Canada’s Really Big…

19 06 2012
To quote a Canadian band, The Arrogant Worms, “Canada’s Really Big

I work in the travel and tourism industry in Canada, and one of the things that baffles me over and over again, is that people from other places really don’t seem to grasp the sheer SIZE of Canada before they come here.

Every day, I get people coming to my desk, asking how long it will take them to get to Tofino/Banff/Toronto/Niagara Falls etc. Judging by the dumbfounded looks on their faces when I give them an estimate in days, rather than minutes or hours… most are not prepared for the scope of the journey they had planned to undertake in a weekend or a day.

Let me lay it out for you in distances, and travel times, so you can get a good idea of just HOW big we really are, on a global scale, from the perspective of someone who has traveled extensively both in Canada and abroad.

From my perspective, when I say that something is:

“…in the city…” I am talking about somewhere I go every week:

I work in downtown Vancouver, so I am normally giving directions from Waterfront Station. (0km)
I live in New Westminster (19km)
I sing karaoke on Wednesdays in Surrey (28km)
I play dodgeball on Tuesday nights in Langley (47km)

“…pretty close…” I can mean up to 300km away.

A distance I would consider reasonable to go for a picnic, a hike, a day trip to ski or shop, or sight see.

Examples include:

Victoria (117km and a 1.5hr Ferry)
Whistler (123km)
Harrison Hot Springs (131km)
Seattle (230km)

“…at least a weekend trip…” I may mean up to 1000km (one way) in driving or flying distance.

Some ‘weekend trips’ I have taken in the past include:

Tofino (302km through mountain roads, and a 2hr ferry)
Calgary (954km or 1188km if I drive the longer, but more scenic route through Jasper)
Las Vegas (2021km – this is a common weekend trip for Vancouverites who fly down and back cheaply from Bellingham Airport)
Los Angeles (2051km – I went in 2010 for 4 days to shop and see a Muse concert and considered it a weekend trip)


“…pretty far…is what we use to talk about places that are generally several thousand kms away... places we only typically go for an annual vacation, a summer home, a family gathering, weddings, funerals and holidays such as Christmas.

Common examples are:
Los Cabos, Mexico (3916km) Destination Beach Wedding
Toronto (4205km) – Thanksgiving Dinner with Family
Montreal (4736km) – University Friends Reunion
Miami (5616km) – Disney World Vacation

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Seawater rising? Or the riverbeds sinking!

22 09 2009

Climate change has become a big issue in recent decades, and one of the major indicators that many people point to as a worrying potential problem is the rise in sea levels globally. There are island nations buying up land in foreign countries, people moving further inland, worse floods every year from tropical storms and hurricanes – yet perhaps an even more worrying problem is that the land itself is SINKING!

Scientists in the well-known and respected journal “Nature Geoscience” have recently published an article on the impact of human activities on the land drop towards sea level in many deltas worldwide. This closure towards the water, they claim, is far greater than the rise in sea level faced by the same inhabitants. Their abstract, below, will give a quick glimpse into the problem:

Many of the world’s largest deltas are densely populated and heavily farmed. Yet many of their inhabitants are becoming increasingly vulnerable to flooding and conversions of their land to open ocean. The vulnerability is a result of sediment compaction from the removal of oil, gas and water from the delta’s underlying sediments, the trapping of sediment in reservoirs upstream and floodplain engineering in combination with rising global sea level. Here we present an assessment of 33 deltas chosen to represent the world’s deltas. We find that in the past decade, 85% of the deltas experienced severe flooding, resulting in the temporary submergence of 260,000 km2. We conservatively estimate that the delta surface area vulnerable to flooding could increase by 50% under the current projected values for sea-level rise in the twenty-first century. This figure could increase if the capture of sediment upstream persists and continues to prevent the growth and buffering of the deltas.”

Taken from: http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/ngeo629.html

detailed_chao-phraya

Chao Phraya River Basin

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Chao Phraya, (see image above) the river which flows through Bangkok is one of the worst affected – parts of the delta have sunk 15cm (six inches)! Compare this to the global rate of sea level rise due to climate change at only 1.8-3.0mm per year – nearly a tenfold difference!

Scientists estimate that the area of land vulnerable to flooding will increase by about 50% in the next 40 years due to a combination of climate change causing sea levels to rise and land sinking due to human causes.

“This study shows there are a host of human-induced factors that already cause deltas to sink much more rapidly than could be explained by sea level alone.” Journal Geoscience Article

The researchers report that the flow of sediment down to the Chao Phraya delta has been almost entirely blocked, due to¬† irrigation, damming the river, and directing the main flow through just a few channels. In rivers with no dams or man-made controls, the sediment would pass down the river and add to the height of the land, a process known as aggradation. (see image below) Now, the sediment can’t reach many delta areas. The further extraction of water and gas for irrigation, drinking, and industry further compacts the land.

Aggradation

As reported in the BBC yesterday, “Rivers affected include the Colorado, Nile, Pearl, Rhone and Yangtze. Of the 33 major deltas studied, 24 were found to be sinking. About half a billion people live in these regions…

THE HIGH-RISK LIST
Deltas with “virtually no aggradation (supply of sediment) and/or very high accelerated compaction”
Chao Phraya, Thailand
Colorado, Mexico
Krishna, India
Nile, Egypt
Pearl, China
Po, Italy
Rhone, France
Sao Francisco, Brazil
Tone, Japan
Yangtze, China
Yellow, China

As the ground falls and sea level rises, people become more vulnerable to inundation during storms.
Every year, about 10 million people are being affected by storm surges,” said Irina Overeem, another of the study team from the University of Colorado.

So should we be worrying about the inevitable rise in sea levels? Or more focused on the major impacts we are still having on these sinking river deltas, which around the world are home to almost half a billion human beings?

– Sarah Topps





Flu Pandemic

7 05 2009

Since the H1N1 virus first emerged, panic about the possibility of a global flu pandemic has subsided substantially. It seems that while the virus may be moving fast enough to kill people, it is not moving fast enough to scare them. However, a press report released today said that this outbreak could infect up to 2 billion people – one third of humanity!

The World Health Organization raised their estimation of the threat of a widespread pandemic to phase 5 on April 29th, but more recently a spokesperson has mentioned the possibility that it will go to phase 6 – the highest level of threat, indicating a widespread outbreak in communities in at least two WHO regions globally.

pandemic-phases

Interestingly, while browsing the available information on what exactly we would do if a full-blown pandemic were to erupt, I found startlingly little concrete information and almost no one who said they would actually be in charge during such an event. Would it be the local governments? The state? The UN or the WHO? The Red Cross perhaps? No one really seems to know.

I also came across a talk given at TED by Laurie Garrett in 2007 in response to the outbreak of Avian Bird Flu, which is shown below. It is quite a riveting 20 minute video and she really covers, or at least asks, all of the questions and common answers that we would find ourselves giving if a flu pandemic were to occur.

– Sarah Topps








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