24 Hour Photo

24 Hour Photo! It always used to be that you had to wait days until the photos you took were developed. Now, of course everyone can view their pictures right away on digital cameras and smartphones. It used to be a big deal to be able to get your photos back in a day  There were even businesses which advertised how fast they were — One Hour Photo stores and the like. Some of them were open 24 hours — and you could make photocopies.

My students did a good job finishing their “Geography Photo Contest” assignments all on the same day. At first I thought that maybe I forgot to post the assignment. They were not being posted — as opposed to previous semesters. Even after the first student finally posted, I still wondered what was going on …

It must have been a busy final week of classes. There was no way that students could not possibly as thrilled as I am with this assignment … just before finals …right?

Although this is a smaller batch, my students are to be commended on their 24 hour burst of creativity.

Tell me your favorite in the comments below.



Welcome, QR code readers!  You must have scanned a poster code from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s “Pembroke Undergraduate Research Conference (PURC)”.

The symposium this year was a “virtual” event posted online.

See the entire UNCP PURC program of posters and abstracts linked here:


Joseph Capstaff “Hurricane Synoptics”

Stephen Murdock “Glacial Landscapes of Maine.”

Daniel Moorhead “Icebreakers on the Great Lakes”

Johanna Reis “Eight Killer and the Fiery Gizzard”

Max Robinson “Yellowstone National Park: Education through ArcGIS Web Maps” 

Brionna Wright “High Altitude Acclimation — a Poster Presentation”

Arturo Carmora “Are Hurricanes in the Southeast Getting Worse?”

Jason Free “A Study of Underground Coal Fires”

Rebekah Harvey “Offshore Wind Farms”

Which one was your favorite topic? Let me know in the Comments below:


EIGHT WEEKS A DAY – More Geography Student Photos!

EIGHT WEEKS A DAY – More Geography Student Photos!  A play on words, you say? You probably thought I meant “Eight Days A Week” which was a song by The Beatles – and was a play on words itself. What I mean is that my students in my EIGHT WEEKS course have finished their term. These half-semester courses are a good way to gain general education credit quickly. However, 8-weeks students know that the course will proceed twice as fast as regular semester-long courses. To their credit, they came through with the Geography Photo Contest assignment. Please enjoy more of my student’s photos:

Click any image to start the slideshow!

In one DAY I can grade EIGHT WEEKS of work!

View another gallery here — please comment on your favorite!

Oh, where can you listen to The Beatles song? Here on this YouTube link. The music video includes many scenes fron their famous performance at Shea Stadium, New York — where they played for more than ONE HALF HOUR!!!

Sing it as “EIGHT WEEKS A DAY!”


Maps of the USA for Discussion and Debate: Part 2 of 7

Maps of the USA for Discussion and Debate: Part 2 of 7 —

Map#2: Plant Hardiness Zone Map (and Legend)

(Click on image to open graphic, then view full size 3300 x 2442.)

Average Coldest Temperature of Winter.

Source: USDA Agricultural Research Service. Less generalized maps are also available from the website:

The plant hardiness zone map is useful for horticulturists and gardeners. The map shows what the extreme coldest temperature is, on average of any given winter. The idea is that plants which winter over have to withstand the coldest temperature in that environment. Fruit trees, and perennial flowers must be adapted to environmental temperature. If the winter temperature goes below what the plant can stand, then that plant species cannot grow in that environment. This gives gardeners and other horticulturalists a basic guide as to what temperatures they can expect in their region. Of course, there are many other factors to consider when planting.

These maps are updated periodically. Individual state maps are also available from the USDA ARS site. This is one for Ohio:

These include more precise data with mapped sub-zones of each major zone shown on the main map. For example: If you are in Sandusky Ohio, on Lake Erie, you are in zone 6a. The coldest temperature of the winter is on average between -5 and 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Just a little farther inland, you are in the next zone — 6b, where the average coldest temperature of winter is between -10 and -5 Fahrenheit. Quite colder over just a short distance! This demonstrates the moderating influence of the proximity of large water bodies.

Here is a helpful YouTube video which explains the usefulness of these maps:

What will be the theme of the next map? Check back next week to see Map #3!


Posted in Climatology, EDUCATION, NORTH AMERICA

Maps of the USA for Discussion and Debate: Part 1 of 7

Notice: I told my student bloggers that a good way to generate views on a blog is to create a regular SERIES of posts on a theme. I will lead by example, so today I will start a seven-part series on “interesting maps of the USA”.

Maps of the USA for Discussion and Debate: Part 1 of 7 —

(Click for larger view or full size.)

Map #1: “How much snow does it usually take to cancel schools?”

Growing up in northern Ohio, I saw my share of snowstorms. The 1960s and 1970s were an especially snowy portion of our climatic history, with many record setting snowfalls. However, it took more than a slight dusting of snow to close the Ohio schools where I lived! It would take TWELVE INCHES to cancel our school day. We were used to snow, and knew how to drive in it. They wouldn’t even THINK about closing school with less than six inches. There are other regions ever better adapted to high snowfalls. You need TWO FEET of snow to close some Rocky Mountain schools. Compare that to the southern areas of the US where an insignificant amount of snow would cause auto accidents and close schools. The population is just not used to travel over snow. I won’t bash bad southern drivers too much though. Many of these areas get less than an inch of frozen precipitation each year. They are more likely to get 1/4 inch of freezing rain, than six inches of snow. Freezing rain is much harder to drive on than melting snow (even for a northener). I feel sorry for southern drivers. Much as when you get on a boat, you have to find your “sea legs” … when you drive on ice for the first time you need to learn your “ice brakes”.

Image Source: Map made by Alex Trubetskoy, 2014.  (You will have to ask him where he got his information.)

Bonus: In order to put the map above in context it would be good to have a reference map of Average Annual Snowfall.

Source: National Climatic Data Center and NOAA.

Bonus Bonus: On the theme of snow, many Americans dream of a “White Christmas”, but how often does that occur? See the probability map.

Source: NOAA

So long until Part 2, when I will share another interesting map of the US …


Greetings from Ohio: State Maps on Postcards

Years ago, I used to collect postcards.  When I would travel for a conference or if I visited an interesting place on vacation, my wife and I would often window shop through shopping districts and tourist areas. Whenever I would stop into a touristy place with a lot of those nick-knack shops, I would always pick up a few postcards. Post cards are cheap, they are easy to carry and pack for the return trip. What else should I buy? Another mug? A plate? a spoon? A T-shirt that says “XXX WWW XXXXX” ? None of that ever had any appeal to me. But I liked postcards. The shopkeeper (“May I help you”), would always be happy that I would be buying ANYTHING. Most tourists just browse through the shop and fondle the snowglobes. I wouldn’t mind having that samurai sword though. Sometimes I would send the cards to friends, just to let them know that I had a job where I get paid to go to educational conferences, and where I can eat at upscale restaurants on the taxpayers dime. Somewhere between when I stopped traveling so much, and the invention of the Internet, I stopped collecting postcards.

One of the themes I liked was MAPS on postcards. With that in mind, let me share with you some maps of my home state on postcards.

Click on any to start the slide show!

I hope you enjoyed! Please send me a postcards in the comments below!


North America in Maps — “Soils of North America”

I wanted to share this map, another faculty person recently posted.

CREDIT: This map was made by Mr. Nathan Phillippi of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke Geology and Geography Department. The original soil data source FAO/UNESCO Soil Map of the World. The map was constructed using the ESRI corporation’s ArcMap software

Click on the image below for gallery view, then click view full size 7200 x 7200 for largest detail image.

I know … there is a hierarchical classification to world soil types. Soil types are categorized by their similarity. Here I will zoom in a little closer to North Carolina. It is a good LOOKING map at least.

You are still supposed to use the same legend as above. I looked at this and thought — where are the Ultisols?

Unfortunately, the map above use the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization soil classification. It looks like we are somewhere in between Ferric-Acrisols and Gleyic-Acrisols. Huh? That is all too complicated for me. Actually, I do not like or appreciate this particular world soil classification — at least not for general education. I much preferred the “Seventh Approximation” classification, which was a taxonomic system that was similar to biological classification. Here is a good video clip.

Certainly for teaching in general education the Seventh Approximation is better. Just knowing the characteristics of each Soil Order would be important for students to learn. There is a reasoning for each of the root words in the soil order name, which says something about the environments in which they formed and developed. This concept is well illustrated in the video below:

If you want to untangle the UN’s soil classification system I suggest these global soils links:

References and Links to the world soil classification used by United Nations FAO see the links here:

Leave me a comment if you want to talk soils …


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.