Animation: The Heartbeat of Nature’s Productivity
Even the most ferocious predator must rely on simple plants for vitality. That’s because without the conversion of carbon dioxide to organic compounds, entire food chains would cease to exist.
Photosynthesis is quite the catalyst for life, yet it’s easy to overlook this humble chemical process. But what if you could see its results scaled across the globe?
The Pulse of Nature
Today’s unique cartogram animation comes from geographer Benjamin Hennig at Worldmapper, and it depicts ongoing cycles in the productivity of ecological systems around the world. Created with Yadvinder Malhi from the University of Oxford, the researchers factored the daily net photosynthesis value over an 8-day interval of satellite observations, and extrapolated the trends for a year.
The outcome? A pattern of gross primary productivity (GPP) – the net amount of energy produced by land plants during photosynthesis – resembling the rhythmic impression of a “heartbeat”.
Here’s how a big-picture of average annual productivity ends up looking:
Location, Location, Location
Although the entire biosphere harnesses the sun’s energy, it’s clear this varies greatly based on both region and season. For example, desert areas such as the Sahara or Australian Outback occupy relatively low productivity areas on the map.
The taiga biome, a boreal forest made of coniferous trees such as pines, accounts for nearly a third of the world’s forest cover. Since the largest boreal areas are in Russia and Canada, it’s no wonder their productivity shrinks dramatically when it gets a bit cooler up north. When these areas slow down in sub-zero temperatures, their tropical neighbors to the south do the heavy lifting.
If forests are considered the world’s lungs, then the Amazon in South America and Congo forest in Central Africa help us all breathe a bit easier. The two largest forests act as crucial “carbon sinks”, trapping carbon that would otherwise be converted to carbon dioxide.
It’s also why rapid deforestation of these areas is cause for alarm. Many environmental scientists suggest that our human impact on forests could intensify global warming.
But there is good news – since the 1990s, the rate of net forest loss has declined by almost half. Progress fares differently across the regions:
Image Source: United Nations
Visualizing EV Sales Around the World
With global sales hitting new milestones and adoption rates rising, are electric vehicles now becoming a mainstream option for drivers around the world?
It took five years to sell the first million electric cars. In 2018, it took only six months.
The Tesla Model 3 also passed a significant milestone in 2018, becoming the first electric vehicle (EV) to crack the 100,000 sales mark in a single year. The Nissan LEAF and BAIC EC-Series are both likely to surpass the 100,000 this year as well.
Although the electric vehicle market didn’t grow as fast as some experts initially projected, it appears that EV sales are finally hitting their stride around the world. Below are the countries where electric vehicles are a biggest part of the sales mix.
The EV Capital of the World
Norway, after amassing a fortune through oil and gas extraction, made the conscious decision to create incentives for its citizens to purchase electric vehicles. As a result, the country is the undisputed leader in EV adoption.
In 2018, a one-third of all passenger vehicles were fully electric, and that percentage is only expected to increase in the near future. The Norwegian government has even set the ambitious target of requiring all new cars to be zero-emission by 2025.
That enthusiasm for EVs is spilling over to other countries in the region, which are also seeing a high percentage of EV sales. However, the five countries in which EVs are the most popular – Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Netherlands, and Finland – only account for 0.5% of the world’s population. For EV adoption to make any real impact on global emissions, drivers in high-growth/high–population countries will need to opt for electric powered vehicles. (Of course power grids will need to get greener as well, but that’s another topic.)
China’s Supercharged Impact
One large economy that is embracing plug-in vehicles is China.
The country leads the world in electric vehicle sales, with over a million new vehicles hitting the roads in 2018. Last year, more EVs were sold in Shenzhen and Shanghai than any country in the world, with the exception of the United States.
China also leads the world in another important metric – charging stations. Not only does China have the highest volume of chargers, many of them allow drivers to charge up faster.
Accelerating from the Slow Lane
In the United States, electric vehicle sales are rising, but they still tend to be highly concentrated in specific areas. In around half of states, EVs account for fewer than 1% of vehicle sales. On the other hand, California is approaching the 10% mark, a significant milestone for the most populous state.
Nationally, EV sales increased throughout 2018, with December registering nearly double the sales volume of the same month in 2017. Part of this surge in sales is driven by the Tesla’s Model 3, which led the market in the last quarter of 2018.
North of the border, in Canada, the situation is similar. EV sales are increasing, but not fast enough to meet targets set by the government. Canada aimed to have half a million EVs on the road by 2018, but missed that target by around 400,000 vehicles.
The big question now is whether the recent surge in sales is a temporary trend driven by government subsidies and showmanship of Elon Musk, or whether EVs are now becoming a mainstream option for drivers around the world.
The World’s 25 Largest Lakes, Side by Side
This unique map graphic uses the Great Lakes region as a point of comparison for the top 25 largest lakes in the world.
The World’s 25 Largest Lakes, Side by Side
In many parts of the world, you don’t have to look very far to find a lake.
According to satellite data, there are roughly 100 million lakes larger than one hectare (2.47 acres) to be found globally. The largest lakes, which rival the size of entire nations, are more of a rarity.
One might expect the world’s largest lakes to be very alike, but from depth to saline content, their properties can be quite different. As well, the ranking of the world’s largest lakes is far from static, as human activity can turn a massive body of water into a desert within a single generation.
Today’s graphic – created using the fantastic online tool, Slap It On A Map! – uses the Great Lakes region as a point of comparison for the largest 25 lakes, by area. This is particularly useful in comparing the scale of lakes that are located in disparate parts of the globe.
The Greatest Lakes
The largest lake in the world by a long shot is the Caspian Sea – a name that hints at a past when it was contiguous with the ocean around 11 million years ago. This massive saline lake, which is nearly the same size as Japan, borders five countries: Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Iran. An estimated 48 billion barrels of oil lay beneath the surface of the basin.
The five Great Lakes, which run along the Canada–U.S. border, form one of the largest collections of fresh water on Earth. This interconnected series of lakes represents around 20% of the world’s fresh water and the region supports over 100 million people, roughly equal to one-third of the Canada–U.S. population.
Amazingly, a single lake holds as much fresh water as all the Great Lakes combined – Lake Baikal. This rift lake in Siberia has a maximum depth of 5,371ft (1,637m). For comparison, the largest of the Great Lakes (Lake Superior) is only 25% as deep, with a maximum depth of 1,333ft (406m). Lake Baikal is unique in a number of other ways too. It is the world’s oldest, coldest lake, and around 80% of its animal species are endemic (not found anywhere else).
Here’s a full run-down of the top 25 lakes by area:
|Rank||Lake Name||Surface Area||Type||Countries on shoreline|
|1||Caspian Sea||143,000 sq mi|
|2||Superior||31,700 sq mi|
|3||Victoria||26,590 sq mi|
|4||Huron||23,000 sq mi|
|5||Michigan||22,000 sq mi|
|6||Tanganyika||12,600 sq mi|
|7||Baikal||12,200 sq mi|
|8||Great Bear Lake||12,000 sq mi|
|9||Malawi||11,400 sq mi|
|10||Great Slave Lake||10,000 sq mi|
|11||Erie||9,900 sq mi|
|12||Winnipeg||9,465 sq mi|
|13||Ontario||7,320 sq mi|
|14||Ladoga||7,000 sq mi|
|15||Balkhash||6,300 sq mi|
|16||Vostok||4,800 sq mi|
|17||Onega||3,700 sq mi|
|18||Titicaca||3,232 sq mi|
|19||Nicaragua||3,191 sq mi|
|20||Athabasca||3,030 sq mi|
|21||Taymyr||2,700 sq mi|
|22||Turkana||2,473 sq mi|
|23||Reindeer Lake||2,440 sq mi|
|24||Issyk-Kul||2,400 sq mi|
|25||Urmia||2,317 sq mi|
Shrinking out of the rankings
Not far from the world’s largest lake, straddling the border between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, lay the sand dunes of the Aralkum Desert. In the not so distant past, this harsh environment was actually the bed of one of the largest lakes in the world – the Aral Sea.
For reasons both climatic and anthropogenic, the Aral Sea began receding in the 1960s. This dramatic change in surface area took the Aral Sea from the fourth largest lake on Earth to not even ranking in the top 50. Researchers note that the size of the lake has fluctuated a lot over history, but through the lens of modern history these recent changes happened rapidly, leaving local economies devastated and former shoreside towns landlocked.
Lake Chad, in Saharan Africa, and Lake Urmia, in Iran, both face similar challenges, shrinking dramatically in recent decades.
How we work to reverse damage and avoid ecosystem collapse in vulnerable lakes will have a big influence on how the top 25 list may look in future years.
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