Friday, April 11, 2008

The answers are really more questions

You live in the big here. Wherever you live, your tiny spot is deeply intertwined within a larger place, imbedded fractal-like into a whole system called a watershed, which is itself integrated with other watersheds into a tightly interdependent biome. (See the world eco-region map ). At the ultimate level, your home is a cell in an organism called a planet. All these levels interconnect. What do you know about the dynamics of this larger system around you? Most of us are ignorant of this matrix. But it is the biggest interactive game there is. Hacking it is both fun and vital.

The following exercise in watershed awareness was hatched 30 years ago by Peter Warshall, naturalist extraordinaire... The intent of this quiz is to inspire you to answer the questions you can't initially. [The Big Here Quiz]

I first read about The Big Here Quiz in a Whole Earth Review many years back. Late last year, I finally resolved to answer all its questions.

Its been a really useful exercise for me - as a librarian - and as a person trying to make connections to place where I didn't grow up but is now a place called 'home'.

What has surprised me is that I haven't been able to find anyone else who has done a similar job of properly researching their localized answers to the quiz. If you have taken it on, please let me know with a comment!

Name two places on different continents that have similar sunshine/rainfall/wind and temperature patterns to here. Last question of The Big Here Quiz

So I have to find a place in Europe and a place in Asia (if I stick to the same latitude of North 42 degrees) where there are similar sunshine, rainfall, wind, and temperature patterns as my home. Except, I live beside The Great Lakes which is very different than living by the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, or the Mediterranean sea. And somehow I think Windsor is quite different than the border of China and Mongolia.

Its the last question of The Big Here Quiz and I'm afraid its going to end with a whimper rather than a bang. I'm not going to give an answer.

What was the dominant land cover plant here 10,000 years ago? Q33 of The Big Here Quiz

According to The Ancient Life of the Great Lakes Basin: Precambrian to Pleistocene by J. Alan Holman

In summary, by 10,000 years ago the forest vegetation in southern Michigan had become more diverse, with mixed forests of white and red pine, yellow and paper birth, aspen, oak, white ash, red and white elm, and blue beech.

What other cities or landscape features on the planet share your latitude? Q32 of The Big Here Quiz

Windsor, Ontario is approximately at 42 degrees North - the same degree of latitude that separates Oregon from Northern California. Barcelona, Spain and Rome, Italy are a little more than 41 degrees North.

What species once found here are known to have gone extinct? Q31 of The Big Here Quiz

From the History of the Ojibway Prairie Complex:
  • The Greater Prairie Chicken
  • Trumpeter Swan
  • Eastern Elk
  • Passenger Pigeons
  • Northern Bobwhite

How many days till the moon is full? Q30 of The Big Here Quiz

The moon will be full in 8 days. It will be a pink moon except to those followers of The New Jack Almanac. To them, it will be a playoffs moon.

Where is the nearest wilderness? When was the last time a fire burned through it? Q29 of The Big Here Quiz

Another easy one. The closest "wilderness" is The Ojibway Prairie Complex and its last fire was in 2003.

After the rain runs off your roof, where does it go? Q28 of The Big Here Quiz

I'm not sure how to verify my answer to this one. Assuming that the water doesn't get into the storm water sewer system, I would think that the water makes its way into the soil and then...

1) evaporate;
2) contribute to the soil's moisture
3) be used up by a plant;
4) collect in an aquifer somewhere below; or
5) make its way to the Detroit River

Its another one of those questions that is easy to answer with a principle ("the ground water cycle") but very hard to answer with something specific ("water in my neighbourhood collects underground and travels out via the stream").

Where does your electric power come from and how is it generated? Q27 of The Big Here Quiz

The source of electricity is the "grid". But there are two power generators nearby that one would think supplies the local demands:

Brighton Beach Power Station is a natural gas-fired combined cycle electricity generating facility with a nameplate capacity of 580 MW located in Windsor... The facility is fuelled by natural gas supplied by Union Gas Distribution infrastructure. The plant delivers both 115 kV and 230 kV to the Ontario grid at the J. Clark Keith substation which feeds into the Ontario electricity market administered by the Independent System Operator.
The Lambton coal-fuelled generating station (GS) is located on the St. Clair River, in St. Clair Township, 26 km south of Sarnia, Ontario. Its four generating units are capable of producing 1,976 megawatts (MW) of power. The station's annual production is in the range of 11 billion kilowatt-hours.

According to the Ontario Clean Air Alliance (of which the City of Windsor is a member [!]), the Lambton Generator Plant is Ontario's #2 polluter (pdf).

What minerals are found in the ground here that are (or were) economically valuable? Q26 of The Big Here Quiz

Halite (natural salt) and Anhydrite
Ojibway Mine, Windsor, Essex Co., Ontario, Canada
ref: Geological Survey of Canada Miscellaneous Report 39.

In dolomitic limestone and limy shale. The main salt bed is 8.2 m thick and is at a depth of 289 m to 297 m below the surface. Another bed is 9 m above it. The salt is exceptionally pure containing less than 2 per cent impurities. The salt beds occur in the Salina Formation of Silurian age.
Amherstburg Quarry, near Windsor, crude large xls;
5 localities in R.Traill, Cat.of Can.Mins., GSC Paper 80-18, 1983

[In the mid 1800's, thousands came to Windsor every summer to visit the sulphur springs in Brighton Beach, just outside of Sandwich... more]

Name 3 wild species that were not found here 500 years ago. Name one exotic species that has appeared in the last 5 years. Q25 of The Big Here Quiz

I'm going to answer the second part first - as its easy: in 2002, the Emerald Ash Borer was identified in the Windsor area. (Living in the Great Lakes area makes you very aware of the problem of invasive species).

The first part of the question bothers me. By using the word, 'wild' I'm assuming the question is about animal migration - but how well versed are we in animal migrations from 500 years ago?

Ah, it appears that Kevin Kelly has had second thoughts on this question as well...

If I could re-write this question, I would ask about now extinct life that once resided where you lived -- if only to write about the now extinct giant beaver that once grew to 2/3 the size of a black bear.

What primary geological processes or events shaped the land here? Q24 of The Big Here Quiz

In the beginning (about 2 billion years ago) "two tectonic plates fused and created the Midcontinent Rift, forming a valley that was the basis of Lake Superior. When a second fault line, the Saint Lawrence rift, formed approximately 570 million years ago, the basis for Lakes Ontario and Erie was created, along with what would become the St. Lawrence River." Molten magma caused "the highlands to sink and form a mammoth rock basin that would one day hold Lake Superior." Then the geological process of glaciation defined the area which we now know as the (Laurentian) Great Lakes.