Archive for June, 2006

Canadians, learn from my shower curtain!

Sunday, June 25th, 2006

I received this email today:

“I noticed on your site as number eight (8) you have it as ‘Victoria Island’. That should read ‘Vancouver Island’. Thought you should be aware.”

That is the single most commonly recurring email people send me.

My reply: ” Thanks for writing. Vancouver Island is 42nd; Victoria is in another part of Canada — please see the attached view of my shower curtain:”

Victoria I. in Canada's Arctic

That’s not soap scum, by the way. It’s, uh, pack ice. In any case, the curtain did not survive my getting married. [Canadian geography]

Saving Mont-Saint-Michel

Saturday, June 24th, 2006

The Washington Post today reports on efforts to preserve the islandness of Mont-Saint-Michel, the island abbey off the north coast of France. The historic rocky islet “is succumbing to a relentless invasion of silt and sea grass, which are surrounding the island and threatening to make it part of the mainland.

Part of the 19th century causeway will be replaced with a bridge.

Says a leader of the project to hold back the encroaching land, “If we don’t do anything at all, in 40 years Mont-Saint-Michel will be part of the continent.”

“Being an island is part of its strong identity — a gem in the sea,” says the mayor of the island, which has a population of 26 but is visited by 3 million people a year.

Long a pilgrimage destination, its island nature also has symbolic significance:

Brother François, who heads a group of six brothers and five sisters from the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem who conduct services in the abbey, said Mont-Saint-Michel was laden with powerful religious symbolism that is important to protect — the mountaintop, the story of the archangel’s appearance, the sand flats where pilgrims wander, waiting for the parting of the sea at low tide.

After the causeway was built in 1879, Victor Hugo decried the change: “The Mont-Saint-Michel must remain an island. We must save it from mutilation!” People are at last responding.

[Image courtesy Neerav Mehta]

Doomsday vault on remote island

Thursday, June 22nd, 2006

Some long-term thinkers are taking advantage of the nature of islands: they are creating a “doomsday” seed bank meant to contain every kind of agricultural seed on the planet on the island of Svalbard.

The high-security vault, almost half the length of a football field, will be carved into a mountain on a remote island above the Arctic Circle. If the looming fences, motion detectors and steel airlock doors are not disincentive enough for anyone hoping to breach the facility’s concrete interior, the polar bears roaming outside should help.

The isolation of Svalbard would hopefully keep the seed library out of harm’s way in even the worst circumstances:

The “doomsday vault,” as some have come to call it, is to be the ultimate backup in the event of a global catastrophe — the go-to place after an asteroid hit or nuclear or biowarfare holocaust so that, difficult as those times would be, humankind would not have to start again from scratch.

Planners even examined what is likely to happen to Svalbard if global warming picks up, and how it would fare in the event of serious cooling due to a Gulf Stream collapse.

Wonders of America: Missing Island Superlatives

Saturday, June 17th, 2006

The US Postal Service has issued 40 stamps sure to excite geographical obsessives, the “Wonders of America“:

Wonders of America stamps

Yet I guess you can’t please anyone; people have many complaints of omission (and suggestions); mine is obvious — there is not a single real island superlative.

A few come close:

  • “Highest sea cliffs” is credited to Moloka’i (Molokai).
  • “Deepest lake” shows Wizard Island in Crater Lake, Oregon.
  • “Most active volcano” is Kilauea, on Hawaii.
  • “Longest span” shows the Verrezano-Narrows Bridge between Long Island and Staten Island, New York.
  • “Longest river system” appears to show one or more islands in the Mississippi.
  • “Longest reef” is “off the Florida Keys.”

For the record, here are some American island superlatives:

  • Largest islandThe largest island of the United States is Hawaii, at 4,021 sq mi / 10,414 sq km, and still growing slowly. The largest (and longest) island of the lower 48 states is Long Island.
  • Largest lake islandThe largest lake island in the United States is Isle Royale, in Lake Superior, Michigan, at 209 sq mi / 541 sq km.
  • Largest volcanic islandThe largest volcanic island in the United States is Hawaii, at 4,021 sq mi / 10,414 sq km, and still growing slowly.
  • Largest river islandThe largest American river island is Sauvie Island, a 40sq mi / 104 sq km island in the Columbia River in Oregon.
  • Remotest islandAccording to the United Nations’ Environment Programme, the most isolated American island is Nihoa, part of the Hawaiian chain, which is about 200 miles from another island and 3,600 miles from the nearest continent.
  • Youngest volcanic island —The youngest volcanic island is Hawaii, the southernmost of the Hawaiian islands, and thus the most recent to pass over the hotspot that formed the island chain. It is about years old.
  • Most populous island The most populous island in the United States is Long Island, New York, with 7.4 million inhabitants.
  • Smallest with one million inhabitants — The smallest American island on which one million or more people live is Manhattan, in New York City, with 1.48 million inhabitants living in 22 sq mi / 57 sq km (at 67,000 per sq mi / 26,000 per sq km).
  • Tallest islandThe tallest American island is Hawaii, which rises 13,796 feet / 4,205 meters from sea level to the top of Mauna Kea. It is the second tallest of the world’s islands.
  • Largest bridged islandThe largest island connected to the mainland by a bridge or causeway is Long Island, New York.
  • Smallest divided by borders — The smallest island shared with another country is the west island in Boundary Lake, North Dakota, at about 3 acres / 1.1 ha. It is shared with Canada. [American geography, geographic superlatives]


[Image courtesy of United States Postal Service]

Circumnavigating Manhattan

Sunday, June 11th, 2006

Brooklyn BridgeI thought it was finally time to circle Manhattan, the island of my birth, so I took a three-hour tour on Memorial Day weekend.

The voyage is thoroughly if not artistically documented on Flickr, with 194 images from the Hudson River, the harbor, the East River, the Harlem River, and back to the Hudson.

Sights include Ground Zero, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and the United Nations.

Query: islands, peninsulas, and artificial islands

Saturday, June 10th, 2006

A reader had some questions:

“Where do we draw the line between island and peninsula with regard to man made structures?”

There is no clear line, as many parts of land have manmade water cutting them off.

“Prince Edward County on Lake Ontario was a peninsula, but did construction of the Murray Canal 100 years ago make it an island? (It has a couple of swing bridges over the canal and a high fixed bridge from Belleville, Ontario.)”

Probably not. Ratios are important, and the canal is very narrow compared to the peninsula. Indeed, it cannot even be discerned on this view that takes in the whole land mass.

“Prince Edward Island was connected by a long high bridge to the mainland 7 years ago. Should it be considered a peninsula?”

Bridges do not change the fact that an island is surrounded by water, so they do not erase an island’s fundamental nature. It is more a sort of domestication.

“Cape Breton Island is connected by a causeway to the rest of Nova Scotia.”

A solid causeway is more of a threat, but the Canso Causeway is broken by locks.

“Does the Corinth Canal in Greece make the Peloponnesus an island?”

Opinion is also important, and people have not decided that this is the case. Also, on a full view of the Peloponnesus it does not appear to be an island.

“Does the causeway to Singapore make it a peninsula?”

The Johor-Singapore Causeway is very small compared to the size of the island. Still, if it is solid all the way through, it does compromise Singapore’s status as a true island.

“Or is the natural state of the land mass the arbitrator of the land mass? I think you mentioned a former island in the Aral Sea or the Caspian as a peninsula due to the drop in water level. But was that not the result of irrigation?”

Human actions create and destroy islands all the time — what matters is whether a body of land surrounded by water results.

“Rene Lavasseur in Quebec exists as an island only because of the damming of the Manicaguan Reservoir.”

René-Levasseur is nonetheless a real island, as this view of the Manicouagan Reservoir shows. It is, incidentally, the largest island created by human action.

geography, geographic

Islands of Montenegro

Saturday, June 3rd, 2006

In honor the imminent independence of the Balkan nation of Montenegro, let’s take a look at the country’s islands.

For a small state with a short coastline, it possesses a nice assortment of islands, both on its dramatic coastline and in lakes. Many are embellished with historic sites, especially monasteries.

Montenegrin island superlatives
Largest island — There are two candidates of virtually identical size, both about 1.9 square miles / 4.8 square km.

  • Ada is a delta island on the southeast border with Albania.
  • Vranjina, a monastery island on the northwest side of Lake Skadar, is formed by the lake and the incoming Moraca river.  Vranjina is Montenegro’s largest freshwater island.

Largest sea island — Sveti Nikola is about 36 hectares / 90 acres.

Tallest island — Vranjina rises 296 meters or about 971 feet above Lake Skadar.

Tallest sea island — Sveti Nikola is 121 meters or about 397 feet tall. Second-tallest is Sveti Marko, at 36 meters or about 118 feet.

Sea islands
Montenegro has several sea islands of note in the Boka Kotorska:

  • Prevlaka — bridged; 13th century monastery ruins
  • Sveti Marko — off Tivat; has a Club Med
  • Otok — islet off Sveti Marko with a monastery
  • Gospa od Skrpjela — artificial islet off Perast with notable church
  • Sveti Dorde — another islet off Perast, site of a Benedictine Abbey

Sveti Nikola is in the Adriatic off Budva, and has church ruins and an endemic species of lilly; boat tours go here.

The most famous Montenegrin “island” is not an island at all: Sveti Stefan is lovely and walled, but now a peninsula.

Lake islands
Montenegro’s lakes are dominated by Lake Skadar (Skadarsko Jezero), in the southeast. It seems to have 50 or more islands; a number are listed here. Monastic islands include Vranjina, Starcevo, Beska, and Sveti Dorde. Skadar also has a prison islet, Grmozur.

Montenegro also has islands in reservoir lakes, including a concentration near the city of Niksic.
[Montenegrin islands, Montenegrin geography]