How to Make Kansas Even Flatter
Contrary to public opinion, Kansas isn't the flattest state in the Union — yet.
From a young age, Frank was fascinated by maps and atlases, and the stories they contained. Finding his birthplace on the map in the endpapers of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings only increased his interest in the mystery and message of maps.
While pursuing a career in journalism, Frank started a blog called Strange Maps, as a repository for the weird and wonderful cartography he found hidden in books, posing as everyday objects and (of course) floating around the Internet.
"Each map tells a story, but the stories told by your standard atlas for school or reference are limited and literal: they show only the most practical side of the world, its geography and its political divisions. Strange Maps aims to collect and comment on maps that do everything but that - maps that show the world from a different angle".
A remit that wide allows for a steady, varied diet of maps: Frank has been writing about strange maps since 2006, published a book on the subject in 2009 and joined Big Think in 2010. Readers send in new material daily, and he keeps bumping in to cartography that is delightfully obscure, amazingly beautiful, shockingly partisan, and more.
The flattest state in the Union? Kansas, most Americans think. And not without reason. Science has confirmed the general suspicion that Kansas is, literally, flatter than a pancake. But an equally scientific ranking of America's flattest states puts the Sunflower State at only seventh place out of 50.
Pardon the pun: That's just plain wrong!
One cartographer has recently launched a modest proposal to match the state's relief to its reputation. A Flatter Kansas Plan, as it were. Some shoveling is implied. And just what's the point, you might very well ask? Our guess: It looks cool and weird on a map. At least, that would be enough for us. But it could also speed up the return of the Messiah.
Bet you didn't see that Second Coming coming. But let's start at the beginning: Kansas' reputation for flatness, and whether or not it is deserved. Tongue firmly in cheek, a paper published in 2003 in the Annals of Improbable Research compared the flatness of Kansas to that of a pancake. Of course, “(b)arring the acquisition of either a Kansas-sized pancake or a pancake-sized Kansas, mathematical techniques are needed to do a proper comparison.”
In order to quantify flatness, the scientists used a "flattening" ratio (f), whereby a perfectly flat surface will have a value of one, and an ellipsoid with equal axis lengths (in layman's terms: a perfectly un-flat surface) will have a value of zero. Acquiring a sample pancake from IHOP, they collected “macro-pancake topography through digital image processing of a pancake image and ruler for scale calibration,” noting in their paper that “(t)he importance of this research dictated that we not be daunted by the 'No Food or Drink' sign posted in the microscopy room.”
Comparison to a similarly analysed topographic transect of Kansas showed that while the pancake had an f value of 0.957 (“pretty flat, but far from perfectly flat”), the slice of Kansas had an f value of 0.9997 (“damn flat”).
Comparative surface topography.
Whether or not because of that study, the idea of Kansas as the epitome of flatness has firmly lodged itself in the American imagination. In 2012, the American Geographical Society asked over 4,000 Americans which they thought was the flattest U.S. state. Fully 33 percent said Kansas, more than any other state. Florida came in second at 23 percent.
In fact, Florida is the flattest state. Much of the state is at or near sea level. Its highest point is Britton Hill; at 345 feet (105 m) the lowest state high point in the U.S.
The next-flattest states (and their highest points — not that they are absolutely relevant) are Illinois (Charles Mound: 1,235 ft, 376 m), North Dakota (White Butte: 3,508 ft, 1,069 m), Louisiana (Driskill Mountain: 535 ft, 163 m), Minnesota (Eagle Mountain: 2,302 ft, 702 m) and Delaware (near the Ebright Azimuth: 447 ft, 136 m). Oh, and the least flat state? Montana would have been neat, but the state doesn't live up to its name. No, it's West Virginia (1).
So why does Kansas only come in at no. 7? Because the seemingly flatter-than-flat state gradually tilts upward as you go west. From an elevation of 679 feet (207 m) on the Verdigris River in the southeast of Kansas, it rises to 4,040 feet (1,231 m) on the state's western border with Colorado — at a place called "Mount" Sunflower, although the landscape here too is pancake-flat.
So the solution is obvious (though not easy): If we want to create a truly flat Kansas, we need to level the playing field, so to speak. Or, as the anonymous cartographer who made this map, and who evidently gave the matter some thought and calculation, says: “My plan is to create a perfectly flat and level Kansas by moving 5,501 cubic miles of earth from west to east. It’s the ideal Kansas. Still some details to work out about rivers, roads, etc. Watch out for the 900-foot cliff bisecting Kansas City.”
An ideal Kansas: not just flat, but also completely level.
Next time you're travelling west to east through Kansas, pick up some dirt at the beginning of your trip and dump it at the end. You'll be helping to fulfill the Prophecy mentioned in Isaiah 40:4: Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.
Strange Maps #750
Got a strange map? Let me know: email@example.com.
(1) See "The Flatness of U.S. States," an article by Jerome E. Dobson (geography professor, AGS president) and Joshua S. Campbell (geographer, GIS architect) first published in the Geographical Review on 7 April 2014. They developed an algorithm to determine the relative flatness of states, based on data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission. It is to be noted that relief is not the same as flatness. Which is why the heights of highest state points mentioned above do not correlate to the flatness ranking of each state.
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.