Frisland, an Italian Fabrication in the North Atlantic

The Zeno Brothers invented a bunch of islands north of Scotland that turned out to have remarkable staying power on maps

The discovery of America was an Italian enterprise, but not to the credit of a Genoan named Columbus. In the 14th century, Venetian brothers Nicolo and Antonio Zeno sailed west on the Northern Atlantic, discovering places they called Frisland and Icaria (two islands near Greenland), Estotiland (on the North American mainland) and Drogio (an island close to the mainland, possibly Nova Scotia).


  Or so it says in De I Commentarii del Viaggio, a 16th century account of their travels by Nicolo Zeno, one of their descendants. This latter-day Zeno claimed to have found a manuscript and a map, both made by his ancestors, in his proverbial attic. Nicolo the Younger had it published in 1558. At the time, it was generally believed to be a true account. A second version of the map was issued by fellow Venetian Giordano Ruscelli in 1561.

In 1569, Gerard Mercator copied the Zeno map into his influential World Map. Abraham Ortelius did the same for his renowned map of the Northern Atlantic in 1573. In 1595, Mercator included Frisland (not to be confused with Friesland, which does exist on the North Sea coast of the Netherlands and Germany) in a separate inset on his 1595 map of the North Pole. Thus Frisland, and the other fanciful lands fabricated by the 16th century Zeno (most likely), came to be known as ‘fact’, and were copied by other cartographers, often with variations on the name such as Fixland, Freezeland or Frischlant. Only much later did it become clear they were imaginary.

But not before causing some real-world confusion for discoverers such as Martin Frobisher, who in 1576 reported seeing a ‘high and rugged land’, which according to Mercator’s map ought to be Frisland. Frobisher claimed Frisland for England, not realising he probably saw the coast of Greenland.  

 The confusion continued when he explored Baffin Island – which Frobisher thought was Greenland. Accordingly, Frobisher’s Strait (which in fact is a bay) for many years was situated at the tip of Greenland instead of Baffin Island. Cartographers continued to include Frisland on maps of the North Atlantic as late as the 18th century. As imaginary places go, Frisland had quite some staying power – probably because it was confused with Greenland and/or the Faroer Islands.The question remains: who did the confusing? The older Zenos, their descendant, later cartographers and explorers? Or some of them? Or all of them?

 

This map was made around 1693 by Vincenzo Maria Coronelli and situates Frisland to the east of Greenland.

 

Strange Maps #62

 

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

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NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

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