More Lago de Maracaibo

On May 18, 2017 · Comments Off on More Lago de Maracaibo

More oddities began to appear as I explored the borders of Venezuela’s Lago de Maracaibo a bit further. Then I noticed that advertisements embedded entirely within unrelated websites began to display in Spanish as I visited them. Google didn’t know what to make of me with all of my disjointed Twelve Mile Circle searching. Its algorithms now thought I spoke Spanish so it fed me a steady diet of Spanish ads. I supposed its vast database will categorize me in some other way once I research another article.

Maybe I’ll start getting referrals for mental health services because, obviously, I couldn’t stick to a single coherent line of reasoning for more than a day or two. However, and getting back to the point, the lake held many mysteries, more than could be contained within a single article. So I’ll probably suffer through a few more Spanish advertisements for a little while longer. This are the hardships I gladly endure for the 12MC audience. The truth must be told.

Lago de Maracaibo


Maracaibo.
Maracaibo. Photo by crl_ on Flickr (cc)

I supposed I should take a step back and appreciate the vastness of the lake in its entirety. It covered a massive surface area, 13,210 square kilometres (5,100 square miles). By comparison, that made it larger than the land area of the U.S. states of Connecticut, Delaware or Rhode Island. Technically it also probably didn’t qualify as a lake. More properly it might be considered a tidal bay or an inlet of the Caribbean Sea. Nonetheless it once existed a true lake, so the name said lake: it might be "… the second oldest [lake in the world], having been created approximately 36 million years ago."

No other lake in South America eclipsed Lago de Maracaibo assuming one considered it to be a lake. Otherwise the honor went to Lake Titicaca, the home of the landlocked Bolivian Navy. I don’t see anyone trying to change the name of Lago de Maracaibo anytime soon so a "lake" it shall remain.

The larger Lake Maracaibo Basin also contained Venezuela’s economic lifeline, its famously voluminous oil reserves.

The Maracaibo basin of western Venezuela is one of the world’s most important oil producing basins, with a cumulative production of more than 35 billion bbl. The reasons for this great wealth of hydrocarbons are a combination of source beds of excellent quality, thick reservoirs with high porosity and permeability, and a series of sealing shales, faults, and unconformities, which provide large and numerous traps.

Obviously it had a lot going for it.


Puente General Rafael Urdaneta


General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge
General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge. Photo by Wilfredorrh on Flickr (cc)

I looked more closely again at the map from the previous article. I noticed that the Venezuelan state of Zulia contained another, much larger exclave. The waterway that separated lake from gulf — the Tablazo Strait — also separated the main body of Zulia from its eastern side. It didn’t much matter though, or at least it hadn’t since 1962. That’s when construction of the General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge finally ended (map). This five-span crossing stretched nearly 9 kilometres and connected the two primary portions of Zulia. That provided a side benefit, not a primary purpose. The bridge truly existed to connecting the city of Maracaibo and its 2.5 million residents to the rest of Venezuela.

The general with the bridge named for him grew up in Maracaibo; born there in 1788. Urdaneta performed heroically during South America independence movement and later became president of Columbia. He probably deserved a bridge named in his honor.


Catatumbo Lightning


Catatumbo Lightning | Rayo del Catatumbo
Catatumbo Lightning | Rayo del Catatumbo. Photo by Fernando Flores on Flickr (cc)

Lago de Maracaibo delighted in other ways, specifically along its surface. Any internet search mentioning the lake undoubtedly turned up results talking about the Catatumbo Lightning. This strange phenomenon occurred where the Catatumbo River joined Lake Maracaibo on its southwestern bank (map). Moisture got trapped above the swampy plains of the river delta, hemmed-in by mountains on three sides. Winds blew steadily across the plains generating electrical charges. Destabilized air created massive thunderstorms. This happy confluence became the most electric place on earth, with storms lasting several hours at a time about 260 days per year, accompanied by a near constant barrage of lightening.

Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for "highest concentration of lightning" with 250 lightning flashes per square kilometre each year. The storms ease off in the dryer months of January and February and are most spectacular at the peak of the wet season around October. At this time of year, you can see an average of 28 lightning flashes each minute.

It happened only in a small area, at the mouth of the river. Only there did conditions line up in the exact configuration necessary to produce an almost daily electrical storm. I don’t think I’d want to get too close for too long, not with every square kilometre getting zapped nearly every storm.

Time Zones in Greenland

On January 26, 2017 · 8 Comments

It’s been awhile since I thought about Time Zones. However recently I happened to be looking at a map and I remembered the peculiarities of Greenland. I did scratch the surface of this a long time ago in Islands Split by Time Zones. Now I wanted to revisit Greenland in more detail because it offered such a strange situation. Four distinct Time Zones crossed its boundaries. Segments fell within Coordinated Universal Time (UTC)±0, UTC-1, UTC-3 and UTC-4. Strangely enough, no portion fell within UTC-2 (except during Daylight Saving Time). I found logical reasons for each one of the zones, though.




The Vast Preponderance of Greenland


A view of Nuuk from the final approach.
A view of Nuuk from the final approach. Photo by Hakim A on Flickr (cc)

Both by land and by population, the vast preponderance of Greenland observed UTC-3 (UTC-2 during Daylight Saving Time). It aligned quite nicely with another place along a similar line of longitude, eastern Brazil, which also followed UTC-3. That put Greenland three four Time Zones behind Denmark (Greenland being an autonomous entity within the Danish Realm) although the time it followed made perfect geographic sense.

Nearly everyone in Greenland lived in this Time Zone. It wasn’t all that many people however because fewer than sixty thousand people in total inhabited that entire massive island. After all, one percent of Greenland’s population once lived in a single building (since torn down) in the capital city, Nuuk. One can make all kinds of weird statistical comparison using Greenland’s tiny population.


Ittoqqortoormiit


Day 6 - Ittoqqortoormiit 70°29?N 021°5
Ittoqqortoormiit. Photo by ser_is_snarkish on Flickr (cc)

Ittoqqortoormiit (map) used to be called Scoresbysund. I’m not sure I could pronounce either name although I agreed with its redesignation. An Inuit name probably applied better than a Danish one. No wonder they changed it. However, anyone wanting to visit will need to plan well. Some call this place "the most isolated town in Greenland"
ame

… just getting to Ittoqqortoormiit is in itself an adventure, as the town is almost as far as one can get from any other inhabited area in Greenland. The closest neighbour is the world’s largest national park with the Danish Sirius Patrol as the only human presence in a vast landscape dominated by small game, birds, polar bears, musk oxen, reindeer, walrus and 18.000 kilometers of rugged, pathless coastline.

A scant 450 people live within this isolated village, cut off from shipping channels for nine months out of the year. A couple of airline flights per week make it there, weather permitting. To top it all off, very few inhabited places on the planet experience colder temperatures. It averaged -8.6° C (16.5° F) annually.

Ittoqqortoormiit observed UTC-1 (and UTC±0 Daylight Saving Time). I figured with their remote location and frigid conditions they could observe any darn time they liked.


Danmarkshavn


Danmarkshavn
Danmarkshavn on Wikimedia Commons (cc)

The name Danmarkshavn meant "Denmark Harbor" in Danish. Danmarkshavn (map) offered another interesting case. It served as a weather station. Ships couldn’t sail any farther north during normal circumstances so it seemed a fine spot to place a small settlement. The station observed UTC±0 year round with no Daylight Saving Time. That didn’t impact too many people directly. Only eight researchers usually lived at Danmarkshavn at a single time.

The Danish Meteorological Institute operated the station year-round. The staff followed a regular protocol, taking surface observations every three hours and releasing a weather balloon twice a day. Some might wonder why anyone would care about weather in a remote corner of Greenland. However, it actually mattered immensely. Its importance led several European countries to band together to provide funding to keep it running, including a complete update and modernization in 2001. Weather observations made at this point accurately predicted weather that would hit northern Europe in the following days. Danmarkshavn provided vital advance notice and warning.

The Time Zone made perfect sense, even its complete lack of Daylight Saving Time, by aligning with UTC±0. It had everything to do with Europe and nothing to do with the rest of Greenland.


Thule Air Base



While Danmarkshavn aligned its observation of time to Europe, Thule (pronounced TOO-lee) Air Base focused in the other direction (map). This northernmost base of the United States Air Force observed UTC-4 (and UTC-3 during Daylight Saving Time), just one hour removed from the eastern U.S.

The base traced back to World War II. Germany occupied Denmark and the U.S. pledged to protect Denmark’s Greenland colony and prevent its capture. After WW2, another threat emerged as the world entered the Cold War. Thule offered a place to watch for Soviet missile strikes against North America. The U.S. Air Force even added a long runway for B-52 bombers that could strike deep into Soviet territory if necessary. Those bombers no longer use Thule although missile warnings, space surveillance and satellite controls remain among its active missions. Several hundred American and Danish soldiers along with their contractors still occupy the base.

Stars and Stripes recently described living conditions there. As one inhabitant said, "You either become a chunk, a drunk or a hunk." That’s because there wasn’t much to do other than eat, drink or exercise at the gym. The article also explained that,

Thule.. is a Greek word that first appears in the writings of the explorer Pytheas, from roughly 330 B.C., and the term "ultima Thule" in medieval maps denotes any distant place beyond the "borders of the known world."

That pretty well summed it up.

Weather or Not

On August 25, 2016 · 2 Comments

Several places named Hurricane — all found far from a coastline — interested me a few weeks ago. From there I wrote a simple article I called Inland Hurricane. I also wondered if the same peculiarity extended to other weather phenomena so I began to search for more. I found mixed results. Even so I still uncovered some interesting stories so I considered the effort a success.

Tornado


Coal River
Coal River. Photo by Random Michelle on Flickr (cc)

The Hurricane article mentioned a town in West Virginia. It didn’t surprise me to see a Tornado included within the same state (map). I love West Virginia for its awesome names. Kentucky too. Those two seem to compete with each other for the most outlandishly creative place names.

Tornado ceased to be Tornado for several years. According to the Charleston Gazette Mail, an unnamed local resident complained about the name and the U.S. Board of Geographic Names changed it to Upper Falls in 2010. This referenced a series of small rapids along the Coal River just outside of town. However nobody bothered to check with the rest of the community. They preferred the original Tornado by a wide margin, a name used since 1881. That began a big kerfuffle involving lots of local politicians and the name reverted back to Tornado in 2013.

I never did discover why Tornado became Tornado back in 1881. It could have come from the whirling water of the nearby rapids. Maybe an actual tornado blew through there long ago. Who knows?


Rain



Rain am Lech, Germany, at night

Imagine the difficulty of finding information about a German town called Rain (map). Nearly all of my searches ran into stories and photos of actual heavy precipitation in Germany and precious little information about the town sharing the name. Finally I learned through trial and error that I could search for "Rain am Lech" and get decent results. The River Lech ran through Rain just before its confluence with the Danube.

The biggest thing to happen in Rain probably occurred in 1632 during the Thirty Years War. This conflict pitted Protestant against Catholic forces as the Holy Roman Empire crumbled. War raged for more than a decade across central Europe before Swedish general Gustavus Adolphus pushed towards Bavaria and up to the banks of the River Lech. His opponent, Count Johan Tzerclaes of Tilly and the Catholic League occupied the opposite bank in a defensive position. Gustavus Adolphus used withering artillery and superior tactics to breach the river, and pushed into Bavaria to threaten Austria. Tilly died of wounds a few days later. War would continue for many more years.

Unfortunately I didn’t understand German well enough to find the etymology of Rain. I started sensing a pattern with my second failure.


Hail


Hail - Sho6 Sunset
Hail – Sho6 Sunset. Photo by shagra4ever on Flickr (cc)

I felt certain however that Saudi Arabia’s Ha’il (%u062D%u0627%u0626%u0644) didn’t get its name from falling ice. Ha’il was both a region and a town (map), with more than a half-million people in its larger area. I thought I’d find a lot more information about a place with so many inhabitants and yet little existed even on Arabic language sites. It had some old castles, lots of wheat fields and a university. The Saudi tourism site included an overview:

When visiting Ha’il you can travel through the countryside in 4x4s, mountain climb in Nafud Al Kabir, or head west of the city to explore the mountaintops of Aja… It is a beautiful setting where visitors can see a variety of wildlife and take memorable photos, climb mountains, take hikes and enjoy nature and animals in a natural environment.

Google Translate suggested that the English equivalent of %u062D%u0627%u0626%u0644 might be something like obstacle or barrier. The town began as a fortress along an important caravan route. Could that have been the origin of its name?


Earthquake


Quake Lake
Quake Lake. Photo by stpaulgirl on Flickr (cc)

Finally, I found a place with a clear, unambiguous origin. Officially a body of water in southwestern Montana went by the name Earthquake Lake (map). Most people shortened it to Quake Lake. I loved that rhyming name; it had a certain poetic style. An actual, genuine earthquake formed this lake too. According to the US Forest Service,

It was near midnight on August 17th, 1959 when an earthquake near the Madison River triggered a massive landslide… over 80 million tons of rock crashed into the narrow canyon, blocking the Madison River and forming Earthquake Lake. This earth-changing event, known as the Hebgen Lake Earthquake, measured 7.5 on the Richter scale. At the time it was the second largest earthquake to occur in the lower 48 states in the 20th century.

The lake’s formation came with a sad price. Twenty-eight people died during the quake that created it.

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