Measuring Geography: Learn About Your World, Read the Simpson Street Free Press
by Aarushi Agni, Assistant Editor
The words “biggest” and “smallest” are used often when you’re talking about geography. But these words can also be quite ambiguous. The world’s geography exists in three dimensions, and has been irrevocably influenced by human culture and human migration.
Let’s start with a pop quiz: What is the biggest city in the United States?
a. New York, NY
b. Sitka, AL
c. Guttenberg, NJ
d. Oklahoma City, OK
What’s the answer? Well, they all are. It’s all in how you measure it. You might pick New York because it is the most populous city in the United States, with about 8 million people. Sitka, Alaska, on the other hand, is actually the biggest city by area, which is a little over 48,000 square miles. If however, you don’t consider Sitka or any other Alaskan city to be a real city, because they’re technically city-counties (a county merged with a city for political reasons), then the real city with the largest area is Oklahoma City with 620 square miles. But Guttenberg, NJ has the highest population density with a whopping 56,012 people per square mile.
Yeah, I tricked you with that question. The word “big” could easily refer to the amount of people in a place, the amount of land in a place, the amount of people that are concentrated in a unit of that place’s area, or the amount of land that people actually live in within a place.
So, you can see that there are so many different ways to measure the world around us. It is always important to pay attention to what specific words a question is asking. With careful study of river geography, you’ll realize that while the Nile is the longest river (flowing north from Sudan through Egypt and into the Mediterranean Sea), the South American Amazon is the largest river as measured by average water flow.
Even more interesting than these differences in definition are the reasons behind them. Water flow is an important consideration when answering the question of why the Amazon River basin is surrounded by the Amazon rainforest. It is no coincidence that this lush area of tropical wildlife neighbors the Amazon River; the flooding from the Amazon River is responsible for the evolution of the unique vegetation nearby. It is just as important that the Nile is surrounded by desert ecosystems, as it explains the sprouting of villages along its banks.
Considering the categorizations assigned to geographical features can open a window into what geography is really about: how geography relates to human history. Historians and geographers link the land to the growth of civilizations and Europe’s decision to explore the rest of the world beginning in the 1400’s.
Thinking like this and asking these types of questions can magnify the importance of geography and make an already interesting subject even more fascinating. Rivers and countries are not just lines on a map or elevations on a globe; they are real features of the world that we live in.
[Sources: Wikipedia; Rand McNally Universal World Atlas]