Posted in ASSIGNMENTS, Climatology, EDUCATION

Q & A about Earth and Sun Relationships.

“Questions and Answers” — Students can easily participate in a classroom lecture about basic Earth-and-Sun Relationships. Let me share a few examples of that I sometimes use:

1.Show the Earth-Sun relationships diagram from your textbook (if you use one). I use the Lutgens and Tarbuck “The Atmosphere” textbook from Pearson Publishers.

2.Make sure that you have already answered the question about the distinction between Earth rotation and revolution. They also need to know about the globe grid system (Equator, Arctic Circle, etc.) Then, you can explain the question as to “Why We Have Changing Seasons”.

3.State these are the items to watch for in the video/animation/lecture.

When is the summer solstice, winter solstice, autumnal equinox, and vernal (spring) equinox in the Northern Hemisphere?

What are the sun angle and day length conditions on these dates? Especially note where the 90 degree noon sun angle is located on these dates.

When is the summer solstice, winter solstice, autumnal equinox, and vernal (spring) equinox in the Southern Hemisphere?

Also pose this question — Are the seasons really “reversed” in the Southern Hemisphere? Explain how.

4.Show the video, or better yet use a tutorial animation to take a typical revolution around the Sun and describe the Earth-Sun relations along the way.

(Another option is to use a globe. Walk around the classroom for an example of one solar year. Remember to keep the North Pole pointed to Polaris!) Optional: Have a bright-eyed theatre major portray the Sun.

5.Earth-Sun relationships are one basic geographic concept where it is easy to write up objective multiple choice and/or True-False. The answers should not be arguable … as many “answers” in test banks are. Word these on tests so that there is only one clear answer.

For in-class purposes, this is a good opportunity for Questions and Answers! Students do not have to give an elaborate answer. All questions may be answered with a term or a phrase. Sometimes a simple grunt will suffice. They either know it, or they don’t …

Start with easy ones, and then proceed to the ‘tricky” questions …

(Ask a student) Q: Where are the vertical rays of the Sun on the June 21st solstice? They should look at the diagram, then answer “23.5 degrees N” or “the Tropic of Cancer.” (Don’t be like me, and go off on a tangent about what a “tropic” line is.)

(Ask the next student) Q: What season is it? You can leave that question hanging. You are being bad as a teacher if you do not specify the Northern Hemisphere. Likely the student will answer “Summer” – but that just shows our Northern Hemisphere bias.  The date is the first day of Summer in the Northern Hemisphere.

(Ask another student) Q: Then what season is it in the Southern Hemisphere? They should answer “Winter” — as the June 21st Solstice is the Winter Solstice of the Southern Hemisphere, the first day of winter in the Southern Hemisphere.

(Ask the next student) Q: How many hours of daylight are there in North Carolina at the time of the Spring Equinox? The student should know that the answer is “12”. Also clarify that “Vernal” means “Spring”.  You may then add with a smile … “And oddly, eggs will stand up on that day …”

(Ask another student) Q: Where are the vertical rays of the Sun on our (Northern Hemisphere) Winter Solstice? They should answer “the Tropic of Capricorn” or “23 ½ degrees South.

Basically, give each student a chance to answer a question by looking directly at the E-S diagram.

(Ask a student) Q: How many hours of daylight are there at the North Pole when the vertical rays of the Sun are on the Tropic of Cancer? Point to the diagram where the Sun’s rays shine over-the-pole to a latitude of 66 ½ degrees North (the Arctic Circle). Hopefully, they will say “24 Hours” and add “Yes, you would not see a sunset that day …

At some point you might get tricky …

(Ask another student) Q: Ok how about … how many hours of daylight are there on  … the Arctic Circle … on the date of the Fall Equinox in the Southern Hemisphere?

That seems like a lot! You have Article Circle, Fall Equinox, Southern Hemisphere, which could all be points of confusion … and mental juggling.

Hopefully, the student will see clearly that by you asking “Equinox” there can be only one answer – “12!”. Because EVERYWHERE on Earth has 12-hour day and 12-hour nights at the time of the equinox.

You might add Q: What about at the Antarctic Circle? … the Equator? … the Tropic of Cancer? All answers are of course — 12 hours.

Also say this with a smile: “…and oddly, eggs will stand up at that time”.  Who knows, you may get a “is that true?” question from a student who you know is actually paying attention.

This is only one small part of the session. There are many other ways to embellish the Earth-Sun Relationships diagram. There are also many opportunities to discuss various cultural significances to various dates  in the solar year.

Of course I add in a lot more questions during live lecture. I want everyone in attendance to participate, and try to give all students an opportunity to answer at least one question.

An additional lecture resource is below:


Posted in Climatology, EDUCATION, NORTH AMERICA

Why is it wet here, but dry there? A look at precipitation processes in the USA

What explains the pattern of precipitation in the United States? Let’s have a look at this average annual precipitation map from the NCAR website.

I’m only going to consider the lower 48 of the United States as that’s all that is shown on this map (sorry Alaska and Hawaii). It is important to take a look at the map legend first. The data have been classified into categories based on the annual average precipitation received (A “normal” is a 30 year average.) These numbers are a sum total for the entire year. Rain totals vary from a low category of less than 4 inches per year, to the highest category of over 160 inches received annually. Broadly speaking, one can see that it rains much more in the eastern half of the US as opposed to the western half of the United States, with the big exception being along the northwest coast. There the precipitation totals are very high.

If you’ve ever driven across the United States on a car or a bus trip, one of the things that you will notice is that the environment gets drier from east to west. You see fewer trees and more areas of grassland as you go farther west. The grasses also get shorter as you travel west, until eventually they run out, and you are in more or less a desert bunch-grass desert environment. You’ll notice that the agriculture changes – there is a lot of corn in the eastern United States and in the eastern prairies, but when you start getting out into the areas of the Great Plains there’s not so much corn anymore.

Like all climatic boundaries, the wet-to-dry spatial trend is a gradual effect — not as abrupt as shown here!

There are wheat and small grains — then farther west there is a zone war where it’s too dry for that. You have open rangeland until you get to some of the drier portions of the West. However, on the northwest coast you have temperate rainforest, much wetter than anywhere in the east.

What explains this pattern?

The Orographic Effect and “Rain shadows”.

Weather basically moves from West to East across the mid latitudes. Air that has been over the Pacific Ocean accumulates a lot of moisture and as it moves inland to the western coast states it encounters a rise in topography. At the mountains air is forced to rise, it then expands and cools. You have a lot of precipitation on the wet windward (or wind facing) sides of slopes, and you have less precipitation on the dry leeward (protected) sides of slopes. Precipitation along windward sides may be great, especially in the Pacific Northwest along the coast of Washington Oregon and Northern California. As you look farther inland to the western states, where there are mountains you again have air that’s forced to rise, and it rains out, and then it descends and dries out, moving to the next mountain range — and so forth. See this animation video from YouTube.

Some mountain areas in the western states have a lot of rain and snow, although the overall region of the West is dry.  By the time Pacific air gets into the continental interior, almost all the moisture has been squeezed out. Note the dry continental interior areas of northern Texas, Panhandle of Oklahoma, and western Kansas and Nebraska.

Maritime Tropical Air Masses.

Air masses over the Gulf of Mexico are warm and moist maritime tropical air masses. These move over the eastern portions of the United States quite frequently. Since weather basically goes from West to East, the western states receive little of this moist air from the Gulf.

There are greater amounts of precipitation along the Gulf Coast states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the panhandle part of Florida.  One can also see some orographic effect in the southern Appalachian Mountains, near the confluence of eastern Tennessee, northern Georgia and western parts of the Carolinas.

Convection: Summer is the time of convectional storms. The Sun warms the ground, and then the warm air rises, where it will expand, cool and form rain clouds. The moist air from the Gulf does not need much coaxing to form summer thunderstorms.

There is no true dry season in the eastern USA, however summer is usually wetter due to summertime convective showers. It should also be noted that the southeastern states receive a significant amount of their annual precipitation from tropical storms.

Cyclonic storms, Lows and Fronts.

Low pressure is associated with clouds and precipitation. The migrating low pressure cells or cyclonic storms have their characteristic warm fronts and cold fronts attached to them. Lows are like “egg beaters” which mix unlike air masses together. Either the cold air mass kicks the warm air mass up making it cool and precipitate (cold front), or the warm air mass glides over the colder air, where it cools and condenses (warm front). These cyclonic storms bring quite a bit of precipitation and especially those that move across the Great Lakes and pick up significant moisture there. The “snowbelts” around the Great lakes are in evidence.

Ocean Currents: Warm or cold ocean currents have an influence on the temperature characteristics of coasts, but they also influence precipitation pattern.

A warm water current such as the east coast Gulf Stream enhances convection and air moving over this current becomes moist and unstable. Places near a warm water current would be warmer than they would otherwise be, but these areas would also be wetter than they would otherwise be as well. Conversely, a cold water current such as the California Current may stabilize summer air so that it resists uplift. Low-latitude locations next to a cold water current are drier than they would otherwise be. It does not rain much in southern California in the summertime.

Southern California has a Mediterranean climate that’s dominated by subtropical high pressure in the summer. The water off of the coast of California is the cold California Current. Most people think of California and think of “sun and fun”, the Beach Boys and surfing and so forth but actually the water off of the coast is cold water. Air from the ocean is actually stable. When you have cold water in a low latitude location where the air is warm, that cold water chills the air above it creating a temperature inversion or a stability lid so air doesn’t rise very much. The inversions explain the lack of convective precipitation as well as the build up of smog in southern California.

Distance from moisture. It stands to reason that areas far inland from large water bodies are drier than coastal areas. Coasts are wetter than the continental interiors, especially when you look in the Southwest region of the United States. The mountains there also block off a lot of the moisture that would otherwise be coming from the Pacific. If you sum up the cold water currents, mountain barriers it is not surprising that the Southwest border area of California Arizona and Nevada is mostly desert environment.

That last one is probably the easiest concept to understand — maybe I should have started with that one!

Do you have any questions about all this? Leave a question in the comments, and I will provide you with an answers and some reference links.


Did Columbus Discover America?

Did Columbus Discover America?


That seems like a fairly straightforward history question which should have an objective answer. When I was growing up in elementary school, most people would have said “Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492.”  There are a lot of academics that would make the argument that there were already people living in the Americas when Columbus arrived, so how can one say that Columbus “discovered” a place where people already lived!

I will argue that indeed Columbus discovered America  … and let me tell you why. I’m not denying that there were native peoples living in the Americas. I’m not denying that there were waves of human migrants who had already crossed the Bering land Bridge into what is today called North America, during the Ice Age — thousands of years before Columbus.


These peoples are properly known as Native Americans in the United States, and as the First Nations in Canada. Details of their original migration are still being studied by archaeologists and anthropologists. The Ice Age migration into North America does raise some geographic questions: Weren’t the glaciers blocking them? Or was there an ice-free corridor that would have allowed this migration or was there another path? Could there have been other routes?

These are questions for anthropology scholars to investigate, yet the answers are not part of the reason why Columbus discovered America.

Another argument that Columbus did not discover America is the fact that the Vikings were in North America hundreds of years before Columbus. Scholars point out the archeological evidence of settlements of Norse culture that had arrived on “Vinland”, Newfoundland and other areas of present- day Canada. I do not dispute that the Norse were on the North American continent centuries before Columbus, however the Norse did not discover America. Furthermore, some Irish scholars have claimed that their Irish ancestors had actually sailed west from Ireland and reached the Americas long before Columbus. Even if that can be proven to be true, this group also did not discover America.


Why not? Here’s the thing about the Norse and others … They did not make any difference. Those settlements did NOT forever connect the New World with the Old World. The new lands did not become widely known in the Old World. Information, flora and fauna, etc. were not transported from one continent to another. Maps and routes were not widely shared. The settlements did not lead to anything permanent, and the Vikings settlements faded relatively fast.


Furthermore, there may have been Polynesian and other Pacific Island peoples who voyaged across the Pacific Ocean, and landed in the Americas hundreds, if not thousands of years before Columbus. There are even some accounts from Chinese scholars who claim that Chinese ships of exploration had  reached North America hundreds of years before Columbus. It is said that the Chinese found nothing interesting there. Nothing was ever made of it, and the Chinese entered a period of isolation. It may be true that ancient peoples were much better explorers, seafarers and navigators than we give them credit for today. Indeed, evidence of ancient global migrations is explored by anthropologists and archaeologists.

However … having said all of that, these cultures did not discover America either. Furthermore, Columbus himself never claimed to discover America, although in fact he did. He never claimed to have discovered a new continent. Columbus died with the belief that he had visited islands off the coast of eastern Asia —  the riches of the Orient were just out of his reach. Both continents of “America” are actually named after another Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, who is the first one to claim the new continents on a world map. Likely, European navigators would have encountered the new continents sometime during the 16th century, even without the voyages of Columbus in 1492.


So, why is it acceptable to say “Columbus Discovered America”?

Answer: Because the voyages of Columbus CHANGED EVERYTHING. Other sailors may have been to North America, but it made little difference. These migrations did not connect the world together. After the voyages of Columbus, both New World and Old World were forever connected, and would forever change the fates of both. Columbus’ discovery led to the widespread knowledge of the existence of two new continents. All previous migrations did not. Large-scale movements of flora, fauna, inventions and people ensued.

There is something known as the “Columbian Exchange”.  Even scholars who will not say “Columbus discovered America”, certainly acknowledge the significance of the Columbian Exchange that linked the Americas with Europe, Africa and beyond. The world was never the same after Columbus.


If an American History class is building a timeline of North American history, I believe that it is acceptable to state that “Columbus discovered America”. This does not demean the native populations of the Americas. In fact, the statement should open up some discussion of the impact of the Columbian Exchange.


What countries are in North America?

That might seem like a pretty straightforward question. You look at a world wall map or a globe and then identify the seven continents. Then you point to North America. Easy, right?

Globe, American, Rand McNally, Terrestrial World, 3-Inch Table Globe, Glass Paperweight Stand, Chicago, c. 1891-1914 – George Glazer Gallery, Antiques

However, in Regional Geography we have to make the distinction between the CONTINENT of North America and the world geographic REGION known as North America.

Now for the most part, when most people hear the term “North America” they look at the globe and they look at the continents and see that North America includes where the countries of the United States, Canada, Mexico, the countries of Central America, and even the islands of the Caribbean …  then again … arguably even Greenland too. That matches up with the continent of North America. In K-12 education, most of the social studies and geography books have each chapter laid out for a different region. They usually break the world up by continent.

That is the WRONG way to study world regional geography. It may be OK in K-12 education, as kids are just starting out learning about the world. There would be no changing the K-12 system anyway. However, for university-level geographers who teach World Regional Geography, they more often refer to North America as just the United States and Canada. The map below is from the McGraw Hill textbook “Essentials of World Regional Geography” by White, 2014. Notice that the world is divided into regions based on history, culture and economics — and to some degree by environment. When one divides the world up by select criteria, regions make more sense than continents. It makes more sense to talk about, and generalize about, the northern African countries with the adjacent countries of southwestern Asia, rather than with the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

From Chapter 1 of George W. White’s “Essentials of World Regional Geography” textbook. Copyright 2014 by McGraw Hill Publishers. Most world geography textbooks used in higher education use a similar regional organization.

Each World Geography textbook author breaks the world up in to regions slightly differently. All or most of them distinguish the North American region from Mexico, Middle America, or “Latin” America.

So that begs the question — isn’t Mexico part of North America? Well, Mexico is part of the continent of North America, but it is not part of the world region North America.

OK, this DVD is coded to play in “North America” — so that means that it can be played on a Mexican DVD player right? SOURCE:

Years ago, we used to use another term for the North America regionaka the United States and Canada — and that was the regional name “Anglo America”. That area of the continent that was largely settled by people from the British Isles. Anglo-America is part of the Anglosphere.

regional geography anglo america - AbeBooks

The world regional term Anglo-America has fallen out of favor, even though it was a more specific (better, actually) and there was less confusion. When I had regional geography in college (way back in the olden days), we had Latin-America and we had Anglo-America. It is easy to see that Latin America included Mexico, the countries of Central America, plus  islands of the Caribbean in a region you may call Middle America. Latin America also included all the countries of South America. I wish the term “Anglo-America” was still in use. The narrative has changed however.

Now that Anglo-America cannot be used, people have to wonder what one means by “North America” … do you mean North America the continent or North America the socio-economic political region?

World “Cultural Realms” from Getis et. al. “Introduction to Geography”. Copyright McGraw Hill 2016.

If the term Anglo-America is more precise than saying North America, then why did the term Anglo-America fall out of favor? The reason that is usually given is that saying “Anglo” supposedly minimizes the culture and influence of non-English peoples in the United States and Canada. A good example being the French Canadians in Canada (“Francophones” or French speakers). Also, there is a significant population of Spanish speakers  (Hispanics) in the United States, and thus they are not Anglos.

Well, if you can’t say Anglo-America anymore because it minimizes the influence of non-English peoples, then why is the name “Latin America” commonly used as a world region? So called “Latin America” includes many non-Latin peoples. South America, Central America, Mexico and several islands in the Caribbean are (quotes) “Latin” because Spanish and Portuguese colonists spoke a Latin-based language. (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian are all Latin-based “Romance” Languages.)  Within Latin America there are a lot of areas where the native languages are more common than Spanish or Portuguese. There are many areas and especially in the highland areas and rural areas where the first language people learn isn’t Spanish, but a Native/Indian dialect. Also, there are a large number of non-Latin peoples in the Caribbean facing countries where there had been the importation of millions of African slaves.

There are large numbers of non-Latin people in Latin America, just the same as there are large numbers of non-Anglo people in the United States and Canada. So, I think it’s OK to call the United States and Canada “The Anglo-America Region” whenever classifying world regions. The term is NOT a slight against non-English, any more than “Latin America” is not a slight against non-Iberian peoples.

Ahem … so from now on … when I say North America I mean the United States and Canada. Unless I’m talking about physical geography … then in that case I mean …

Posted in ASSIGNMENTS, CULTURE, EDUCATION, MY PHOTOS, Popular Culture, Uncategorized

Further and Farther … with more STUDENT PHOTOS!

Let’s go … Further and Farther … and look at some more STUDENT PHOTOS! This is another set of “Geography Photo Contest” entries from the two classes that I taught online in Fall of 2020.

As we all try to forget the disaster that was the year 2020, we take heart that students were still able to make Geographic observations in their local areas. Many included photos that were taken last year — PRE-pandemic. Here in this “new normal” I am glad to see how the young students are able to adapt, and to even thrive. Maybe that is a bittersweet lesson to be learned by older teachers.

As the Fall term is over, we can now go further into the next semester. Or is it farther into the next semester?

I had to look it up on Dictionary Dot Com:

The widely accepted rule is to use farther when being literal and discussing a physical distance, as in “He went farther down the road.” Further is used when discussing a more symbolic distance or to discuss a degree or extent, as in “I wanted to discuss it further, but we didn’t have time.”

I am glad that is now clear …


Presentation for Applied Geography Conference 2020

I have a video of my presentation at the Applied Geography Conference 2020. The conference was moved ONLINE this year due to the pandemic. I was chair of a special session on Educational Geography. We met via ZOOM on Tuesday, October 20th. It is important to note that the video shared here is NOT my lecture “A Fair Candlemas” — rather it is a talk about the EDUCATIONAL USE of my lecture. I have already posted the AFC lecture elsewhere on my blog.

ABSTRACT: This paper is the second in my geographic education series “Meteorology and Myth”. The purpose was to develop teaching modules which bridge topics in geography and atmospheric science with topics in history, art, folklore and culture. One question that students in my introductory “Weather and Climate” class would inevitably ask was if the “Groundhog Day” predictions are true. Although a groundhog and its shadow cannot predict the weather several weeks in advance, I found that there was a holistic teaching opportunity within the folklore. The legend does not make short-term meteorological sense. However, there may be long-term upper atmosphere circulation patterns, which have allowed the folk myth to arise in Europe, then survive in America. The lesson was not designed to “prove” if the Groundhog Day folk predictions are true. The point was to explain the relevant physical and cultural geographies in an interesting and accessible manner. Vivid and evocative imagery were used to make the atmospheric concepts engaging and memorable for general education students. Expected student outcomes include the skills to describe synoptic weather patterns, use climatic charts and explain climate change. A secondary pedagogical outcome is to further develop student appreciation of cultural geography, folklore and religion.

KEY WORDS: Geographic Education; Folklore; Meteorology; Climatology.

View a slide show of student comments below:

Thanks again to all who participated!

Posted in ASSIGNMENTS, EDUCATION, Poster Session


I usually hold a symposium in my graduate courses on the final day of class. I would invite faculty, administrators and others to view the projects my graduate students were working on all semester. Refreshments were always served (Little Debbies). Students would have the opportunity to showcase their work, and learn to field tough questions on the fly. A practice symposium was always an important stepping stone for young graduate students. It helped them prepare for a real academic conference.

Unfortunately … pandemic.

However we tried to make the best of presentation in isolation. Instead of a live poster Q & A session, we spontaneously decided to throw together the following. You may want to turn on CC English auto-generated captions due to the noise being made by the ducts overhead.

These are the posters for your perusal. Click for full-size view.

Students are also planning full “conference style” oral presentations of their research papers next week. I hope that I will be able to share those formal presentations with you as well.

Posted in EDUCATION, PowerPoint Ideas

Chapter 2 — all about maps …

I have been using the Getis, et al. textbook “Introduction to Geography” for about a century.  I spent probably half of my life making slides for overhead projectors. Today, of course, we compose PowerPoint slide shows for our lectures — which are even better at putting your audience to sleep. At least with the old overhead projectors, you never knew when its fan would stop, the lightbulb would heat up, then explode.  It was great for keeping students attentive and on their toes … but I digress …

I thought I would share some of my narrated PowerPoint lectures saved onYouTube. This is a playlist for Chapter 2: Maps and Techniques of Geographic Analysis. I have added a lot more graphics than are in the original textbook images from McGraw Hill*. Warning: These are very good for curing insomnia. Why not try some tonight?

Listen to Part 1 here:

These videos are for online versions of the course, when it became a necessity to provide lecture materials online. When I first contemplated putting all of my lectures online, I thought that I might record myself in the classroom. I thought that I might be able to give these great “lecture hall” speeches, which would mesmerize the students. I would be standing up there, in front of a big screen and then profoundly thunder out all this great knowledge. I would be another Carl Sagan, or Neil Degrasse-Tyson. It turns out that I really could not do that. The lack of talent on my part might be one reason. I also did not want to sound like a pompous, unapproachable professor. I needed a friendlier approach and method. Instead, I made my narrated PowerPoint lectures as “tutorial” videos. I tried to describe the topics the same way that I might explain it to a student during an one-on-one office hour conversation. The delivery I am trying to make here is more like a tutoring session or consolation. I’m trying to explain the concepts here in a casual, relatable manor. (I apologize in advance if these lectures are not profoundly Earth-shaking.)

Part 2 continues here:

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

There you have it – a whole week of classroom PowerPoint slides for the virtual lecture hall!

* Legal: No copyright violation is intended. All graphics and all other content are “FAIR USE” for Education.


My presentation at SEDAAG Online Virtual Conference

I will be presenting a research talk at the SouthEastern Association of American Geographers annual conference on November 7. This year will be a little different — as the conference will be forced to be ONLINE due to the COVID pandemic. The category is Teaching Experiences and Educational Geography. The talk is about my experience teaching “Geography of North America” in Spring Semester 2019. I wanted to share my efforts partly because my experience is approaching its expiration date as a story, and also because I will be teaching the course again in Spring Term 2021. Once again, my students and I will be slogging and blogging through the GEOG-ing.

I will be sharing this video at the virtual conference, then I will field some comments and opinions.

If YOU would like to share your opinions, please leave them in the comments below.