Minnesota earned its 'blue mark' in the 1975 Morris earthquake, which had its epicenter in the western part of the state.
- Californians, want to run away from the Big One? Head for Minnesota.
- As this map shows, the Gopher State is the least likely to be hit by earthquakes.
- Choose your new home wisely, though: even Minnesota has one earthquake-sensitive spot.
Not if, but when
The Long Beach earthquake hit on 10 March 1933 with an estimated magnitude of 6.25 on the Richter scale.
Image: Nathan Callahan, CC BY 2.0
It's not if, but when: Californians live with the certainty that someday, the Big One will hit.
The Big One is an earthquake with a magnitude of at least 7.8 on the Richter scale. Because of the plate tectonics at work under California, big quakes like that hit the area every 45 to 230 years.
The last one was more than 160 years ago. That's why paleoseismologist Kerry Sieh says the next one is likely to happen "within the lifetime of children in primary school today."
Here's how the United States Geological Survey (USGS) rates the hazard of a major earthquake in California in the next 30 years:
- 60% chance of a 6.7-magnitude quake.
- 46% chance of a 7.0-magnitude quake.
- 31% chance of a 7.5-magnitude quake.
The earthquake hazard map of the United States.
Image: USGS, public domain
The Pacific coast is purple: the highest hazard. The entire west is shaded in colors denoting declining hazard. Only relatively small parts of the country are covered by the zone of lowest hazard:
- central and southern Texas;
- most of Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and North Dakota;
- sizable chunks of Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, and South Dakota;
- and tiny bits of Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, and Georgia.
One state seems hazard-free, but that's only until you notice the blue spot in Minnesota's western bulge.
So, what do these colors actually denote? Earthquake hazard maps show the potential shaking hazard from future earthquakes.
The USGS defines earthquake hazard as the probability of ground motion over 50 years. That probability is determined by a region's geology and earthquake history.
The location of fault lines alone is not enough to determine quake hazard: a large earthquake can produce tremors at a relatively large distance from the actual fault line.
The colors on this earthquake hazard map correspond to Seismic Design Categories (SDCs), which reflect the likelihood of seismic activity leading to ground motion of various intensities.
Damage caused by the 6.0-magnitude Napa County earthquake of 24 August 2014.
Image: Matthew Keys, CC BY-SA 4.0
These SDCs are used to determine the level of seismic resistance required in building design and building codes.
- SDC level A (grey): Very small probability of experiencing damaging earthquake effects.
- SDC level B (blue): Moderate-intensity shaking possible. Such shaking will be felt by all. Many will be frightened. Some furniture will be moved and some plaster will fall. Overall damage will be slight.
- SDC level C (green): Strong shaking possible. Damage will be negligible in well-designed and well-constructed buildings; considerable in poorly-built structures.
- SDC levels D0 (yellow), D1 (orange) and D2 (red): Very strong shaking possible. Damage will be slight in specially designed structures; considerable in ordinary substantial buildings, with partial collapse; and great in poorly built structures.
- SDC level E (purple): This is near major active faults capable of producing the most intense shaking. Even in specially designed structures, the damage will be considerable. The shaking is intense enough to completely destroy buildings.
The Morris quake
Minnesota earned its blue spot in 1975.
Image: USGS, public domain
This earthquake hazard map is not a snapshot of the past, but an evolving prediction of the future. The map is adapted as geological knowledge increases. But it is also partly based on past events – or more precisely the likelihood of their recurrence.
Minnesota earned its blue spot from the 1975 Morris earthquake. With its epicenter in Stevens County, it struck at around 10 am on July 9th of that year and had a magnitude of 4.6. It was the first seismic event recorded in the state since the Staples quake of 1917, and it was felt as far afield as the eastern Dakotas and northern Iowa.
Near the epicenter, plaster cracked and pictures fell off walls. In the town of Morris, two homes suffered damage to their foundations. Not quite California-sized, but for lack of comparison, probably Big Enough for the locals.
Strange Maps #1011
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trump's Middle East peace plan contains the first map of a Palestinian state that 'Israel can live with'.
- Trump's Middle East plan is the first U.S. proposal to contain a map of a two-state solution.
- Considering Israel's close involvement, this map represents a Palestine 'Israel can live with'.
- But Palestinians are unlikely to agree to give up East Jerusalem—or much else.
Caught between a napkin and a conspiracy
The Palestinians' only gain: two zones ceded by Israel in the southern desert, one for 'high-tech manufacturing', the other for 'residential and agricultural' purposes.
Image: The White House
"I say to Trump and Netanyahu: Jerusalem is not for sale," fulminated Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in a televised speech from Ramallah. "Your (…) conspiracy will not pass."
Meeting with such fury from one of the two parties it aims to reconcile, Trump's Peace Plan, proposed in Washington DC with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in attendance, is unlikely to succeed.
But there is one major difference between this and all previous U.S. proposals to resolve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians: it contains a map. And even if the Trump plan will follow all its predecessors into the dustbin of history, the map remains a significant first.
Never before has a U.S. administration officially proposed borders for a Palestinian state. Considering the close political concertation between the U.S. and Israel—its main ally in the region—it is safe to assume that those borders have been seen and approved by the Israeli side. Which would also be a first. Not that no borders haven't ever been proposed, but they have never been published.
The Jerusalem Post cites the example of Ehud Olmert, when he was prime minister of Israel in 2008, showing Palestinian president Abbas a map during a private meeting. It showed Israel retreating from 94% of the West Bank (i.e. almost to the 1967 border), excepting some large settlement blocks. As an equivalent of the remaining 6%, land inside Israel was offered. Israel would also withdraw from East Jerusalem; the Temple Mount and the Old City would be placed under international control.
Due to the sensitive nature of Olmert's plan—surely too generous for hardliners on the Israeli side—the Israeli PM did not want to hand over the map to Abbas, who sketched it onto a napkin after the meeting. The 'napkin map' became public in 2013.
Under the Trump plan, Israel cedes 70% of the West Bank to the Palestinian state.
Image: The White House
The 'Conceptual Map' in Trump's plan is the first one ever published officially by the American (and/or Israeli) side. It is less generous than the Olmert plan:
- Under the Trump plan, Israel cedes 70% of the West Bank to the Palestinian state. The PLO countered that Trump's plan gives Palestinians control over just 15% of 'historical Palestine'.
- The entirety of Jerusalem and its immediate surroundings remain under Israeli control. Jerusalem remains the undivided capital of Israel. Palestinians may establish a capital in the city's east.
- Israel maintains territorial control over the Jordan River valley, cutting off Palestine from direct contact with Jordan. However, two roads and border crossings would offer access to Palestine's Arab neighbor to the east.
- Large blocks of Israeli settlements are annexed to Israel, cutting into (and through) Palestinian territory, which, as the map indicates, would not be a contiguous zone, but consist of several large 'islands'. Trump nevertheless said the U.S. would "work to create a contiguous territory within the future Palestinian state."
- The Gaza Strip remains remote from the rest of Palestinian territory, but would be connected to the West Bank via a tunnel running under Israeli territory.
- Compensation for the loss of territory in the West Bank would be provided in the form of two blocks of desert territory on the border with Egypt, linked to Gaza via a thin strip of land.
- Palestinian state would be granted access to seaport facilities in two Israeli port cities, Ashdod and Haifa.
President Abbas's fury is understandable. This proposal turns Israel's occupation and takeover of large parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank into a fait accompli. But while the overall plan may fail, keep a good eye on this map. For the first time, it shows the extent of a Palestinian state that the Israeli state may feel comfortable living with. And that's an important step. Even if this may not be a state the Palestinians may feel comfortable living in.
Map found here on Donald Trump's Twitter.
Strange Maps #1008
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
The 'People Map of the United States' zooms in on America's obsession with celebrity
- Replace city names with those of their most famous residents and you get a peculiar map of America's obsession with celebrity.
- The multitalented Dwayne Johnson, boxing legend Muhammad Ali and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dominate the West Coast.
- If you seek fame, become an actor, musician or athlete rather than a politician, entrepreneur or scientist.
Chicagoland is Obamaland
Chicagoland's celebrity constellation is dominated by Barack, but with plenty of room for the Belushis, Brandos and Capones of this world.
Image: The Pudding
Seen from among the satellites, this map of the United States is populated by a remarkably diverse bunch of athletes, entertainers, entrepreneurs and other persons of repute (and disrepute).
The multitalented Dwayne Johnson, boxing legend Muhammad Ali and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dominate the West Coast. Right down the middle, we find actors Chris Pratt and Jason Momoa, singer Elvis Presley and basketball player Shaquille O'Neal. The East Coast crew include wrestler John Cena, whistle-blower Edward Snowden, mass murderer Ted Bundy… and Dwayne Johnson, again.
The Rock pops up in both Hayward, CA and Southwest Ranches, FL, but he's not the only one to appear twice on the map. Wild West legend Wyatt Earp makes an appearance in both Deadwood, SD, and Dodge City, KS.
How is that? This 'People's Map of the United States' replaces the names of cities with those of "their most Wikipedia'ed resident: people born in, lived in, or connected to a place."
Zoom in on the map to find your city.
‘Cincinnati, Birthplace of Charles Manson'
Keys to the city, or lock 'em up and throw away the key? A city's most famous sons and daughters of a city aren't always the most favored ones.
Image: The Pudding
That definition allows people to appear in more than one locality. Dwayne Johnson was born in Hayward, has one of his houses in Southwest Ranches, and is famous enough to be the 'most Wikipedia'ed resident' for both localities.
Wyatt Earp was born in Monmouth, IL, but his reputation is closely associated with both Deadwood and Dodge City – although he's most famous for the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which took place in Tombstone, AZ. And yes, if you zoom in on that town in southern Arizona, there's Mr Earp again.
The data for this map was collected via the Wikipedia API (application programming interface) from the English-language Wikipedia for the period from July 2015 to May 2019.
The thousands of 'Notable People' sections in Wikipedia entries for cities and other places in the U.S. were scrubbed for the person with the most pageviews. No distinction was made between places of birth, residence or death. As the developers note, "people can 'be from' multiple places".
Pageviews are an impartial indicator of interest – it doesn't matter whether your claim to fame is horrific or honorific. As a result, this map provides a non-judgmental overview of America's obsession with celebrity.
Royals and (other) mortals
There's also a UK version of the People Map – filled with last names like Neeson, Sheeran, Darwin and Churchill – and a few first names of monarchs.
Image: The Pudding
Celebrity, it is often argued, is our age's version of the Greek pantheon, populated by dozens of major gods and thousands of minor ones, each an example of behaviors to emulate or avoid. This constellation of stars, famous and infamous, is more than a map of names. It's a window into America's soul.
But don't let that put you off. Zooming in on the map is entertaining enough. Celebrities floating around in the ether are suddenly tied down to a pedestrian level, and to real geography. And it's fun to see the famous and the infamous rub shoulders, as it were.
Barack Obama owns Chicago, but the suburbs to the west of the city are dotted with a panoply of personalities, ranging from the criminal (Al Capone, Cicero) and the musical (John Prine, Maywood) to figures literary (Jonathan Franzen, Western Springs) and painterly (Ivan Albright, Warrenville), actorial (Harrison Ford, Park Ridge) and political (Eugene V. Debs, Elmhurst).
Freaks and angels
The People Map of the U.S. was inspired by the U.S.A. Song Map, substituting song titles for place names.
It would be interesting to compare 'the most Wikipedia'ed' sons and daughters of America's cities with the ones advertised at the city limits. When you're entering Aberdeen, WA, a sign invites you to 'come as you are', in homage to its most famous son, Kurt Cobain. It's a safe bet that Indian Hill, OH will make sure you know Neil Armstrong, first man on the Moon, was one of theirs. But it's highly unlikely that Cincinnati, a bit further south, will make any noise about Charles Manson, local boy done bad.
Inevitably, the map also reveals some bitterly ironic neighbors, such as Ishi, the last of the Yahi tribe, captured near Oroville, CA. He died in 1916 as "the last wild Indian in North America". The most 'pageviewed' resident of nearby Colusa, CA is Byron de la Beckwith, Jr., the white supremacist convicted for the murder of Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers.
As a sampling of America's interests, this map teaches that those aiming for fame would do better to become actors, musicians or athletes rather than politicians, entrepreneurs or scientists. But also that celebrity is not limited to the big city lights of LA or New York. Even in deepest Dakota or flattest Kansas, the footlights of fame will find you. Whether that's good or bad? The pageviews don't judge...
Average waiting time for hitchhikers in Ireland: Less than 30 minutes. In southern Spain: More than 90 minutes.
- A popular means of transportation from the 1920s to the 1980s, hitchhiking has since fallen in disrepute.
- However, as this map shows, thumbing a ride still occupies a thriving niche – if at great geographic variance.
- In some countries and areas, you'll be off the street in no time. In other places, it's much harder to thumb your way from A to B.
Rated for hitchability
User-based tips and tricks on how to hitch a ride throughout Europe (and the rest of the world).
If you've never stuck out your thumb to get somewhere, nor picked up someone who did, you're now part of the overwhelming majority. Nevertheless, like vinyl, hitchhiking has survived the predictions of its demise and occupies a small but thriving niche.
There's an entire wiki dedicated to the practice, including a map detailing hitchhiking spots around the world, rating each for 'hitchability' and providing a user-generated average waiting time for each spot.
Based on that information, Abel Sulyok has produced this map, showing average waiting times across Europe as experienced by hitchhikers themselves. The map provides a curious overview of the continent's hitchhiking landscape, indicating where it's easier to hitch a ride, and where your thumb is going to be sore before you're picked up.
Hitchhiking heat map
Hitchhiking success (or failure) doesn't just depend on your technique or appearance, also on your location.
Image: Abel Sulyok
In areas colored darkest green, you're off the street in 10 minutes or less. Lightest green: half an hour. Things turn yellowy in areas where you have to wait up to an hour and then change to red for times up to 90 minutes. If it's more, you're in a deep burgundy.
- Some countries seem more hitchhiker-friendly than others. According to this map, you'll have most luck sticking out your thumb in Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Albania and Romania – all mainly light green.
- In-between countries include the UK, France, Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Turkey (among others).
- Worst countries to hitchhike, at least according to this map: Spain, Portugal, Italy, Croatia, Greece, Austria, Sweden.
- Border areas seem prone to hitchhiking problems, although curiously often just in one direction. Check the Russian-Belarus border, or the ones between Bosnia and Serbia, Greece and Turkey, or Austria and all points south.
- Urban rides can be more difficult to hitch; see the 'hot spots' covering Paris, Athens, Kiev and the Liverpool/Manchester area in northwest England. In big cities, motorists can always soothe their bad conscience thinking the next car will pick up that rain-soaked stranger.
- Red can also mean remote, as it certainly does in Scotland's furthest north, or the interior of northern Sweden and Norway.
- Other red zones are more difficult to explain. Why the generalized aversion to autostopistas in both southern Spain and southern Italy? Why is Germany's Frisian coast so atypically hostile to hitchhikers? And what makes the southern Swedes so unamenable to helping out their non-motorized fellow travelers?
As this map shows, your hitchhiking success depends not just on your presentability, but also on where you present yourself.
From freighthopping to hitchhiking
A young Ernest Hemingway (17 in 1916), freighthopping to get to Walloon Lake.
Image: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
Hitchhiking has a long tradition in the U.S. Its direct ancestor was freighthopping. After the Civil War, if you were looking for work but without your own means of transportation, you'd hop on freight trains to travel long distances.
By 1911, the ranks of these hobos (1) had swelled to an estimated 700,000 – or about 0.75% of the entire U.S. population at the time.
While lots of people kept riding the rails throughout the 20th century (2), the rise of the automobile provided a much safer and more flexible means of hitching rides to faraway destinations.
Popular (and patriotic)
Hitchhiking (3) really took off after 1929, when the Depression both limited people's options to buy their own cars and increased their need to move around to find work. Under the New Deal, the US Government even set up a Transient Bureau that helped both hobos and hitchhikers.
Hitchhiking entered the national consciousness, portrayed in popular books (John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath) and films (It Happened One Night, starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert).
By one estimate in 1937, at least one adult American male in 10 had hitched a ride at least once. A Gallup poll conducted during World War II, when fuel-rationing and car shortages were keeping hitching popular (and patriotic), indicated that nearly half of all Americans had picked up a hitchhiker.
Friendly traveler or vicious murderer?
Two FBI posters, signed by America's anti-hitchhiker-in-chief, J. Edgar Hoover.
Image: FBI / Public Domain
However, there were problems with hitchhiking almost from the start. Early on, public opinion swung against aggressive hitchhikers, sometimes standing in the middle of the road, practically "demanding a ride". Reports of crimes – real or otherwise – committed by hitchhikers predisposed the public and the authorities against it.
After WWII, laws and law enforcement further discouraged the practice, as exemplified by these FBI posters, warning drivers against hitchhikers: They could be "a happy vacationer or an escaping criminal – a pleasant companion or a sex maniac – a friendly traveller or a vicious murderer."
In the 1970s and 1980s, a slew of highly publicized crimes involving hitchhikers (to name just one: the Santa Rosa Hitchhiker Murders, 1972-73) – and a few movies playing on the fears they generated (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974; The Hitcher, 1987) – helped end its heyday.
Unsuited to hitchhiking
The Interstate Highway System in 1976
Image: U.S. Department of Transportation / Public Domain
Add to that the generalized sentiment nowadays that 'stranger' equals 'danger', and the demise of hitchhiking seems logical. From the 1920s right up to the 1980s, thumbing a ride was a fairly common way to get around. These days, it's the option of last resort.
But perhaps the main reasons for hitchhiking's decline have less to do with moral panic, more with fundamental changes in infrastructure. For one, there's the post-war rise of the Interstate Highway System: Bigger, faster roads that are unsuited to hitchhiking.
The biggest underlying factor may be the rise of car ownership. The percentage of US households without a car has steadily declined, from about 50% in 1941 to less than 10% today (4). If you have a car, you don't need to hitch a ride.
Three scientists publish a paper proving that Mercury, not Venus, is the closest planet to Earth.
- Earth is the third planet from the Sun, so our closest neighbor must be planet two or four, right?
- Wrong! Neither Venus nor Mars is the right answer.
- Three scientists ran the numbers. In this YouTube video, one of them explains why our nearest neighbor is... Mercury!
Did Musk pick the wrong planet to die on?
Elon Musk has said he wants to die on Mars.
By 2024, Elon Musk wants to land humans on Mars – the billionaire entrepreneur has said that he himself wants to go to the Red Planet, and even wants to die there (just not on impact, he quips). But has SpaceX chosen the wrong planet to colonize? If the plan was to pick the closest planet: yes indeed.
While Mars looms large in human culture and imagination, most scientific sources refer to Venus as the planet that's the shortest distance away from Earth. NASA mentions Venus as our closest neighbor. But while it's true that no other planet comes closer – the shortest approach is 0.28 AU (1) or 25 million miles (41 million km) – it's not true that Venus is the closest planet (2) on average (even though that too is often erroneously asserted).
A faulty line-up of the solar system
A line-up of the usual suspects. Only the sizes are to scale, not the distances. And they usually don't line up as nicely as this.
"As it turns out, by some phenomenon of carelessness, ambiguity or groupthink, science popularizers have disseminated information based on a flawed assumption about the average distance between planets," write Tom Stockman, Gabriel Monroe and Samuel Cordner in an article published by Physics Today.
They go on to explain the mathematical method they devised to prove that, when averaged over time, it is in fact Mercury – the first rock from the Sun – that is Earth's nearest neighbor.
Long story short: Mercury is closest to Earth on average because it orbits the Sun more closely. That also means – mind-blowingly – that Mercury is the closest neighbor of all planets in our solar system, including gas giants Jupiter and Saturn and snowball planets Neptune and Uranus on the freezing outer edges of the system.
Unbelievably cool or unbelievably obvious?
Simulation of Mercury (grey), Venus (orange), Earth (blue) and Mars (red) circling the Sun, and the calculation of average distances to Earth.
Image: Tomment Section
In Physics Today, the three scientists describe their method in great detail. For laypeople like (probably) you and (certainly) me, the YouTube video at the top of this post, narrated by Mr Stockman, is more illuminating. In 6 minutes 40 seconds, he had me convinced.
While some commenters agree ("a neat new way to think about it!"), one or two are irritated that the hoi polloi are only now clocking on to this ("Any idiot should have been able to point this out").
Either way, one has to feel for the one commenter who seems to have figured this out a long time ago, but didn't have this video to prove their point: "I told my school teacher many years ago that Mercury is nearest to Earth but they laughed at me."
Strange Maps #966
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(1) 1 Astronomical Unit (AU) is the average distance between the Earth and the Sun: 93 million miles (150 million km).
(2) Their name aptly derived from the Greek 'planetai' for "wanderers", planets orbit around the Sun, hence the immense variation in the distances between them.