Atlantis Lite

On January 31, 2013 · 10 Comments

I’ve been thinking about towns submerged by reservoirs. I don’t know why that suddenly came to mind or why it fascinated me without prompting. It’s one of those things.

This is also a topic that interests many other people apparently. They’ve written all sorts of definitive lists of underwater ghost towns. I won’t replicate those definitive works. One can review them later if interested. It’s a surprisingly common phenomenon. People need water. Towns are flooded. I’ll simply provide a few examples spread across the globe that I’ve explored via satellite.

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first, an instance of scale so incredibly audacious that it cannot escape unmentioned.

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It’s difficult to even conceive of a situation where nearly 1.25 million people had to relocate. That happened in the years leading up to 2008 because of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtzee River in China. To put that in perspective, that’s like compelling everyone in Rhode Island or everyone within the city limits of Birmingham, England, or everyone in Adelaide, Australia to pack up and move to a new home.

Old House & Shed
SOURCE: Valley_Guy on Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

I’ve been impressed by Old Adaminaby in New South Wales, Australia which was submerged below the waters of Lake Eucumbene in 1957. The town moved nearby to higher ground before the waters inundated lower-lying areas (map). The only remnants left behind were a few ruins that rise above the waters periodically during protracted droughts.

The Internet believes that the most significant example in the United States involved four towns in Massachusetts submerged by the Quabbin Reservoir (map). I base that solely on the fact that this seemed to be the most common result whenever I consulted the major search engines. Four towns that had been around since the late Eighteen or early Nineteenth Century (Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott) were all flooded behind the Winsor Dam and Goodnough Dike by 1939.

Bluffton, Texas rises again
merindab on Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

I’m more partial to Bluffton, Texas, though. Like the example from Australia, the original Bluffton townsite rose from the dead during a recent drought. Ordinarily it rested beneath the placid waters of Lake Buchanan, a reservoir along the Colorado River of Texas, where its been submerged since the late 1930’s (map).

I guess I’m a sucker for those towns that are drowned, only to claw their way back into the visible world in zombie-like fashion when waters recede. I could probably write an entire article based entirely on submerged towns that have reappeared because of recent droughts. There are several others in the United States that I found with minimal searching: Monument City, Indiana (included news video); Corydon, Pennsylvania; and Los Arboles, New Mexico all rose from their watery graves, along with townsites in many other parts of the world.

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Let’s feature an example from Russia because loyal reader "January First-of-May" hails from there and has had to endure so may articles on 12MC focused on just about every location other than Russia. Here you go, January First-of-May. This one’s for you.

Mologa in the Yaroslavl Oblast was flooded in the 1940’s as a result of the creation of the Rybinsk Reservoir at the confluence of Mologa and Volga Rivers. Allegedly 130,000 people lived in Mologa and had to be relocated, while about three hundred residents refused to leave and drowned. Joseph Stalin didn’t mess around.

Oddly enough, Google Maps actually labeled the ghost town. Even thought its underwater. Even though it hasn’t existed since the 1940’s.

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I haven’t forgotten about the United Kingdom either. There are plenty of examples in the UK, too. How about Ladybower Reservoir in Derbyshire? The little English villages of Ashopton, Derwent Woodlands Church and Derwent Hall all found themselves on the wrong side of the dam and succumbed to the waves in 1944. In Wales, Capel Celyn disappeared too, thanks to the Llyn Celyn Reservoir (map).

The list goes on and on.

How Low Can it Go?

On January 29, 2013 · 2 Comments

I stumble across the most fascinating bits of information in unexpected places. It happened this time as I examined the unusually-wide median strip between the eastbound and westbound lanes of Interstate 8 in southern California. I learned of a nearby oddity further down the highway while reviewing various roadfan websites.

A motorist will encounter the lowest overland elevation in the entire Interstate Highway System just to the east of the extreme central reservation I’d discovered earlier. It is listed as 52 feet (16 meters) below sea level by the U.S. Government’s Federal Highway Administration.

It’s not the lowest elevation of any road of any type within the U.S. — that’s Badwater Road in Death Valley which provides access to the lowest public restroom in North America (~ -282 ft, -86 m) — just the lowest natural point of elevation in the Interstate Highway System. It’s still pretty impressive, though.

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This happens in the vicinity of Exit 107 where I-8 crosses the New River. Notice the channel. The road dips down here as it crosses the river over a short bridge. Where, I wondered, could the New River be flowing if it was already more than fifty feet below sea level here? Certainly it would not be flowing to the sea. It much be part of an endorheic basin, and indeed that is the case.

The New River begins in Baja California, Mexico where it’s known as the Río Nuevo. It passes through the wonderfully conjoined portmanteau cities of Mexicali and Calexico. From there it flows under the I-8 bridge west of El Centro, and on to the Salton Sea. The surface elevation of the Salton Sea is -226 ft (-69 m) so whatever flows along the New River won’t leave the Salton Sea on its own unless it’s able to evaporate.

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That’s a problem. This Street View image from the point of lowest Interstate elevation shows one of the most polluted bodies of water in the nation. Sewage, pesticide-laden agricultural runoff, and industrial waste from businesses located along the ditch then dump into a basin without an outflow. Toxins and pathogens collect in extreme concentrations, creating a most foul situation. Those driving at high speed along I-8, crossing this point of lowest elevation, likely never consider the drawbacks of this dubious honor.

Let’s put one more asterisk onto the claim. There are other places along the Interstate Highway Systems with a lower elevation. However, they are located in tunnels. A similar situation exists in Canada.

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The Intertubes claims that the Fort McHenry Tunnel carrying I-95 traffic through Baltimore, Maryland represents the absolutely lowest Interstate elevation at 107 ft (33 m) below sea level. It passes in close proximity to historic Fort McHenry, as implied by the name, the battlefield site inspiring the Star Spangled Banner. It then drops below Baltimore Harbor. I’d post a Street View image except that the interior of a tunnel isn’t exactly the most exciting scenery available (check for yourself if you must).

While the exalted position of the Fort McHenry tunnel seemed to be conventional wisdom for the cyberspace masses, it was not the only candidate offered. I discovered numerous other claims. I could not, however, nail-down a definitive source. Another option included the I-93 Thomas P. "Tip" O’Neill Tunnel, part of the Big Dig project in Boston, Massachusetts. The I-64 Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel in Virginia was also mentioned frequently. I know we have several roadfans who read 12MC regularly so hopefully someone can provide a proper citation and we can put these issues to rest. I’ve driven through all three of these tunnels so I’m covered no matter how it turns out. Funny, I never realized I was experiencing a true geo-oddity during any of my transits.

I’ve never driven on I-8 through California though. I look forward to experiencing both the wide median and the lowest overland elevation someday.

Mystery of the Mexican Quadripoint

On January 27, 2013 · 1 Comments

Does México have a quadripoint? That’s not intended as a trick question. Ideally this should have an easily verifiable solution. Either four Mexican states touch at a common spot — a quadripoint — or they do not. The answer however is considerably more elusive. I remain at a loss as I attempt to uncover whether someone should reasonably conclude one way or the other.

There are a couple of candidates, and the Mexican states of San Luis Potosí and Zacatecas are common denominators.

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Notice the relative proximity of the states of Jalisco, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosí, and Zacatecas. A small notch of Zacatecas protrudes just far enough south to prevent Jalisco and San Luis Potosí from sharing a common border according to Google Maps, with all of the usual caveats about the accuracy of Google Maps. The situation seemingly separates the two states by about 1.88 kilometres (1.17 miles) according to my quick calculation.

This is an agricultural area farmed and ranched fairly intensively judging by satellite mode and confirmed by proximal Street View availability (sample image). There’s even a ranchero within the Zacatecas notch, which would be an interesting geo-oddity homestead for the lucky resident: a click east to San Luis Potosí; a click south to Guanajuato; a click west to Jalisco. It’s easily accessible from the nearest town, Ojuelos de Jalisco, less than 12km down a road called Deportiva (which translates to "sports" and runs by the town’s athletic fields as it departs town). A driver would also cross the border between Jalisco and Zacatecas a couple of times for good measure too (map).

This happy confluence of multiple borders didn’t seem to be controversial. It did in fact appear to represent two tripoints falling in very close proximity to each other. A cube of Zacatecas less than 2km on a side blocked a rare opportunity for a quadripoint.

The other potential Mexican quadripoint takes place in the vicinity of Coahuila, Nuevo León, San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas either where they all join together or where they all nearly do so, depending on the evidence one chooses to accept.

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Google Maps sides clearly with the camp that believes in two tripoints in close proximity to each other rather than a single quadripoint, once again considering that Google isn’t the arbiter of all things geographic. However, notice the distance between to two tripoints: 12.17 km (7.56 mi). It would hardly seem to be a question with such a sizable gap. Yet, other maps are much less clear including some published by the Mexican government. The Yahoo! Group "boundarypointpoint" which specializes in just these types of situation appeared to have reached a consensus that a quadripoint did not exist, after lengthy discussions and earlier research.

However, a monument exists at what many would call the northern of the two tripoints, the "Mojonera de los Cuatro Estados" (Marker of the Four States). There are various photographs of the marker posted on the Intertubes although none that I could find with Creative Commons licensing so I couldn’t embed them here. Feel free to open a photo from Panoramio or from Flickr in another tab and observe the results. The marker would be readily accessible albeit after enduring a jarring 8.1 km (5.0 mi) ride down a rough road. I think the guy in the Flickr image with the mountain bike had the right idea.

Wikipedia bought into the idea of a Mexican quadripoint, for what that’s worth. It was presented as fact without citing any evidence, and was immediately flagged as such. Wikipedia attempted to weasel-word around the issue by stating that this is the place where the four states "effectively" meet. Right. I’m not sure de facto or close-enough provides a decent standard for a concept that implies precision. Even the contributors on boundarypointpoint seemed conflicted after the revelation of the Mojonera de los Cuatro Estados.

Examining the Mexican Geological Service website, Servicio Geológico Mexicano, provided nothing definitive and Internet searches using the Spanish-language term "Cuadripunto" yielded no better results either.

Was it a situation created by imprecise surveying techniques like the Delaware Wedge? Is it so rural and effects so few people that the governments involved simply don’t consider it enough of a priority to figure it out? Or has it been overtaken by events with a named boundary stone, the Mojonera de los Cuatro Estados, converting a close-enough approximation to an exact declaration?

In my mind, the elusive Quadripoint of México remains a mystery.

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