind how little the world knew about Antarctica at the beginning of the twentieth century. In June 1963, Griffith Taylor, a surviving member of Robert Scott’s 1910 expedition, wrote in The Geographical Journal of some of the changes international teams had noted since his perilous journey over fifty years previously. Taylor recalled explorers’ differing geographical accounts, particularly over the length and breadth of continental mountain ranges and ice shelves. Other areas, including the Filchner Shelf, were all but unknown in 1910-14. Finally, and somewhat ominously, he predicted, but did not elaborate upon, the continent’s ‘probable disintegration’ (pp. 190-91).

Although uninhabited, Antarctica was long (and, indeed, continues to be) described within a colonial vocabulary. In part, this was because still so little was actually understood about the continent’s interior. In 1951, famed explored Vivian Fuchs described post-war British efforts in the region. The British were not simply exploring Antarctica, but rather a somewhat indeterminate British Antarctica, stretching vaguely down from the Falkland Islands. The maps, including that of Marguerite Bay, took on a creative, even farcical quality normally associated with the faded charts of early exploration (see. p. 402, for example).  But Fuchs’ report was also a clear piece of authoritative legitimation, a systematic chronology of British expeditions since 1945 acknowledging the United Kingdom’s Antarctic interests. Successive generations, including the (1984-85) Joint Services expedition, have continued this role to the present.

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Griffith Taylor, 1963, Probable Disintegration of Antarctica, The Geographical Journal 129 190-91.

books_icon Vivian E Fuchs, 1951, Exploration in British Antarctica, The Geographical Journal 117, 399-419.

books_icon Chris Furse, 1987, Joint Services Expedition to Brabant Island, Antarctica, 1984/85The Geographical Journal 153 1-10.

60-world2 UK to name part of Antarctica Queen Elizabeth Land, BBC News, 18 December 2012.

60-world2 The Antarctic TreatyNational Science Foundation: Office of Polar Programs, accessed 20 December 2012.

 

Towards improved drought awareness

By Daniel Schillereff

The copyright on this image is owned by Peter Bond and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

While recent years have been typified by intensely dry spells interspersed with severe flooding in many parts of the UK, this year (2012) will be remembered by many for the occurrence of both meteorological extremes. This shift was of a ‘magnitude never seen before’, according to experts at the Centre for Ecological and Hydrology (CEH), quoted in a recent Guardian article. The current issue of Area (December 2012, Volume 44, Issue 4) includes a Special Section comprising a number of articles focusing on water management and climate change, which is clearly timely.

While interaction between scientists, local residents and decision makers is commonplace when flood-risk mitigation strategies are being developed, such cooperation and communication is rarer when addressing droughts, despite the severe negative ecological, financial and societal impacts of prolonged dry periods. The media coverage of the spring drought was extensive, however drought generating mechanisms and the historical record of drought frequency and intensity were rarely discussed and public knowledge of these mechanisms appears limited. The Rahiz and New paper in this section deals specifically with meteorological drought in the UK and therefore deserves special attention.

Their paper includes a summary of historical drought literature for the UK which should be a first port of call for all readers. Among the principal findings of their study is confirmation that the North Atlantic Oscillation is an important driver of UK droughts as well indicating that the severity of drought events exhibits significant variability in different regions across the UK. If these points are considered by decision makers at water summits, similar to that which took place in Kent this month as mentioned on the BBC, there is scope for more informed responses to be implemented in the future to address water security. The public also have a vital role in water resource management and the updated drought information on the Environment Agency website and their social media feeds will hopefully lead to greater understanding among citizens when water rationing is instigated in the future.

  M Rahiz, M New, 2012, Spatial coherence of meteorological droughts in the UK since 1914, Area 44 (4) 400-410.

  ‘Water summit’ in drought-hit South East, BBC News Online, 3 November 2012

  UK’s year of drought and flooding unprecedented, experts say, The Guardian, 18 October 2012

Content Alert: Geography Compass, Volume 6, Issue 7 (July 2012) is Available Online Now

Volume 6, Issue 7 Pages i – 453, July 2012

The latest issue of Geography Compass is available on Wiley Online Library.

Click past the break for a full list of articles in this issue.

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Geography Compass Content Alert: Volume 6, Issue 4 (April 2012)

Cover image for Vol. 6 Issue 4The latest issue of Geography Compass is available on Wiley Online Library.

Issue Information

Issue Information (pages i–ii)
Article first published online: 15 MAR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-8198.2012.00488.x

Atmosphere & Biosphere

Mastodons and Mammoths in the Great Lakes Region, USA and Canada: New Insights into their Diets as they Neared Extinction (pages 175–188)
Catherine H. Yansa and Kristin M. Adams
Article first published online: 15 MAR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-8198.2012.00483.x

Ecological Disaster or the Limits of Observation? Reconciling Modern Declines with the Long‐Term Dynamics of Whitebark Pine Communities (pages 189–214)
Evan R. Larson and Kurt F. Kipfmueller
Article first published online: 15 MAR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-8198.2012.00481.x

Development

Rethinking Territory: Social Justice and Neoliberalism in Latin America’s Territorial Turn (pages 215–226)
Joe Bryan
Article first published online: 15 MAR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-8198.2012.00480.x

Urban

Ethnic Entrepreneurship Studies in Geography: A Review1 (pages 227–240)
Qingfang Wang
Article first published online: 15 MAR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-8198.2012.00482.x

Geography Compass Atmosphere & Biosphere Section: Invitation to Contribute

Wiley-Blackwell’s Geography Compass has established itself as a key reference for up-to-date peer-reviewed research reviews in all facets of geography. We hope to strengthen the Atmosphere & Biosphere section with a new round of articles that continue the excellence in publication from scholars including Marshall Shepherd, Thomas Knutson, Andrew Comrie, Kristin Dow, Steven Quiring, Julie Winkler and others.

We are currently looking for material on the following themes:

  • Synoptic meteorology
  • Tropical meteorology
  • Polar meteorology
  • Agricultural and forest meteorology
  • Forecasting and modeling
  • Mesoscale processes
  • Weather hazards
  • Climate systems and dynamics
  • Climate change
  • Climate variability
  • Air-sea-land interactions
  • Applied meteorology and climatology
  • Weather, climate, and society
  • Hydrometeorology and hydroclimatology

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