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Cartography’s Favourite Map Monster: the Land Octopus
It only has one job: instil map readers with fear and revulsion.
Over the centuries, the high seas have served as a blank canvas for cartographers’ worst nightmares. They have dotted the oceans with a whole crypto-zoo of island-sized whales, deathly seductive mermaids, giant sea serpents, and many more - a whole panoply of heraldic horrors. As varied as this marine bestiary is, mapmakers have settled on a single, favourite species for land-based beastliness: the octopus.
Real octopi are sea creatures, of course. But the Cartographic Land Octopus - CLO for short - need not worry about being in the right ecosphere. Being fictional, it is not restricted to the sea. It can (and need) do only one thing: instil map-readers with fear and revulsion. But the CLO's pedigree does stretch back to the ocean. It is clearly descended from an older monstrosity, equally fictional but wholly sea-bound: the Kraken, a giant squid whose enormous tentacles dragged whole ships down to their watery graves.
I suspect it’s those tentacles that explain why the octopus became cartography’s favourite land monster. They turn the CLO into a perfect emblem of evil spreading across a map: its ugly head is the centre of a malevolent intelligence, which is manipulating its obscene appendages to bring death and destruction to its surroundings. This is perfect for demonstrating the geographic reach of an enemy state’s destructive potential. It can even be used on a more abstract level, showing dangerous ideologies insipidly infiltrating and/or strangling the world.
The Cartographic Land Octopus was born two-thirds into the 19th century, when the intra-European tensions were slowly gearing up towards the First World War; it flourished until the end of the Second World War. But it still maintains its grip on the cartographic imagination today, as will be shown towards the end of this concise timeline of CLO cartoons.
But before we get biographical, some categoric disentangling. As a graphic concept, the CLO overlaps with tow similar tropes. Firstly, the non-cartographic cartoon octopus (NCCO): like the CLO, this specimen is used to demonstrate the wide-ranging grasp of a particular evil, but unlike it, there is no map involved - even though all that grasping often implies a spatial element. Case in point are the popular depictions, in the late 19th and early 20th century, of monopolising, price-fixing business trusts like Standard Oil as destructive NCCOs.
Secondly, the anthropomorphic map. These show countries or continents in human shapes, either totally abstract, and mostly in the map margins (like the plump ladies symbolising the riches of Africa, Europa, Asia and America, seated in the four corners of antique world maps); or actually in the map, contorted to conform to the outline of the nations they represent (John Bull made to crouch like England, Marianne striking a France-shaped pose).
Anthropomorphism - and more broadly speaking, zoomorphism - had always been a fairly popular cartographic method . The migration of the Kraken to land, somewhere around 1870, can be seen as an escalation, symbolising the hardening of international attitudes. The offending nation was refused the benefit of humanity, which would have allowed some primal empathy: even if Germany was represented by its loony Kaiser, it was still human, and thus not beyond redemption.
Perhaps as with spiders and other creepy crawlies, humans feel instant, instinctive and intense revulsion for the many-legged octopus. The CLO is aimed squarely at these feelings. Its aim is to signal: This is the primeval enemy, and it needs not just to be defeated, but to be destroyed.
This Humorous War Map may well be the earliest traceable example of the CLO. It was produced in the second half of the 19th century by J.J. van Brederode in Haarlem, the Netherlands. It is one of many such maps circulating at the time across Europe, using the light-hearted medium of anthropomorphic cartography to illustrate the tense international situation. The map’s innovation was to show Russia not as its Czar (or, as also was quite common, the Russian bear), but as a belligerent octopus. The legend explains the contemporary geopolitical context of the map:
The Octopus (Russia, the great glutton) no longer thinks about the wounds received during the Crimean War, and advances its armies in all directions. After having stemmed the Turk’s advance, the Russian marches forward, hoping to crush Turkey like he did with Poland. It seems Greece is also desirous to occupy and exhaust Turkey from another direction. Hungary is restrained only by its sister Austria from attacking Russia. France, still smarting from its recent defeat, is studiously inspecting its arsenal. Germany is observing France’s movements, and is prepared for all eventualities.
Great Britain and Ireland are carefully monitoring the situation, and are prepared to prevent Russia from imposing itself on Turkey, or interfering in the Suez. Spain is taking a much-needed nap. Italy is toying with the Pope, while the rich King of the Belgians is securing his treasure. Denmark may have a small flag, but it has reasons to be proud.
The Brederode map is dated 1870, thus preceding Fred W. Rose’s nearly identical Serio-Comic War Map (1877) by several years. Yet it is the latter cartographer who is considered the great populariser of the anthropomorphic map - and the LCO. Rose in any case seems to have been more prolific, producing several variations on the Serio-Comic Map, and an updated version of it in 1900.
Rose’s 1877 map is very similar to the 1900 one. But while Russia still is the offending protagonist, tentacling its way into its neighbours’ affairs, the nature and direction of some of the anthropomorphic nations has changed, reflecting an altered political landscape. Whereas France in the 1877 map is an old general aiming cannon at Germany, still frustrated by its recent defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-’71, France in 1900 is Marianne, dressed in the revolutionary colours, looking away from Germany, and toward Britain. A like-for-like comparison would lead us too far, but the legend of Rose’s 1900 map provides some explanation:
Great Britain - John Bull has been attacked by two wild cats. He is however able to rely on the stores of ammunition behind him, as well as his own pluck and great resources. The letter at his feet from his friend Uncle Sam, would be more encouraging were it not for the post-script. The Nationalist section in Ireland has taken this opportunity to vent his abuse upon him, but is restrained by the loyalty of the people.
France too, is scolding and threatening to scratch with one hand, while with the other she is beckoning on Germany to help her. Although the Dreyfus affair is thrust into the back-ground she is much occupied with her new doll's house. She has somehow managed to break all the toys on her girdle and her heart is sore, for she attributes these disasters to John Bull.
Holland and Belgium are also calling him unpleasant names.
Spain, weary with her recent struggles, remembers that John was in no way inclined to help her, and looks up hoping to see him attacked by some of her neighbours.
Portugal is pleased to think he holds the Key of the situation.
Norway and Sweden though still struggling to get free from their mutual leash, turn their attention to John's difficulties, while Denmark is kindly sending him a present of provisions.
Austria and Hungary will be content with dreadful threats
Switzerland's satisfaction that her Red Cross has done good service, is marred by the news of John's victories, which she is reading.
Italy alone holds out the hand of encouragement to his old friend.
In Corsica the shade of her great departed son is wondering why people don't act, as he would have done, instead of growling and cursing.
Turkey, resting comfortably on his late foe Greece, is smiling at the thought that these troubles do not harm him and perhaps he is not sorry that John will not come to much harm.
Russia, in spite of the Tzar's noble effort to impress her with his own peaceful image, is but an octopus still. Far and wide her tentacles are reaching. Poland and Finland already know the painful process of absorption. China feels the power of her suckers, and two of her tentacles are invidiously creeping towards Persia and Afghanistan, while another is feeling for any point of vantage where Turkey may be once more attacked.
This map, published in 1904, is an interesting, non-western take on the LCO. It was produced by Japanese student Kisaburo Ohara at the beginning of the Russo-Japanese War. The text box on this Humorous Diplomatic Atlas of Europe and Asia reads:
‘Black Octopus’ is the name newly given to Russia by a certain prominent Englishman [i.e. Fred W. Rose]. For the black octopus is so avaricious, that he stretches out his eight arms in all directions, and seizes up every thing that comes within his reach. But as it sometimes happens he gets wounded seriously even by a small fish, owing to his too much covetousness(sic). Indeed, a Japanese proverb says: “Great avarice is like unselfishness.” We Japanese need not to say much on the cause of the present war. Suffice it to say, that the further existence of the Black Octopus will depend entirely upon how he comes out of this war. The Japanese fleet has already practically annihilated Russia’s naval power in the Orient. The Japanese army is about to win a signal victory over Russia in Corea & Manchuria. And when… St Petersburg? Wait and see! The ugly Black Octopus! Hurrah! Hurrah! for Japan.
Where Rose’s octopus spread its tentacles only on the western edge of the Russian empire, this Japanese version aptly illustrates the true, bi-continental nature (and reach) of this giant country. In Asia, it is reaching across China via Manturia (sic) into the Yellow Sea near Korea - where the Russians maintained a naval presence at Port Arthur, the site of their great defeat in 1905 . Three Asian tentacles are further engaging Tibet, India, Persia and Turkey - all part of the so-called Great Game, Russia and Britain’s struggle for dominance in Central Asia.
Whether imperial, soviet or post-communist, Russia is a favourite subject of octopodal cartography. So was its near-namesake, Prussia. A CLO map of the German Empire’s core state was discussed earlier on this blog . Here is another one, dated 1915. The rather comical head of this Prussian Octopus is centred on Berlin, and its tentacles are scraping together extra territory from the general neighbourhood.
“We do not threaten small nations,” declared the German Chancellor on December 10th, 1915: “we do not wage the war which has been forced upon us in order to subjugate foreign peoples, but for the protection of our life and freedom.” The pictorial map is a commentary on his words. It shows how Prussia has stolen one province after another from her neighbours and, like a baleful octopus, is still stretching out her tentacles to grasp further acquisitions. The territories included in the original Kingdom of Prussia are marked [dark grey]. The territories since absorbed to negotiation, force, or fraud are marked [light grey].
The list of provinces acquired by Prussia, each draped with a tentacle, reads:
The voracious Prussian octopus has a playmate to the south, although the Prussian tentacle around the Austro-Hungarian’s rather doleful-looking head might indicate that the two monsters are frenemies rather than BFFs. Be that as it may, the relationship between both octopi seems responsible for the spread of Austro-Prussian expansionism into the Balkans:
How Communism Works (1938), here at Vulgar Army.
The CLO need not necessarily symbolise a classic, territorial threat. Ideologies are easy targets for octopus-based propaganda: poisonous creeds have mental tentacles - invisible, and thus more dangerous. This stark, alarming illustration is the front page of a pamphlet by the Catholic Library Service (1938). It portrays communism as a hydra with the face of Stalin, and its tentacles curling around Spain (the Soviets had been heavily involved on the - losing - Republican side of the civil war), extending also towards the US.
The CLO itself is ideologically neutral, a gun for hire to each side of the argument. Here, we see the octopus used against the West. This propaganda poster, produced in 1942 by the pro-German Vichy government in France, shows Churchill as the head of a wounded octopus, its bleeding tentacles chopped off by the superior forces of the Nazi Axis. The locations evoked here are the sites of Allied military action against the Vichy-French, causing French casualties. The poster tries to rally French sentiment against the English - also by implying that the Anglo-American Alliance will use the war to steal the French colonial empire, a large part of which was situated in Africa. It also gives the impression that the war is going badly for the Allies, stating:Confiance, ses amputations se poursuivent méthodiquement (‘Have faith, [Churchill’s] amputations are progressing methodically’]. Just a matter of time before the Axis wins the war...
Erkenne die Gefahr! (1949), here at Vulgar Army.
The end of the war hardly means the end of the octopus. During the Cold War, great ideological chasms remain, large enough to fit a giant squid. In 1949, the conservative Oesterreichische Volkspartei exhorts Austrian voters with this poster to Recognise the danger! More words are unnecessary, the message is clear: the ominous, blood-sucking octopus advancing from the east is the spectre of communism, which has just gobbled up large parts of Eastern Europe .
Non! La France ne sera pas un pays colonisé! (ca. 1950), here at Vulgar Army.
Approaching from the opposite direction,both geographically and ideologically, is this American octopus, ready to devour France and all its Frenchness. This time, it's the (French) communists appropriating the evil octopus trope for their political purposes.
The voracious hydra returns in self-parody rather than as geopolitical satire in a 1960s Batman movie with Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin. The Caped Crusader is facing a cartel of his four worst enemies (the Joker, the Riddler, the Penguin and Catwoman). This United Underworld has its own logo: an octopus strangling the globe.
Russia in 2008, here at Toon Pool.
The CLO made a full circle of sorts in 2008, when Graeme Mackay, a cartoonist for the Hamilton Spectator, a Canadian newspaper, updated the earliest octopus maps to show Putin again as a Russian hydra. In this period, a newly-resurgent Russia was reasserting its influence in the ‘near abroad’, i.e. those now independent republics that had been under Moscow’s sway until the end of the Soviet Union in 1992. By adapting a cartographic cartoon with a pedigree of over a century, Mackay proved the viability and adaptability of the Cartographic Land Octopus, which continues to stretch its tentacles across the globe to this very day.
Many thanks to all those who sent in octopus-based cartography, including Sarah Simpkin (the Prussian Octopus) and ArCgon (the Russian Octopi from 1877 and 2008).
Special mention should go to Vulgar Army, a fantastic website I discovered while researching this post. It’s dedicated specifically to Octopus in Propaganda and Political Cartoons, and is the source of many of the maps in this post. Check it out for extra helpings of maps and even more cartoons - all octopus-based. If it exists in the real world, there is a community obsessing about it in cyberspace: Vulgar Army’s blogroll refers to a dozen other websites devoted to octopi and other cephalopods.
Strange Maps #521
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
 Some examples discussed earlier on this blog: #141, #162 and #473.
 See #510.
 At that time, the Soviets were still occupying the eastern bit of Austria itself; Vienna was divided in Allied sectors much like Berlin. This may explain the wordless reference to the communist threat. The Soviets withdrew from Austria in 1955, on condition of the country’s enduring neutrality. The movie The Third Man (1949) provides an atmospheric sketch of the situation in ‘Four-Power’ Vienna.
"Deepfakes" and "cheap fakes" are becoming strikingly convincing — even ones generated on freely available apps.
- A writer named Magdalene Visaggio recently used FaceApp and Airbrush to generate convincing portraits of early U.S. presidents.
- "Deepfake" technology has improved drastically in recent years, and some countries are already experiencing how it can weaponized for political purposes.
- It's currently unknown whether it'll be possible to develop technology that can quickly and accurately determine whether a given video is real or fake.
After former U.S. President William Henry Harrison delivered his inaugural speech on March 4, 1841, he posed for a daguerreotype, the first widely available photographic technology. It became the first photo taken of a sitting American president.
As for the eight presidents before Harrison, history can see them only through artistic renderings. (The exception is a handful of surviving daguerreotypes of John Quincy Adams, taken after he left office. In his diary, Adams described them as "hideous" and "too true to the original.")
But a recent project offers a glimpse of what early presidents might've looked like if photographed through modern cameras. Using FaceApp and Airbrush, Magdalene Visaggio, author of books such as "Eternity Girl" and "Kim & Kim," generated a collection of convincing portraits of the nation's first presidents, from George Washington to Ulysses S. Grant.
Modern Presidents George Washington https://t.co/CURJQB0kap— Magdalene Visaggio (@Magdalene Visaggio)1611952243.0
What might be surprising is that Visaggio was able to generate the images without a background in graphic design, using freely available tools. She wrote on Twitter:
"A lot of people think I'm a digital artist or whatever, so let me clarify how I work. Everything you see here is done in Faceapp+Airbrush on my phone. On the outside, each takes between 15-30 mins. Washington was a pretty simple one-and-done replacement."
Ulysses S Grant https://t.co/L1IGXLI3Vl— Magdalene Visaggio (@Magdalene Visaggio)1611959480.0
"Other than that? I am not a visual artist in any sense, just a hobbyist using AI tools see what she can make. I'm actually a professional comics writer."
Did another pass at Lincoln. https://t.co/PdT4QVpMbn— Magdalene Visaggio (@Magdalene Visaggio)1611973947.0
Of course, Visaggio isn't the first person to create deepfakes (or "cheap fakes") of politicians.
In 2017, many people got their first glimpse of the technology through a video depicting former President Barack Obama warning: "We're entering an era in which our enemies can make it look like anyone is saying anything at any point in time." The video quickly reveals itself to be fake, with comedian Jordan Peele speaking for the computer-generated Obama.
While deepfakes haven't yet caused significant chaos in the U.S., incidents in other nations may offer clues of what's to come.
The future of deepfakes
In 2018, Gabon's president Ali Bongo had been out of the country for months receiving medical treatment. After Bongo hadn't been seen in public for months, rumors began swirling about his condition. Some suggested Bongo might even be dead. In response, Bongo's administration released a video that seemed to show the president addressing the nation.
But the video is strange, appearing choppy and blurry in parts. After political opponents declared the video to be a deepfake, Gabon's military attempted an unsuccessful coup. What's striking about the story is that, to this day, experts in the field of deepfakes can't conclusively verify whether the video was real.
The uncertainty and confusion generated by deepfakes poses a "global problem," according to a 2020 report from The Brookings Institution. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Defense released some of the first tools able to successfully detect deepfake videos. The problem, however, is that deepfake technology keeps improving, meaning forensic approaches may forever be one step behind the most sophisticated forms of deepfakes.
As the 2020 report noted, even if the private sector or governments create technology to identify deepfakes, they will:
"...operate more slowly than the generation of these fakes, allowing false representations to dominate the media landscape for days or even weeks. "A lie can go halfway around the world before the truth can get its shoes on," warns David Doermann, the director of the Artificial Intelligence Institute at the University of Buffalo. And if defensive methods yield results short of certainty, as many will, technology companies will be hesitant to label the likely misrepresentations as fakes."
Ancient corridors below the French capital have served as its ossuary, playground, brewery, and perhaps soon, air conditioning.
- People have been digging up limestone and gypsum from below Paris since Roman times.
- They left behind a vast network of corridors and galleries, since reused for many purposes — most famously, the Catacombs.
- Soon, the ancient labyrinth may find a new lease of life, providing a sustainable form of air conditioning.
Ancient mining areas below Paris for limestone (red) and gypsum (green).Credit: Émile Gérards (1859–1920) / Public domain
"If you're brave enough to try, you might be able to catch a train from UnLondon to Parisn't, or No York, or Helsunki, or Lost Angeles, or Sans Francisco, or Hong Gone, or Romeless."
China Miéville's fantasy novel Un Lun Dun is set in an eerie mirror version of London. In it, he hints that other cities have similar doubles. On the list that he offhandedly rattles off, Paris stands out. Because the City of Light really does have a twisted sister. Below Paris Overground is Paris Underground, the City of Darkness.
Most people will have heard of the Catacombs of Paris: subterranean charnel houses for the bones of around six million dead Parisians. They are one of the French capital's most famous tourist attractions – and undoubtedly its grisliest.
But they constitute only a small fragment of what the locals themselves call les carrières de Paris ("the mines of Paris"), a collection of tunnels and galleries up to 300 km (185 miles) long, most of which are off-limits to the public, yet eagerly explored by so-called cataphiles.
The Grand Réseau Sud ("Great Southern Network") takes up around 200 km beneath the 5th, 6th, 14th, and 15th arrondissements (administrative districts), all south of the river Seine. Smaller networks run beneath the 12th, 13th, and 16th arrondissements. How did they get there?
Paris stone and plaster of Paris
It all starts with geology. Sediments left behind by ancient seas created large deposits of limestone in the south of the city, mostly south of the Seine; and gypsum in the north, particularly in the hills of Montmartre and Ménilmontant. Highly sought after as building materials, both have been mined since Roman times.
The limestone is also known as Lutetian limestone (Lutetia is the Latin name for ancient Paris) or simply "Paris stone." It has been used for many famous Paris landmarks, including the Louvre and the grand buildings erected during Georges-Eugène Haussmann's large-scale remodelling of the city in the mid-19th century. The stone's warm, yellowish color provides visual unity and a bright elegance to the city.
The fine-powdered gypsum of northern Paris, used for making quick-setting plaster, was so famed for its quality that "plaster of Paris" is still used as a term of distinction. However, as gypsum is very soluble in water, the underground cavities left by its extraction were extremely vulnerable to collapse.
Like living on top of a rotting tooth: subsidence starts far below the surface, but it can destroy your house.Credit : Delavanne Avocats
In previous centuries, a road would occasionally open up to swallow a chariot, or even a whole house would disappear down a sinkhole. In 1778, a catastrophic subsidence in Ménilmontant killed seven. That's why the Montmartre gypsum quarries were dynamited rather than just left as they were. The remaining gypsum caves were to be filled up with concrete.
The official body governing Paris down below is the Inspection Générale des Carrières (IGC), founded in the late 1770s by King Louis XVI. The IGC was tasked with mapping and, where needed, propping up the current and ancient (and sometimes forgotten) mining corridors and galleries hiding beneath Paris.
A delightful hiding place
Also around that time, the dead of Paris were getting in the way of the living. At the end of the 18th century, their final destination consisted of about 200 small cemeteries, scattered throughout the city — all bursting at the seams, so to speak. There was no room to bury the newly dead, and the previously departed were fouling up both the water and air around their respective churchyards.
Something radical had to happen. And it did. From 1785 until 1814, the smaller cemeteries were emptied of their bones, which were transported with full funerary pomp to their final resting place in the ancient limestone quarries at Tombe-Issoire. Three large and modern cemeteries were opened to receive the remains of subsequent generations of Parisians: Montparnasse, Père-Lachaise, and Passy.
The six million dead Parisians in the Catacombs, from all corners of the capital and across many centuries, together form the world's largest necropolis — their now anonymized skulls and bones methodically stacked, occasionally into whimsical patterns. The Catacombs are fashioned into a memorial to the brevity of life. The message above the entrance reads: Arrête! C'est ici l'empire de la Mort. ("Halt! This is the empire of Death.")
That has not stopped the Catacombs, accessible via a side door to a classicist building on the Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, making just about every Top 20 list of things to see in Paris.
An underground economy
However, while the Catacombs certainly are the most famous part of the centuries-old network beneath Paris, and in non-pandemic times draw thousands of tourists each day, they constitute just 1.7 km (1 mile) of the 300-km (185-mile) tunneling total.
Subterranean Paris wasn't just used for mining and storing dead people. In the 17th century, Carthusian monks converted the ancient quarries under their monastery into distilleries for the green or yellow liqueur that still carries their name, chartreuse.
Because the mines generally keep a constant cool temperature of around 15° C (60° F), they were also ideal for brewing beer, as happened on a large scale from the end of the 17th century until well into the 20th century. Several caves were dug especially for establishing breweries, and not just because of the ambient temperature: going underground allowed brewers to remain close to their customers without having to pay a premium for real estate up top.
Overview of the Paris Catacombs.Credit: Inspection Générale des Carrières, 1857 / Public domain.
At the end of the 19th century, the underground breweries of the 14th arrondissement alone produced more than a million hectoliters (22 million gallons) per year. One of the most famous of Paris' underground breweries, Dumesnil, stayed in operation until the late 1960s.
In that decade, the network of corridors and galleries south of the Seine, long since abandoned by miners, became the unofficial playground for the young people of Paris. They explored the fantastical world beneath their feet, in some cases via entry points located in their very schools. Fascinated, these cataphiles ("catacomb lovers") read up on old books, explored the subterranean labyrinth, and drew up schematics that were passed around among fellow initiates as reverently as treasure maps.
As Robert Macfarlane writes in Underland, Paris-beneath-their-feet became "a place where people might slip into different identities, assume new ways of being and relating, become fluid and wild in ways that are constrained on the surface."
Some larger caves turned into notorious party zones: a 7-meter-tall gallery below the Val-de-Grâce hospital is widely known as "Salle Z." Over the last few decades, various other locations in subterranean Paris have hosted jazz and rock concerts and rave parties — like no other city, Paris really has an "underground music scene."
Hokusai's Great Wave as the backdrop to the "beach" under Paris.Credit: Reddit
Cataphiles vs. cataphobes
With popularity came increased reports of nuisance and crime — the tunnels provided easy access to telephone cables, which were stolen for the resale value of their copper.
The general public's "discovery" of the underground network led the city of Paris to officially interdict all access by non-authorized persons. That decree dates back to 1955, but the "underground police" have an understanding with seasoned cataphiles. Their main targets are so-called tourists, who by their lack of knowledge expose themselves to risk of injuries or worse, and degrade their surroundings, often leaving loads of litter in their wake.
The understanding does not extend to the IGC. Unlike in the 19th century, when weak cavities were shored up by purpose-built pillars, the policy now is to inject concrete to fill up endangered spaces — thus progressively blocking off parts of the network. That procedure has also been used to separate the Catacombs to prevent "infiltration" of the site by cataphiles.
Many subterranean streets have their own names, signs and all. This is the Rue des Bourguignons (Street of the Burgundians) below the Champs des Capucins (Capuchin Field), neither of which exists on the surface.Credit: Jean-François Gornet via Wikimedia and licensed under
The cataphiles, however, are fighting back. In a game of cat and mouse with the authorities, they are reopening blocked passages and creating chatières ("cat flaps") through which they can squeeze into chambers no longer accessible via other underground corridors.
Catacomb climate control
Alone against the unstoppable tide of concrete, the amateurs of Underground Paris would be helpless. But the fight against climate change may turn the subterranean labyrinths from a liability into an asset — and the City of Paris into an ally.
The UN's 2015 Climate Plan — concluded in Paris, by the way — requires the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent by 2050. And Paris itself wants to be Europe's greenest city by 2030. More sustainable climate control of our living spaces would be a great help toward both targets. A lot of energy is spent heating houses in winter and cooling them in summer.
This is where the constant temperature of the Parisian tunnels comes in. It's not just good for brewing beer; it's a source of geothermal energy, says Fieldwork, an architectural firm based in Paris. It can be used to temper temperatures, helping to cool houses in summer and warming them in winter.
One catch for the cataphiles: it also works when the underground cavities are filled up with concrete. So perhaps one day, Paris Underground, fully filled up with concrete, will completely fall off the map, reducing the city's formerly real doppelgänger into an air conditioning unit.
Cool in summer, warm in winter: Paris Underground could become Paris A/C.Credit: Fieldwork
Strange Maps #1083
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meconium contains a wealth of information.
- A new study finds that the contents of an infants' first stool, known as meconium, can predict if they'll develop allergies with a high degree of accuracy.
- A metabolically diverse meconium, which indicates the initial food source for the gut microbiota, is associated with fewer allergies.
- The research hints at possible early interventions to prevent or treat allergies just after birth.
The prevalence of allergies arising in childhood has increased over the last 50 years, with 30 percent of the human population now having some kind of atopic disease such as eczema, food allergies, or asthma. The cause of this increase is still subject to debate, though it has been associated with a number of factors, including changes to the gut microbiomes of infants.
A new study by Canadian researchers published in Cell Reports Medicine may shed further light on how these allergies develop in children by examining the contents of their first diaper.
The things you do for science
The research team examined the first stool of 100 infants from the CHILD Cohort Study. The first stool of an infant is a thick, green, horrid-looking substance called meconium. It consists of various things that the infant ingests during the second half of gestation. Additionally, it provides not only a snapshot of what the infant was exposed to during that time, but it also reveals what the food sources will be for the initial gut bacteria that colonize the baby's digestive tract.
The content of the meconium was examined and found to contain such varied elements as amino acids, lipids, carbohydrates, and myriad other substances.
A graph of the comparative, summed abundance of different elements in a metabolic pathway after scaling to median abundance of each metabolite. The blue figures are those children without atopy, the yellow ones show the data for those with an atopic condition. Petersen et al.
The authors fed this information into an algorithm that used this data, along with the identities of the bacteria present as well as the baby's overall health, to predict which infants would go on to develop allergies within one year. The algorithm got it right 76 percent of the time.
A way to prevent childhood allergies?
Infants whose meconium had a less diverse metabolic niche the initial microbes to settle in the gut were at the highest risk of developing allergies a year later. Many of these elements were associated with the presence or absence of different bacterial groups in the digestive system of the child, which play an increasingly appreciated role in our overall health and development. The findings were summarized by senior co-author Dr. Brett Finlay:
"Our analysis revealed that newborns who developed allergic sensitization by one year of age had significantly less 'rich' meconium at birth, compared to those who didn't develop allergic sensitization."
The findings could be used to help understand how allergies form and even how to prevent them. Co-author Dr. Stuart Turvey commented on this possibility:
"We know that children with allergies are at the highest risk of also developing asthma. Now we have an opportunity to identify at-risk infants who could benefit from early interventions before they even begin to show signs and symptoms of allergies or asthma later in life."
A model for early childhood allergies
Petersen et al.
As shown above, the authors constructed a model of how they believe metabolites and bacterial diversity help prevent allergies. Increased diversity of metabolic products in the meconium encourage the development of "healthy" families of bacteria, like Peptostreptococcaceae, which in turn promote the development of a healthy and diverse gut microbiome. Ultimately, such diversity decreases the likelihood that a child will develop allergies.