China reveals Arctic geopolitics to be above Pompeo’s pay grade

Some very good insight on the Chinese interest in the Arctic. Especially in contrast to Sec. Pompeo’s recent comments.


Geography is More Than Maps


Maps as figurative representation and not just literal ones.

Found on this answer: Brian Collins’s answer to Are there too many automakers in the world?

No idea what magazine this was scanned from, nor the date, but I like it as an example of symbolic mapping. Obviously, there is no train one can take from Fiat, transfer to Ford, and get off at Jaguar (Or maybe there is but it doesn’t look like this). But this is good way to show these connections and the stops that are the various properties of the parent companies.

As some of you may be aware, maps are not always literal interpretations of what they depict. At the bare minimum the map-territory relation can be reduced to “the map is not the territory”, and I go into a bit of depth on that specific concept here. But we can go another direction with that idea and use maps as symbols of systems, ideas, and connections while not actually showing the entireity of those. We can call this symbolic or representational mapping.

Another way to see this, that most of you may have seen, is the state as a given item. Such as state food.

50 State Foods

Now you may look at Illinois and go: “Yeah deep dish is kinda big but a Chicago style hot dog is much more representative.” And that’s the thing about symbols, they are very open to interpretation in many ways. Except when they are not. And even then, they kinda are. Of course, there is more to Alaska than Salmon candy but these distinctive features stick out to us and make connections in our minds.

Think of how you visualize major cities in your country? Are there key features that stick out, significant events that stand out, and other items or factors you assign to those places? Let’s do an example right here: New York. What comes to your mind when you see that pair of words?








OK here’s mine: Pizza, 9/11, canyons of glass and steel, Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Broadway, towers fronting water. I’m sure out lists are all different in some way but there are probably some commonalities. You can then take those commonalities and build something like a tourist map.

Maps Update #12001212: Sicily Tourist Map – 12 TopRated Tourist Attractions in Sicily (+68 Similar Maps) |

What our word lists and these tourist maps have in common is they present a very public specific detail oriented view of a place. For example in this map L’Etna (Mount Etna) is a very prominent volcano on the East coast but what is missing? Many things. The Sub cones on the western slope:

Or how it is part of a the northern mountain range on the island but also apart from it:

But that is unnecessary for a tourist map. You just need the detail to lure you in and then they can experience the rest themselves.

So to bring it back to the companies as train stops. Maps are just representations of systems. Some literal and physical, others conceptual and imaginary, and every shade in between. We may not be able to take a train to Ford from Toyota, think that the fish taco is the distinctive California cuisine, or that the Moorish buildings of Palermo is how the entire city looks but these ideas resonate and show some form of connection or representation of an idea.

Originally published here:

Iceland and the Northwest Passage

Let’s start with a map:

Now from a glance at these routes, both current and possible in the near future, it seems more likely that the Northern Sea Route/Northeastern Passage and the Trans Arctic Route would use an Icelandic port since the routes take them close to or right past Iceland. By comparison, the Northwest passage seems to tap into the Greenlandic ports.

However, maritime routes are not straight lines since things like markets, islands, and safe channels shape the route. Which means when we look at a AIS track map we see something interesting:

Yes, that is maritime traffic coming out of the Northwest Passage corridor on the West Coast of Greenland and heading to Iceland. So I can confidently say:

Yes Iceland will be a stop, as for what that will be a stop for depend on the nature and details of the global economy when the Northwest Passage opens up.

But when will the Northwest passage be a viable shipping route? That is a harder question but one still able to be answered. As a dynamic system, like all natural systems, the exact date for this is uncertain but there is a range of possible dates.* As of now the Northwest passage will be completely ice free (no sheet ice, no pack ice, no bergy bits, nothing) around 2050–2060. This is of course within a range of dates that is +/- 10–15 years. As a sample of current research, done within the last 3 years:

The analysis presented in this study suggests that unescorted navigation in the high Arctic in summer may be possible as early as the 2030–2040s and is probable after the 2050s. The winter seasonal ice in the Arctic will be more fragmented than at present, and its mean thickness will be greatly reduced to about 1 m in the mid 21st century and to about 0.5 m in the second half of the century (Fig. 3d). Winter navigation in the high Arctic most likely will still require support from icebreakers due to highly variable sea ice and ocean conditions in this season.

We thus recommend using as many independent coupled climate simulations as possible to best estimate the uncertainty in projections of sea ice-free waters at the regional scale and across individual calendar months. A September sea ice-free Arctic will most likely be realized between 2045 and 2070, with a median of 2050, but the range is extended to 2090 when considering August and October.

We thus recommend using as many independent coupled climate simulations as possible to best estimate the uncertainty in projections of sea ice-free waters at the regional scale and across individual calendar months. A September sea ice-free Arctic will most likely be realized between 2045 and 2070, with a median of 2050, but the range is extended to 2090 when considering August and October.

And the reason for that is because of the more closed in nature of the water there due to the islands of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (CAA) will hold on to older and thicker ice than the rest of the Arctic. Or to put another way:

Moreover, numerous process studies that indicate thick multiyear ice from the Arctic Ocean will continue to flow into the northern route as long as multiyear ice remains present on the north facing coast of the CAA [e.g., Howell et al., 2009; Howell et al., 2013a; Haas and Howell, 2015], and climate models indicating the last remaining summer sea ice in the Arctic will remain on the north facing coast of the CAA [Wang and Overland, 2012; Laliberté et al., 2016]. Therefore, it seems unlikely the northern route of the Northwest Passage will be a viable shipping route for several decades to come. http://e.g., howell et al., 2009; howell et al., 2013a; haas and howell, 2015


Even in recent years, the CAA remains a source for locally grown MYI and a sink for Arctic Ocean MYI [Howell et al., 2015]; and therefore, shipping through the NWP should not be taken lightly. These conclusions also support results of Smith and Stephenson[2013] who suggested that the NWP will not become easily navigable for another 40 years or so.

In my educated opinion, the Northwest passage will see increases in shipping due to tourism, fishing, resource extraction, and transiting cargo on a seasonal basis over the next several decades. However, the Northern Sea Route will see more in that same time frame due to potentially being completely ice free by the 2040’s or around there. Additionally, once the (CAA) is ice free, permitting year round shipping, the impact locally will be minimal since the Trans Arctic route should be open in about the same time which will draw the bulk of transiting shipping versus shipping originating or ending in the Arctic.

To refer to the map at top, that route opening up will take you right past Iceland and it’s ports.

To put another way, there is a reason Maersk tested the first Arctic container ship for transiting the region in the Northern Sea Route and not the Northwest Passage.

Maersk Sending First Container Ship Through Arctic

*The uncertainly and crudeness of early models in detailing more specific outcomes had the passage being completely ice free in 2015 in some scenarios. These are obviously not the case.

Clash of Geographies?

Originally posted here:

The World Economic Forum came out with this assessment stating we are entering a multipolar world. And they are correct but I disagree with how they specifically see that.

Please take the 5 minutes to read this article:

The collision of these 3 geographies is creating a new world order

I’m also going to poach the map:

I’m uncertain where the WEF writer thinks there is a clash going on between the geographies of Eurasia, Indo-Pacific, and the Arctic. Because the reality is these three regions are connected to each other and they are not clashing. Certainly there are clashes of ideas and ideals within these regions and across these regions in the form of economic sanctions, conflict, and simply deciding what is the next step to take based the influences around you. A recent example on this blog was the post on the interest in and opposition to Moldovan unification with Romania Moldovan protests for Romanian unification: The ties that kind of bind.

And this lack of connectivity between these regions is troubling because any geographer worth their salt would tell you: No region stands alone.

Let’s take the Arctic for example. While brevity brings inaccuracies, and this piece is brief, there is more going on here and things are described that are not occurring. One point the article raises is the Russians nationalized Arctic shipping, except that is overly broad. Simply put, hydrocarbon shipment in the Arctic was nationalized in December of 2017, but exceptions were carved out for foreign flagged vessels and these exceptions allow Novatek to operate with their fleet of foreign flagged vessels

“an exception was made to the bill stating that agreements for foreign-registered vessels signed before 1 February 2018 will be allowed to proceed. In addition, the new law defined the Northern Sea Route as the stretch of the Russian Arctic coast between the Novaya Zemlya and the Bering Strait but excluded Murmansk and Arkhangelsk, two major Arctic ports.” New Regulations For Shipping In Russia’s Arctic: The Case of Novatek | Frontera

Which means in turn, that while these restrictions exist they are for a specific area and specific class of shipping. May it increase and/or change in the future? Absolutely but we’re not seeing that at this time. For clarity here is a map describing the area:

The two green arrows define the the Russian vessels only zone (which includes the grandfathered vessels) and the pins are major Arctic ports. If we compare this crude map to the one above showing the belt and road concepts we see those oil and gas terminals in the Russian Far East are outside of the exclusion zone. Further, the Western ports will be reloading facilities where icebreaker tankers can deposit their loads and return to Yamal or LNG-2 and the conventional tankers of any flag can distribute to points West and South.

Also note this map:

Northern Sea Route Information Office

Note those red lines heading south from the Arctic coast in the Russian interior? They are ship and barge AIS tracks carrying raw materials to the coast. Now is this Arctic? Eurasian? Both?

Obviously it’s both. Just like the proposed economic corridor from Kashgar to Gwadar bridges from Eurasia to the Indo-Pacific.

So why delineate? Without knowing the author, I suppose they subscribe to a regional mindset but fail to realize regions are not hard lines on a map but shaded zones that blend into each other. And when dealing with movement across regions it’s hard to look at them in isolation. Which means while there are 3 “geographies” there really is one with 3 subsets. And when you focus on those subsets you always have to at least mention for the non experts in the audience what the connections are, because we humans love our categorizations and patterns to make sense of the world.

But the world is more complex than that and humans themselves can be massive chaotic factors that effect the shape and organization of the world. Sure, China seems to be pursuing a program of soft power expansion with more serious long term goals but we must actually understand how this is applied across space and how these subsets merge to make a whole.

Question: Will the increasing use of Canada’s Arctic Ocean for shipping make life better or worse for the indigenous inhabitants of the region?

This content was originally created on Quora:

It’s a mixed bag.

The indigenous folk generally want to either participate in the economy or be left alone but participation seems to be in the lead these days. And it stands to provide the best avenue toward mixing and matching native values and traditions with those aspects of modern life that can help maintain the former. And they are not evenly distributed across the Arctic nor are all in a position to take advantage of maritime shipping.

Nor are they considered approximately equal with each country. But more on that in a moment.

It also helps to think of what shipping is. Broadly shipping is:

the act or business of one that ships

That includes everything from vessels transiting the Northern sea route carrying goods from Copenhagen to Shanghai, vessels transporting LNG from the Kola Peninsula to Incheon, a cruise in the Northwest Passage, or cabotage (coastal resupply) in the Canadian Arctic archipelago. And specifically we are talking shipping on ships not trucks or aircraft.

So for the Arctic the vessels that are doing non stop transits are effecticvely a non issue. The ones coming here to pick up extracted resources and the ones coming here to show tourists the region are the important aspects as of right now, the ones coming here to drop off supplies are not as important except as the primary avenue for goods to arrive in many places, though they can be an avenue for economic access as well.

The points of entry for indigenous people are:

  • As service providers for cruise ship passengers.
    • Selling native wares, running cafes, and providing tours and interpretive activities.
  • As service providers for resource extraction operations.
    • Running stores, providing some nontechnical labor on site, and other service activities.

Now these are seen as traditional native/outsider interface systems but we now live in a time where if one has the resources and access, indigenous groups can do a great deal more.

  • As transport operators.
    • Not so much large ocean going vessels unless they have great deal of capitol. Though local trucking, aircraft transport, and barging for resource extractors is much more achievable.
  • As providers of high level service activities.
    • Insurance, marine services, construction, surveying, and hydrocarbon support companies.
  • As resource extractors in their own right.
    • Oil and gas to a degree, mining to a higher degree, but fishing ona commercial level as well.
  • And a great deal more.

The question is how do they want to be involved and how do the want to strike the balance of modernity vs tradition? How each group answers those questions will help decide how they come out.

On the involved and actively engaged side is:

Embracing Inupiat Heritage to Build Foundations for our Future

Arctic Slope Regional Corporation

Inuvialuit Business List (IBL) – Many businesses here some indigenous some not.

On the more balanced to less engaged side:

Council of the Haida Nation

And there is a great deal more so it’s hard to say anything with any great certainty. But with resources, intent, opportunity, and a great deal of random chance indigenous groups in the Canadian Arctic can make a go of taking advantage of shifts in the local economy.

As for will it be better or worse, only time and how much control they have over the shifts will tell.

What are the potential conflict points in the Arctic?

Originally published on Quora:

The first thing to mention at this time is the Arctic is really peaceful so any potential hot spots are very low probability at this time and for the foreseeable future.

Now there are several points of low level tensions that, with a great deal of “help”, could blow up in the near to mid-term future.

  • Svalbard. This is big old conflict that has been in place in one form or another for a century. In short, Svalbard is Norwegian but operates under a set of exclusions that make is semi-autonomous. This means other countries, Russia among others, can use territory there directly without needing to use a private enterprise as a 3rd party. Over the last 50 years Norway has been trying to tie Svalbard closer to itself and Russia objects since this means more government regulation to deal with. But they also object because they also kind of think Svalbard should be theirs. To make this complex Norway and Russia recently signed an agreement stabilizing the maritime border in the region which means it looks like this:

But aside from some showboating by both sides this is not going to be a shooting war anytime soon. More on this issue here.

  • The Beaufort Sea. Bot the US and Canada agree that there is a national border here, they don’t agree on where it goes. The US claims the border is different than the land one and needs to be equidistant from land. Canada disagrees and states it is supposed to extent perpendicularly from the land. What is at stake is possibly oil but also fishing rights and sovereignty. While mapping of the seabed has been done it seems this has not brought anything to a meaningful conclusion and it is a source of frustration mainly for Canada but nothing that anyone is going to war over.

(read more here)

  • The Northwest Passage (NWP). This is a dispute between Canada and many other countries which includes the US. The issue here is Canada, as a signatory to UNCLOS, states the NWP is territorial waters and they have full control over access. The other countries, which include UNCLOS signatories and non signatories (the US), state it is an international passageway and as such is it available for any to use for free navigation.

    • The issue is grounded in UNCLOS and how something is regarded as an international strait. Specifically this bit:
      • In straits referred to in article 37, all ships and aircraft enjoy the right of transit passage, which shall not be impeded; except that, if the strait is formed by an island of a State bordering the strait and its mainland, transit passage shall not apply if there exists seaward of the island a route through the high seas or through an exclusive economic zone of similar convenience with respect to navigational and hydrographical characteristics.

    • Specifically if you’re Canada and you’re looking at the southernmost route you pay attention to this part: “…In straits referred to in article 37, all ships and aircraft enjoy the right of transit passage, which shall not be impeded; except that, if the strait is formed by an island of a State bordering the strait and its mainland…” If you’re everyone else looking at the bigger and deeper northern route: “…transit passage shall not apply if there exists seaward of the island a route through the high seas or through an exclusive economic zone of similar convenience with respect to navigational and hydrographical characteristics.” Which also is a straight but not one that parallels the mainland and it becomes a normal transit area.
    • This is all annoying to Canada but due to some climate realities even with the melting of the Arctic it will be about 2050 before year round unobstructed sailing is possible. Further, those who transit and fall under the reporting scheme have all obeyed the rules and reported transit. This includes Chinese icebreakers, passenger vessels, and US warships. And the last are also covered by mutual defence treaties so there would be little issue if they did not report. Once again no shooting war happening here.
  • The North Pole and a good deal of the Arctic Ocean. Denmark, Canada, and Russia all claim the Lomonosov Ridge as part of their continental shelf. And by doing so can then put a 200 nautical mile border into what is now international waters and claim it as an exclusive economic zone. It’s gone to review by the UN commission dealing with continental shelves as of 2016. Also not a real point of military conflict at this time.
  • And more broadly, resources. Fishing is on a moratorium, drilling for oil and LNG is confined to national waters and coastline because the open ocean is too dangerous to put a platform there, and other mineral extraction is still in the exploratory phase for now. So there is no resource war going to happen for the near future.
  • Oh and Russia claims the NSR is entirely within territorial waters, but no one seems willing to dispute that since this declaration doesn’t cross into other maritime territory.

That’s basically the rundown right now. I left out Han Island and a couple other very minor disputes because they are really minor. The Arctic is at peace for now and the regional states are mostly working on beefing up their infrastructure in the region and exploring economic opportunities as the region becomes more and more accessible thanks to Climate Change. And that peace will maintain for the near future because there is no interest in changing it now.

Let’s look again in 5 years.

Freelancer Survey Results

Sorry folks for the delay in the What is Spatial post but I just ran across this in my feed and decided to share it. Because if you have an interest in GIS, are getting into it professionally, or know some who is doing that this would be a handy bit of information on the nature of the market.

And that is geo-education too.


A few weeks ago, Aly Ollivierre and I had an email conversation about freelancing, and whether or not the rates we charged were “normal.” Freelancing can be an opaque world, and I’ve tried to bring a little transparency to it in my own way. To help shed a little more light on the cartographic freelance world, we conducted a survey, asking people about their rates and freelancing practices, as well as a few demographic questions. You can see the specific questions we asked by clicking here.

Rather than a straightforward run-down of the results in a blog post, we decided to present them in the context of a conversation with each other, FiveThirtyEight style. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation. All graphics are by Aly.

Daniel Huffman: 

I think the bottom-line thing that most people would want to know about the survey is: how much money are…

View original post 2,426 more words

US Congressional Redistricting for Pennsylvania as an Example of Applied Geography

(First, a note: I promise to do my best on this blog to not show political favoritism or bias in my writing, so I present this post and the link as only an example of applied geography in action. If you feel strongly about it one way or the other, feel free to but don’t expect me to support or condemn because that is not what this blog is about.)

This is loosely part of my geo-education side of this blog since it shows how geography and the spatial aspects of life affect the world about us.  In the US, congressional districts are reassessed every decade after a decennial census and ideally represent the demographics of states and  the distribution of political parties there to produce congressional districts that are representative of everyone in it.

The reality is humans are tribal creatures and often willing to give our preferred group an advantage over the other group.  In the case of Pennsylvania, the State Supreme court decided that the then current congressional map unfairly favored the Republicans of the state over the Democrats. Mainly by making a bunch of “safe” districts that prevented real competition between the parties without resulting demographic shifts first occurring. The State congress returned with a map the State Supreme Court decided was unacceptable and produced their own which became the new reality.

So the State congressional lines went from:

old PA congressional map

To this:

new PA congressional map

For the rest of the story you really should read here: Pennsylvania’s congressional map, in limbo no more (Which is also the source of the maps.)

But the short of it is, when I or someone else states that geography is inextricably part of us and the world around us, it really is.  Maybe you have an opinion on congressional redistricting, or zoning rules, or how parks are used, or one of a million other features about humans and space and under them all is the spatial aspects of humans. We use space, exist in space, move through it, and even turn some parts of space into places because we are spatial beings.

And with that, next time we will discuss this core concept of geography: What is spatial?

P.S. If you really find elections interesting I highly suggest reading my fellow Quora writer’s blog: StatSheet – The Quora Edition: Reading election numbers, so you don’t have to It’s mainly US elections, though not exclusively and if any interesting election draws Mac’s eye he will write on it.