Tag Archives: scale

Content Alert: New Articles (16th March 2012)

These Early View articles are now available on Wiley Online Library.

Original Articles

Micro-political and related barriers to stakeholder engagement in flood risk management
Chin-Pei Tseng and Edmund C Penning-Rowsell
Article first published online: 9 MAR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00464.x

Scale in the effect of accessibility on population change: GIS and a statistical approach to road, air and rail accessibility in Finland, 1990–2008
Ossi Kotavaara, Harri Antikainen, Mathieu Marmion and Jarmo Rusanen
Article first published online: 9 MAR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00460.x

Permafrost, carbon and thermokarsts: the Arctic importance

by Caitlin Douglas

The Arctic covers 5% of the total land mass of the earth and reaches across every longitude: it is important. It is estimated that 1.4 times more carbon is stored in permafrost than is currently circulating in the atmosphere, and there is 1.5 times more carbon in permafrost than is currently being stored in all the earth’s vegetation. William Bowden (2010) outlines this in a Geography Compass article, and explains the relationships between permafrost, thermokarsts and climate change.

Permafrost is soil or rock which remains below 0oC for at least 2-3 years at a time. When permafrost thaws it loses its internal structure and subsides unevenly, and the resulting formation is called thermokarst. The transition from permafrost to thermokarst has important hydrological, geomorphological, biogeochemical and ecological importance to arctic landscapes. Globally, this transition may also release the stored carbon which, due to microbial processes, may be released as carbon dioxide or methane.

In April, a special edition on climate change was published by the journal, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. It outlined key research questions required to better understand the impact of greenhouse gases on climate change. The arctic was prominently featured, and in particular the concern over permafrost melt and potential methane release. Scientists seem to agree that research is needed to understand the transitional process from permafrost to thermokarsts and the possible implications on the global climate.

Bowden, W. 2010. Climate Change in the Arctic – Permafrost, Thermokarst, and Why They Matter to the Non-Arctic World. Geography Compass, 4(10): 1553-1566

Scientists call for climate change early-warning system. The Guardian.  April 18th 2011.

Border Abstractions: Competing Notions of Sovereignty

The Himalayas: a traditional physical boundary. New geographies have complicated political and cultural borders. Wikimedia Commons.

Benjamin Sacks

THE AMERICAN raid on Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden on Sunday, 1 May raised Islamabad’s concerns that its borders could be so easily breached by a foreign power. Washington cited Pakistan’s inability to control traffic through its borders as a factor behind the US decision not to inform the Pakistani military or the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) prior to the operation’s execution. Beyond the immediate coldness in Pakistani-American relations, however, is the broader relevance and role of boundaries in international affairs.

Physical geography defined the earliest boundaries. The first empires—including those of South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa—followed the course of rivers and hugged the sands of oceans. As civilisation moved into less-hospitable territory, Earth’s extremities became natural dividers. In the Americas, the wax and wane of the occidental mountain ranges determined the edges of the Mesoamerican civilisations. In Africa, the Sahara drew a nearly impassable barrier across the belly of the continent, fostering the development of multiple, distinct peoples. Perhaps most prominently, the Himalaya range sharply divided the Indian and Chinese civilisations from one another; even with tremendous cultural exchanges, the mountain peak-boundaries have changed little in the last two thousand years.

Political boundaries relied less on topographical geography. Products of nation-state organisation, many (but by no means all) political borders were formed from the machinations of seventeenth-, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European empires. Their efforts resulted both in regions of relative geopolitical harmony (North America) and, as documented by Ieuan Griffiths in a 1986 article, vicious instability (Africa, the Indian Subcontinent). RGS explorers and scholars have long been fascinated with how these borders came to be. In 1836, Colonel Don Juan Galindo read a paper to the Royal Geographical Society of his recent Central American travels. He classified borders along strictly political lines:

Central America comprehends the five states of Costarrica [sic], Nicaragua, Honduras, Salvador, and Guatemala, united in one federation, and whose seat of government is at the city of San Salvador, within the federal district… (121).

As well as physical boundaries:

The principal points of the boundary towards Mexico are the ruins of Palenque, the river Nojbecan in latitude 19° north, and the Rio Hondo. Towards New Granada the river Escudo of Veragua, which falls into the Caribbean sea [sic], and the river Boruca, which runs to the Pacific (121).

A similarly traditional article appeared in the May 1927 edition of The Geographical Journal. W E D Allen documented the dissolution of the Tsarist Russian ‘Vice-Royalty of the Caucasus’ in favour of the new, ‘people’s republics’ that, after a very brief period of independence, were brought under Soviet control.

But physical and political boundaries only tell a small part of the story. Transnational borders, as the name suggests, are more difficult to quantify. They cover a vast spectrum of diasporas, international organisations, historical and contemporary treaties and various attributes of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power. In 2005, John Pickles (University of North Carolina) asked how the European Union and the collapse of formal empires have radically altered continental perceptions of borders in a Schengen Agreement world. Geographers are also returning to historical movements that transcended political boundaries. Morag Bell (Loughborough University), for instance, extensively documented the rise of ethical-environmental standards across numerous borders in the last years of the nineteenth-century.

The haziness of contemporary cultural and nation-state boundaries often allows multiple border layers to overlap and contradict one another. A now famous example occurred in 1983, when the United States invaded the small Caribbean island of Grenada. Grenadian authorities protested that the invasion violated their sovereignty. The United States responded, arguing that the island’s Communist coup had endangered the lives of Americans studying there, thus threatening US borders. London also formally protested an incursion into what it saw as its own sphere of influence; Grenada is officially a constitutional monarchy, with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.

The current row between Washington and Islamabad is similarly complex. Pakistan’s assertion of sovereignty violation is based on traditional, geopolitical boundaries. But if we look deeper, the truth is less precise. Since partition, Islamabad has enjoyed an intimate, if complicated relationship withWashington. These long-term bilateral relations permeate throughout both cultures—from Karachi’s markets to Chicago’s Diaspora community. Strong bilateral relations thus gradually bend the country’s relative boundaries with each other as trust builds. Too, the United States’ continuing role as the ‘World’s Policeman’ (and Pakistan’s official support, or at least acquiescence of that arrangement) further reshape bilateral boundaries. It is a point reviewed in Reece Jones’s (University of Hawai’i) ‘Geopolitical Boundary Narratives, the Global War on Terror and Border Fencing in India’.

W E D Allen, “New Political Boundaries in the Caucasus“, The Geographical Journal 69.5 (May, 1927): pp. 430-41.

Morag Bell, “Reshaping Boundaries: International Ethics and Environmental Consciousness in the Early Twentieth Century“, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers New Series 23.2 (Jun, 1998): pp. 151-75.

Don Juan Galindo, “On Central America“, Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 6 (1836): pp. 119-35.

Ieuan Griffiths, “The Scramble for Africa: Inherited Political Boundaries“, The Geographical Journal 152.2 (Jul, 1986): pp. 204-16.

Reece Jones, “Geopolitical Boundary Narratives, the Global War on Terror and Border Fencing in India“, Transactions of the Institute for British Geographers New Series 34.3 (Jul, 2009): pp. 290-304.

John Pickles, “New Cartographies’ and the Decolonization of European Geographies“, Area 37.4 (Dec, 2005): pp. 355-64.






Illegal Logging Threatens Isolated Tribe, Wildlife, the Amazon and the Globe?

by Caitlin Douglas

The plight of the Amazon is not a new story and although it may no longer be in the headlines recently released photos return the spotlight to this region.  Six years ago Maslin et al. stated that although the Amazon has withstood huge climate shifts in the past, the forest has not previously been exposed to the dry climate predicted for the region. The situation is further complicated by the speed of climate change which is too fast to allow for the large-scale shift of these forests to the necessary higher precipitation areas, and, even if this migration was possible these regions are already occupied by human land-uses. The Amazon is headed into uncharted territory, and from the perspective of climate change the future existence of the Amazon is precarious. Depressingly the authors also describe the more immediate threat to the region – land clearance and degradation. Large conspicuous parts of the forest have been cleared for pasture land and soya-bean agriculture, and a less visible but still important threat exists from legal and illegal deforestation. These activities lead to a declining wildlife population due to the associated increase in bushmeat and intensive hunting.

Today, illegal forestry is still a major issue and is threatening not only biodiversity but also local indigenous groups. Survival International, a charity dedicated to the rights of tribal people, recently released pictures of a remote Brazilian tribe whose livelihood is threatened by illegal logging. Widespread illegal logging in Peru is pushing Peruvian tribes closer to the Peru-Brazil border and it is feared that they will soon come into conflict with the isolated Brazilian tribe. Survival International hopes that these photos will serve as a reminder of their existence, that they are a thriving society, and that action against illegal forestry in Peru is urgently needed to protect the tribe’s future viability. The Amazon is an essential component of the global biosphere-atmosphere system and as a result its continuance is important on many scales. We now have a timely reminder that for people living their lives in the heart of the Amazon the threat is already at a critical level.

Read the journal article:  Maslin, M., Malhi, Y., Phillips, O., Cowling, S. 2005. New views on an old forest: assessing the longevity, resilience and future of the Amazon rainforest. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 30(4): 477–499.

Read the BBC news article: New images of remote Brazil tribe

Have a look at the charity: Survival International

Virtual Issues from Transactions of the IBG

Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, the leading international journal of geographical research, publishes the very best scholarship from around the world, across the whole range of the discipline.

The RGS-IBG invites you to enjoy the following Virtual Issues free online, compiled by the Journal’s editors.

SCALE
Stephen Legg
January 2011

GEOMORPHOLOGY
Martin Evans, Associate Editor; Transactions of the IBG
August 2010

THE GEOGRAPHIES OF KNOWLEDGE
Gail Davies, Editorial Board; Transactions of IBG
January 2009

WOMEN AND GEOGRAPHY
Alison Evans, Editor; Transactions of the IBG
March 2008

Energy dilemmas

I-Hsien Porter

In a paper in The Geographical Journal, Michael Bradshaw describes two pressures facing energy policy.

First, there is the need to guarantee a reliable and affordable supply of energy. Energy security can be threatened by domestic disputes (e.g. in France, recent strike action caused the country to import large amounts of electricity) and international tensions (which led Russia to restrict gas exports via a pipeline to Belarus, in June 2010).

Second, the current reliance on carbon-based fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) is unsustainable. The economic and environmental costs of extracting fossil fuels, alongside the threat of climate change, means that it is increasingly difficult to match demand with carbon-based energy sources.

The Statement on Energy Policy, recently announced by the UK government, reflects these concerns. The policy envisages half the new energy capacity built in the UK between now and 2025 will come from renewable sources. Nuclear and wind power are highlighted as key areas for development.

However, as Bradshaw argues in his paper, emerging economies in the global South will cause a shift in global energy demand and production. Geographers can play a key role in informing national policies and investment, by linking changing patterns in global energy use and resource distribution, to national and local impacts.

The Guardian (18th October 2010) ‘Severn barrage ditched as new nuclear plants get green light’

Bradshaw, M. J. (2010) ‘Global energy dilemmas: a geographical perspective’, The Geographical Journal (Early view)