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A 19th-century surveying mistake kept lumberjacks away from what is now Minnesota's largest patch of old-growth trees.
- In 1882, Josias R. King made a mess of mapping Coddington Lake, making it larger than it actually is.
- For decades, Minnesota loggers left the local trees alone, thinking they were under water.
- Today, the area is one of the last remaining patches of old-growth forest in the state.
Vanishingly rare, but it exists: a patch of Minnesota forest untouched by the logger's axe.Credit: Dan Alosso on Substack and licensed under CC-BY-SA
The trees here tower a hundred feet above the forest floor — a ceiling as high as in prehistory and vanishingly rare today. That's because no logger's axe has ever touched these woods.
Pillars of the green cathedral
As you walk among the giant pillars of this green cathedral, you might think you're among the redwood trees of California. But those are 1,500 miles (2,500 km) away. No, these are the red and white pines of the "Lost Forty" in Minnesota. This is the largest single surviving patch of old-growth forest in the state and a fair stretch beyond. And it's all thanks to a surveying error.
Despite its name, the Lost Forty Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) is actually 144 acres (0.58 km2) in total. Still, it's an easily overlooked part of the Chippewa National Forest, which sprawls across 666,000 acres (2,700 km2) of north-central Minnesota. And that – being easily overlooked – is kind of this area's superpower.
In the 1820s, when European-Americans arrived in what is now Minnesota, they found about 20 million acres (80,000 km2) of prairie and 30 million acres (120,000 km2) of forest. Two centuries on, both ecosystems largely have been depleted. Fewer than 100,000 acres (400 km2) of natural prairie remain, and fewer than 18 million acres (73,000 km2) of forest.
And today's woods are different. They're not just younger; the original pine stands have been harvested and largely replaced with aspen and birch.
To the moon and back
White pine especially was in heavy demand during the lumbering boom that had Minnesota in its grip by the 1840s — a boom driven by an insatiable demand for building materials and supercharged by the steam that powered the saws and the rails that transported the goods to market.
The two decades flanking the turn of the 20th century were the golden age of lumbering in Minnesota. At any given time, 20,000 lumberjacks were at work in the woods, a further 20,000 in the sawmills, and another 20,000 in other lumber-related industries.
Production peaked in the year 1900, with over 2.3 billion board-feet (5.4 million m3) of lumber harvested from the state's forests. That was enough to build 600,000 two-story houses or a boardwalk nine feet (2.7 m) wide, circling Earth along the equator. From then on, yields declined, albeit slightly at first. By 1910, however, the first lumber operations started packing up and moving on to the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere.
Minnesota's era of Big Timber symbolically came to an end with the closure of the Virginia and Rainy Lake Lumber Company in 1929. At that time, a century's worth of lumbering in Minnesota had produced 68 billion board-feet (160 million m3) of pine — enough to fill a line of boxcars all the way to the moon and halfway back again.
Now spool back a few decades. It's 1882, and the Public Land Survey is measuring, mapping, and quantifying the wilderness of northern Minnesota — and its as yet unharvested north woods. Setting out from the small settlement of Grand Rapids, Josias Redgate King leads a three-man survey team 40 miles north, into the backwoods.
Mapping error becomes cartographic fact
Their job, specifically, is to chart the area between Moose and Coddington Lakes. And they mess up. Perhaps it's the lousy November weather, the desolate swampy terrain, or both. But they make a serious mistake: their survey stretches Coddington Lake half a mile further northwest than it actually exists. As happens surprisingly often with mapping mistakes, the error becomes cartographic fact, undisputed for decades.
The area is marked on all maps as being under water and is therefore excluded from the considerations of logging companies. Only in 1960 is the area re-surveyed and the error corrected. But by then, as we have seen, Big Timber has moved on from the Gopher State.
Map of the "Lost Forty" SNA (top right). Bordering it on the south is the Chippewa National Forest Unique Biological Area. Credit: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Incidentally, Josias R. King was more than the mismapper of Coddington Lake. He has another, and rather better, claim to fame. When the Civil War broke out, Minnesota was the first state to offer volunteers to fight for the Union. At Fort Snelling, Mr. King rushed to the front of a line of men waiting to sign up.
So it was said, with some justification, that he was the first volunteer for the Union in all of the country. During the war, he attained the rank of lieutenant colonel. After, he returned to his civilian job, surveying. Because of his credentials as the Union's first volunteer, he was asked to pose for the face of the bronze soldier on the Civil War monument which was unveiled at St. Paul's Summit Park in 1903.
The loggers' loss is nature's gain
But back to the Lost Forty. The loggers' loss — hence the name — is actually nature's gain. The SNA's crowning glory, literally, is nearly 32 acres of designated old-growth red pine and white pine forest, in two stands, partially extending into the Chippewa National Forest proper. (In fact, much of the mismapped area seems to fall within the Chippewa National Forest Unique Biological Area adjacent to the Lost Forty.) Old-growth forests represent less than 2 percent — and designated old-growth forests less than 0.25 percent — of all of Minnesota's forests.
The oldest pine trees in the Lost Forty are between 300 and 400 years old, close to their maximum natural life span, which is up to 500 years. Similar pines in other parts of the National Forest are harvested at between 80 and 150 years for pulp and lumber. As a result, the pines in the Lost Forty are not only higher than most of the surrounding woods but also bigger with a diameter of between 22 and 48 inches (55 to 122 cm). One of the biggest has a circumference of 115 inches (2.9 m).
With their craggy bark, massive trunks, and dizzying height, these trees look like the ancient beings they are. And they exist in a cluster the size of which is unique for the Midwest. There's nothing lost about these trees; in fact, it's rather the reverse. Perhaps the area should more precisely be called the "Last Forty."
At 52 feet, only half as high as an old-growth white pine: Josias R. King's likeness atop the Soldier's Monument in Summit Park, St. Paul.Credit: Library of Congress
Get a good look at the Lost Forty in this video of the local hiking trail.
Strange Maps #1084
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
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.
The unique light signatures of nautical beacons translate into hypnotic cartography.
- Many of the world's 23,000 lighthouses feature a distinct combination of color, frequency, and range.
- These unique light signatures help ships verify their positions and safeguard maritime traffic.
- But they also translate into this map, visualizing the ingenuity and courage of lighthouse builders and keepers.
Land and sea are both shaded dark, so it's a bit hard at first to make out that this collection of merrily blinking lights is actually a map. Once the coastal contours pop, though, all becomes clear: these are lighthouses!
The Age of Big Data
The map not only shows where they are, but how they are: static or blinking in various colors with the size of the circles corresponding to the range of their lights.
Up until the 20th century, a map of lighthouses would have been a subdued affair: just a string of dots strung along lines of coast. But this is the 21st century! We're in the Age of Big Data, ruled by the clever boffins who know how to stitch one dataset to another. Zap it with electricity and presto: it's alive!
That's what the folks did over at Geodienst, the spatial expertise center of the University of Groningen (Netherlands). Back in 2018, student/assistant Jelmer van der Linde (currently with the University of Edinburgh) came across OpenSeaMap, an open-source resource for nautical information similar to its more famous landlubber cousin, OpenStreetMap.
OpenSeaMap contained a database with detailed information on nautical beacons and lighthouses, which included not just their location, but also the frequency, range, and even the color of their signals. Would it be possible to visualize all those data points on a map? Yes, it would!
The result is this riot of a map. It's important that ships don't mistake one lighthouse for another. That's why they come in various colors and their lights flicker with a distinct frequency. Norway in particular is lit up with beacons and lighthouses, as its fjord-indented coast warrants. And the rest of Europe is well provided with nautical warning lights.
However, while the map is reminiscent of other global traffic trackers for flights (like Flightradar24 or FlightAware) or shipping (such as VesselFinder or MarineTraffic), it is neither live nor global. The flickering lights aren't a real-time report; they merely repeat the code in the original database. And that database is incomplete.
Zoom out, and the map gets a bit too dark. According to the Lighthouse Directory, there are at least 23,000 lighthouses in the world. And even though the United States has more lighthouses than any other nation – 700 by some counts – the map only shows a handful of lights in North America.
Like its parent, the lighthouse map is open source too, so if anyone out there is capable of filling in the gaps, they can. Lighthouse enthusiasts, get to it!
Not one yet yourself? Below are 10 lighthouse facts to help you come over to the light side.
Trapped in a giant phallus and other true facts about lighthouses
- The world's smallest lighthouse is the North Queensferry Light Tower, near the Forth Bridge in Scotland. A mere 16 feet (5 m) tall, it was built in 1817 by Robert Stevenson, famous builder of lighthouses, as was his son Thomas, who was the father of the famous novelist Robert Louis Stevenson.
- Reaching a height of 436 ft (133 m), Jeddah Light in Saudi Arabia is the world's tallest lighthouse.
- The 2019 movie The Lighthouse, starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, was based on a true incident, known as the Smalls Lighthouse Tragedy. In 1801, a storm trapped two Welsh lighthouse keepers, both named Thomas, in their lighthouse. One died, the other went mad. Asked to summarize his film, writer/director Robert Eggers said, "Nothing good can happen when two men are trapped alone in a giant phallus."
- From its inauguration in 1886 until 1901, the Statue of Liberty also served as a lighthouse. Its nine electric arc lamps, located in the torch, could be seen 24 miles out to sea.
- All U.S. lighthouses are now automated – save for Boston Light, the oldest continually used lighthouse in the country. For historical reasons, Congress has decided it shall remain staffed year-round.
- Hook Lighthouse, on Hook Head in Ireland's County Wexford, claims to be the world's oldest lighthouse still in use. It was first built by a medieval lord in the early decades of the 13th century.
- The Tower of Hercules in La Coruña, Spain has a slightly better claim. It was built by the Romans in the 1st century AD and still functions as a lighthouse.
- Stannard Rock Lighthouse is also known as "the loneliest place in the world." It is located in Lake Superior, Michigan. At 24 miles (39 km) from shore, it is the most remote lighthouse in the U.S. and one of the most remote in the world. It opened in 1883 and was staffed for parts of the year until 1962.
- A lighthouse on Märket is the reason for the weird border on the island, divided between Sweden and Finland. In 1885, the Finns built a lighthouse on the highest part of the island – on the Swedish half. Thanks to a complicated land swap, the lighthouse is back on the Finnish side.
- In the United States, August 7 is National Lighthouse Day.
Strange Maps #1082
Many thanks to Toon Wassenberg for sending in this map. Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
Six denominations share the Holy Sepulcher, but not all between them is peace and love.
- The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is not just the holiest site in Christianity; it is also emblematic of the religion's deep divisions.
- As the map below shows, six denominations each control part of the church, with only some parts held in common.
- Each "territory" is jealously guarded and sometimes fought over. The church's keys are held by… two Muslim families.
On a ledge over a church door in Jerusalem stands a simple cedarwood ladder. It's been there for perhaps three centuries. Since nobody remembers who put it there, nobody knows who is authorized to remove it. If anyone would try, there'd be immediate trouble with whomever would feel slighted — and there are plenty of candidates. This is the Immovable Ladder, and it is a fitting symbol for the deeply-entrenched divisions within Christianity, and within that church building itself.
The most sacred place on Earth
Those religious divides matter here more than anywhere else because this is the most significant church in the world. For Christians of any denomination this is the most sacred place on Earth. This is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and according to tradition, it contains both Golgotha (or Calvary in Latin; both mean "skull"), the place where Jesus died on the cross. Just a few feet further is the tomb (a.k.a. sepulcher) where his body was laid to rest and where according to the faithful he was resurrected three days later.
Yet despite its supreme religious importance, there is no single authority managing this holiest of church buildings. The care over the sprawling, multi-level complex is divided between various denominations.
The church's history goes back to the fourth century, when Roman emperor Constantine, newly converted to Christianity, sent his mother Helena to Jerusalem to locate places and things associated with the life and death of Jesus. This is the spot where she found the True Cross, a sign that this must have been Golgotha. The place of Jesus' burial was identified nearby. Constantine razed the pagan temple built here by his predecessor Hadrian, and a church on this spot, the first commissioned by a Roman emperor, was consecrated in the year 335.
In continuous use for 1700 years
The church has survived earthquakes, fires, invasions, and demolition by decree. It has been in continuous use for nearly 1700 years, even if the building standing there today is mostly a renovation and reconstruction dating to Crusader times. Over the centuries, various Christian traditions latched on to the church. Ownership became a constant source of dispute.
In 1852, the Ottoman Sultan decreed that the church was to be managed by the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Armenian Apostolic churches and apportioned parts of the building to each denomination. Over time, smaller parts of the building came under the authority of three smaller Orthodox denominations: the Coptic, Syriac, and Ethiopian churches.
Six churches sharing one church. The result: a bit of a mosaic.Credit: British Cartographic Society
- Most of the building is under control of the Greek Orthodox church (in blue on the map). They manage the Katholikon (which is slightly ironic), the North Transept, the Seven Arches of the Virgin, a small Orthodox monastery, and various chapels, among other bits.
- The Latins (a.k.a. Roman Catholics, in purple) manage the Franciscan Monastery on the north side (which includes the Chapel of the Apparition and the Chapel of Mary Magdalene), the Grotto of the Invention of the Cross, a small area north of the Parvis, and a tiny space between the Katholikon and the Rotunda.
- The Armenians (in yellow) manage the Chapel of St. Helena, the Chapel of St. James, and the Armenian Gallery next to the Rotunda.
- The Copts (in red) have the care of various chapels near the Rotunda, including a small annex to the Edicule (i.e., the Holy Sepulcher) itself.
- The Ethiopian monastery is spread out on the roof, and the Ethiopians also manage an area called Deir al-Sultan, the Chapel of the Four Living Creatures, and the Chapel of St. Michael (all in orange).
- The Syriac church has the smallest part (in green): the Chapel of St. Nicodemus. But at least it's very close to the Sepulcher.
The Ottoman edict is the basis for the status quo, which is scrupulously maintained. A complex set of rules determines how the church is managed — such as who is allowed where and when, who cleans and repairs which parts of the building, and which areas are held in common (by the Greeks, Latins, and Armenians but not by the other three).
- The Rotunda is common territory, as is a chapel to the north.
- The Parvis (i.e. the courtyard at the entrance) is also common, as is an adjacent part of the church that contains the Stone of Unction (where according to tradition, Jesus' body was prepared for burial).
But some of the rules are disputed, and conflicts occasionally erupt. Two examples:
- The Copts have a long-standing claim over part of the roof, which is occupied by Ethiopian monks. To maintain their claim, Coptic monks take turns to sit on a chair on the roof. But on a particularly hot day in 2002, when a Coptic monk moved the chair a few inches into the shade, the Ethiopians interpreted that move as a violation of the status quo. The ensuing fight sent 11 monks to the hospital.
- And in 2008, Greek and Armenian monks got into a violent argument over the procedure of a religious procession. The brawl was caught on camera and pasted all over the news.
Can't we all just get along?
In recent years, however, the churches seem to be getting along a little bit better, although partly out of necessity. Significant parts of the building are in extreme need of repair. In 2017, the three main denominations (Catholic, Greek, and Armenian) agreed to fix the Edicule, which was in danger of collapsing. And in 2019, the three churches signed an agreement to renovate parts of the church's infrastructure (floor, foundations, and sewage pipes) and even to share ownership of any archaeological artifacts that might turn up during the work. However, the agreement excludes the three other denominations, which under the status quo have no say in the management of shared spaces.
Which brings us back to the Immovable Ladder. Despite its nickname, it has proven to be very movable indeed. It was stolen twice in the 20th century. Both times, it was soon recovered by the police and returned to its original position. In 2009, it was moved again, this time with the agreement of all relevant denominations, in order to accommodate scaffolding for renovations.
Upon completion of the works, it was again put back. And there it will remain until, as Pope Paul VI suggested in 1964, the divisions between the various Christian denominations are resolved. Or until Christ returns — whichever happens first.
Meanwhile, the keys to the church building itself will remain where they have been for centuries: in the possession of the Joudeh and Nuseibeh families, who by virtue of their Muslim faith are accepted by all Christian denominations as neutral guardians of the entrance to the church.
Strange Maps #1081
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Map shows Europe's imminent Great Leap Forward in battery cell production
- China produces 80 percent of electric vehicle batteries.
- To achieve battery independence, Europe is ramping up production.
- And the U.S.? Action is needed, and quick.
This is a map of the future — the future of battery cell production in Europe. If and when all projects on this map are up and running, Europe will have a battery cell production capacity of around 700 gigawatt hours (GWh). That's crucial for two reasons: (1) those battery cells will power the electric vehicles (EVs) that will soon replace our fossil-fuel cars; and (2) a production capacity of that magnitude would break China's current near-monopoly.
Say what you will about state-run economies, but they're great at concentrating effort on a particular target. About a decade ago, Beijing directed huge resources towards its photovoltaic industry. Today, nine of the world's 10 largest solar panel manufacturers are at least partly Chinese. China is similarly resolved to become the global leader in EVs, including EV battery production.
And so far, it's working. At present, about 80% of the world's lithium-ion battery cells are made in China. Lithium-ion batteries are the ones used in EVs. In sufficient numbers, lithium-ion batteries can also be used for large-scale energy storage, which would help even out power supply fluctuations from sources like solar and wind.
China's dominance in this area is making many outside China nervous. In previous decades, OPEC had a similar stranglehold on producing the oil that makes cars run and factories hum. Then the organization had a political point to make and turned off the tap. During the oil crisis of the 1970s, oil prices skyrocketed and economies crashed.
Avoiding a 21st-century version of that scenario requires a strategy for EV battery self-sufficiency, and Europe has one. In 2018, the EU launched its Battery Action Plan, a concerted effort to increase its battery production capacity. Realizing they couldn't beat China on price, the Europeans resolved that their batteries would be greener and more efficient.
Easier said than done. Setting up battery production is complex, expensive, and slow. And as the EU's woefully slow vaccine rollout demonstrates, the organization's strength-in-numbers argument doesn't always work in its favor. Indeed, by 2020, only four of the dots on this map were up and running:
- a facility by Envision AESC in Sunderland (UK - now ex EU)
- a Samsung factory in Göd (Hungary)
- an LG Energy Solution plant in Wroclaw (Poland)
- a factory by Leclanché in Willstätt (Germany)
But in this case, slow and steady may win the race. At least two dozen battery plants are in the works across Europe (i.e. EU and its near abroad), and four of those should come online in 2021 alone, including Tesla's plant near Berlin. Tesla, incidentally, coined the term "gigafactory" for its facility in Sparks, Nevada. As the title of this map suggests, it's becoming the generic description for any large battery cell production facility.
By the end of the decade, Europe will have around 30 gigafactories.Credit: CIC energiGUNE
Despite the fact that Tesla's Nevada plant is on its way to becoming the world's largest building, battery production capacity is growing fastest in Europe. Predictions vary, but all observers agree that Europe is on the verge of a Great Leap Forward. Here's why:
- Europe's current production capacity is about 30 GWh.
- One forecast puts that figure at 300 GWh by 2029, another even at 400 GWh by 2025.
- Adding up the maximum capacity of all facilities on this map comes close to 700 GWh by 2028.
- In terms of global capacity, BloombergNEF predicts Europe's share could increase from 7% now to 31% in 2030.
- According to Eurobat — disappointingly, not the Gauloises-smoking, Nietzsche-quoting counterpart to Batman — the value of the battery industry will increase from €15 ($18) billion in Europe and €75 ($90) billion worldwide in 2019 to €35 ($42) billion in Europe and €130 ($156) billion worldwide by 2030.
So, who will be Europe's answer to CATL (short for Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd.), China's main battery manufacturer? There are several pretenders to the crown. Here are some:
- Britishvolt, set to go online with Britain's first and largest gigafactory in Northumberland (UK) in 2023, with a maximum capacity of 35 GWh per annum.
- Northvolt, led by former Tesla execs, supported by the Swedish government and the European Investment Bank. Also funded by Volkswagen and Goldman Sachs. Aims to be green and big. One plant coming online in Sweden this year, another in Germany in 2024. Combined maximum capacity is 64 GWh.
- Tesla. Not content with its one gigafactory (40 GWh) opening this year, the company has already announced that it will build a second plant in Europe.
That second plant is not yet on the map. Also missing are the half dozen gigafactories that Volkswagen aims to open in the coming years. If Europe is to become self-sufficient in EV batteries, even more will be needed.
Europe's path to battery supremacy
In 2020, 1.3 million EVs were sold in Europe, edging past China to become the world's largest EV market. In 2021, Europe looks set to maintain that lead. By 2025 at the latest, EVs will have achieved price parity with fossil-fuel vehicles, not just in terms of total cost of operation but also in upfront cost.
Add to that the increasingly hostile environment — namely, higher taxes and stricter regulations — to fossil-fuel cars in Europe, and the pace of electrification will increase dramatically by mid-decade. Going by EU requirements for CO2 emissions alone, the EV share of the total vehicle market would need to be between 60% and 70% pretty soon.
While that may seem an impossibly high target today, things could start looking different very soon. Volkswagen aims to have full-electric cars make up more than 70 percent of its European sales by 2030. Volvo and Ford even aim to present entirely electric lineups by 2030 at the latest. And that year is also when the UK government intends to ban the sale of new fossil-fuel cars.
All of which could translate into base demand for EV batteries in Europe as high as 1,200 GWh by 2040. Even with all planned factories on the map running at maximum capacity, that still leaves a production capacity gap of about 40%.
To avoid batteries becoming a bottleneck for electrification, the EU likely will pour even more money into the industry via the European Green Deal and Europe's post-COVID recovery plan. Battery production is not just strategically sound; it also boosts employment.
A study by Fraunhofer ISI says for each GWh added in battery production capacity, count on 40 jobs added directly and 200 in upstream industries. The study forecasts battery manufacturing could generate up to 155,000 jobs across Europe by 2033 (although it doesn't mention how many would be lost due to reduced production of fossil-fuel cars).
Coming to America
And how fares America? Electrification is coming to the U.S. as well. By one estimate, EVs will have a market penetration of about 15% by 2025. Deloitte predicts EVs will take up 27% of new car sales in the US by 2030. The Biden administration is keen to make up for past inaction in terms of switching to post-fossil energy. But it has its work cut out.
Apart from Tesla's Gigafactory, the U.S. has only two other battery production facilities. If current trends continue, there would be just ten by 2030. At that time, China will have 140 battery factories and Europe, according to this map, close to 30. If U.S. production can't keep up with demand, electrification will suffer from the dreaded battery bottleneck. Unless America is content to import its batteries from Europe or China.
Strange Maps #1080
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Without the now-obscure land investment affair, Georgia might have been a "super state."
- Few people today are familiar with the Yazoo Land Scandal, which broke in the mid-1790s.
- Yet it sent shockwaves through American public life, influencing politics, law, and even geography.
- Without it, Georgia could have been a "super state" — and the Trail of Tears might not have happened.
Seven of the original 13 states had extensive territorial claims, mainly toward the west.Credit: Library of Congress via public domain
There are no good old days.
Travel back, say, to the presidency of George Washington himself. Yes, the father of the nation, he who could tell no lie. Even under POTUS #1, there was corruption so venal and egregious that it changed the very map of America. In other words, without the Yazoo Land Scandal, the political geography of the United States might have looked quite different. Yet despite its catchy name and far-reaching consequences, few now remember the affair.
The scandal centered on Georgia, the last holdout in the process of state cessions. Of the original 13 colonies-turned-states, seven had entered into the Union with vague, contested, and often overlapping land claims, mainly in the region between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River.
The six states without claims did not want to be overshadowed by their expanding neighbors. And the federal government did not want them to get into fights where their claims overlapped. So the U.S. government spent its first few years convincing and cajoling those seven states to abandon their claims. When New York relinquished its claim to Vermont in 1790 (for a mere $30,000), that process was complete. With one exception.
Yazoo Land Fraud
Georgia continued to claim territory all the way to the Mississippi River. For various reasons, the state was loath to give up its interest in these so-called Yazoo Lands, corresponding to the larger part of the present-day states of Mississippi and Alabama. Not least because of money. Land developers were eager to acquire large chunks of the country, their guiding principle being: bribe high, pay low.
In 1794, four companies, set up especially for the purpose, paid half a million dollars for about 40 million acres of land. Even taking into account all the bribes — another half a million — that was a ridiculously low amount: four acres to a dollar.
Following the Rescinding Act, Georgia's governor and legislators burn all copies of the Yazoo Act (except one).Credit: New Georgia Encyclopedia via public domain
Infuriated by the deal, Georgians booted out the legislators who had their palms greased to approve the Yazoo Act, by which Georgia had sold all that land on the cheap. In 1795, a new state legislature voted a Rescinding Act, overturning the sale. All extant copies of the original Act were collected and burned at high noon on the grounds of the state capitol under construction, then in Louisville. (One copy escaped destruction — the one sent to President Washington).
The Yazoo hits the fan
But that was far from the end of the unpleasantries. In fact, this is where the actual scandal started. For the land companies did not admit defeat. They continued printing bonds that were being traded and sold on the financial markets of New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, raking in tidy profits.
Thousands of bond buyers acquired a stake in the Yazoo Lands. Eventually, though, the market smelled a rat. Investors started to worry: had they thrown away their money on a fraudulent land scheme?
Georgia paid back some of the duped buyers, but unable to handle the escalating scale of the scandal, the state eventually did surrender its claims to the Yazoo Lands to the federal government. Under the so-called Compact of 1802, the U.S. paid Georgia $1.25 million, took over any remaining liability for the Yazoo Lands, and promised to rid Georgia of any remaining Native American land claims.
So, the duped investors could now sue the federal government instead of Georgia. The land companies, for their part, wanted the U.S. to uphold their claims, which they continued to consider legal and valid. Who was right?
In 1810, the case reached the highest court in the land. Pronouncing on Fletcher v. Peck, the Supreme Court ruled that the Rescinding Act was unconstitutional and the original land deals remained legal. For although those deals were corrupt and not in the best interest of Georgians, the contracts were made by the Georgia legislature, which had the authority to do so. The Supreme Court ordered the U.S. government to pay out $4.5 million in compensation to the claimants.
Overview of the four separate Yazoo Act land deals that together constitute 40 million acres of land, sold for just $1 million (including bribes).Credit: New Georgia Encyclopedia via public domain
Yazoo changed the course of American history
Fletcher v. Peck was a landmark case in more ways than one. For the first time ever, the Supreme Court had ruled against a state law, that is, Georgia's Rescinding Act. This established the principle that federal laws were supreme over state laws. The case also firmly established that a legal contract could not be nullified by a later law, which became an important principle in contract law.
The Yazoo Land Scandal had two further, major consequences for the United States. Without the scandal, Georgia might conceivably have managed to hold on to its western lands. This hypothetical Greater Georgia, running from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, would have comprised most or all of the current states of Mississippi and Alabama. That would make it one of America's most populous states, its 20 million inhabitants on par with Florida and New York and surpassed only by Texas (30 million) and California (40 million).
Georgia could also have avoided one of the most ignominious events in its history. In 1830, the federal government fulfilled its promise in the Compact of 1802 to rid Georgia of all extant Native American land claims by the Indian Removal Act. Signed into law by President Andrew Jackson, the Act led to the "Trail of Tears," the forcible removal of the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Seminole, and Chickasaw tribes — about 100,000 people in all — to reservations west of the Mississippi, in what would later become Oklahoma.
Although now largely forgotten, the Yazoo Land Scandal helped shape the territory, laws, and institutions of the early United States. But the affair has another lesson for our times. If there are no good old days, then our current ones perhaps aren't so bad either.
Strange Maps #1079
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