Posts Tagged ‘JRR Tolkien’

Tolkien’s Middle Earth mapped to Europe

January 9, 2014

Some 45 years ago when I first read Tolkien, I recall making (or trying to make) a relief map of Middle Earth on cardboard with crumpled paper and glue and paint and plasticene for the relief features. I never had the patience to get it quite finsished and it was too large to survive my many moves as a student. But maps and cartography have fascinated ever since.

I have just come across this map of Middle Earth which – I think – is about 10 years old. Peter Bird is Professor Emeritus at the Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences of UCLA and this map of Tolkien’s Middle Earth is from his personal page. Here he superimposes Middle Earth onto a Europe at a time when sea levels (in my estimation) were more than 100m lower than they are today. All very fanciful of course, but interesting and for me very nostalgic.

From Frank Jacobs at strange maps:

But, as Tolkien states in the prologue to ‘The Lord of the Rings’, it would be fruitless to look for geographical correspondences, as “Those days, the Third Age of Middle-earth, are now long past, and the shape of all lands has been changed…” And yet, that’s exactly what Peter Bird attempts with the map here shown. Bird, a professor of Geophysics and Geology at UCLA, has overlapped the map of Middle-earth with one of Europe, which leads to following locations:

  • The Shire is in the South-West of England, which further north is also home to the Old Forest (Yorkshire?), the Barrow Downs (north of England), the city of Bree (at or near Newcastle-upon-Tyne) and Amon Sul (Scottish Highlands).
  • The Grey Havens are situated in Ireland.
  • Eriador corresponds with Brittany.
  • Helm’s Deep is near the Franco-German-Swiss border tripoint, close to the city of Basel.
  • The mountain chain of Ered Nimrais is the Alps.
  • Gondor corresponds with the northern Italian plains, extended towards the unsubmerged Adriatic Sea.
  • Mordor is situated in Transylvania, with Mount Doom in Romania (probably), Minas Morgul in Hungary (approximately) and Minas Tirith in Austria (sort of).
  • Rohan is in southern Germany, with Edoras at the foot of the Bavarian Alps. Also in Germany, but to the north, near present-day Hamburg, is Isengard. Close by is the forest of Fangorn.
  • To the north is Mirkwood, further east are Rhovanion and the wastes of Rhûn, close to the Ural mountains.
  • The Sea of Rhûn corresponds to the Black Sea.
  • Khand is Turkey
  • Haradwaith is the eastern part of North Africa, Umbar corresponds with the Maghreb, the western part of North Africa.
  • The Bay of Belfalas is the western part of the Mediterranean.
Middle Earth by Peter Bird

Middle Earth by Peter Bird
Allowing for polar wander and sea level change, most sites are recognizable. The southern Hithaeglir and northern Ephel Duath have sunk, unless perhaps they were only illusions that have been dispelled.

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New Denisovan genome indicates inter-breeding with another, unknown, archaic human

November 19, 2013

The period some 30,000 – 50,000 years ago is getting positively crowded with different branches of humans. The direct ancestors of modern humans lived and interbred not only with Neanderthals and Denisovans but also apparently with still another, as yet unknown, branch of humans.

NatureNew genome sequences from two extinct human relatives suggest that these ‘archaic’ groups bred with humans and with each other more extensively than was previously known.

The ancient genomes, one from a Neanderthal and one from a different archaic human group, the Denisovans, were presented on 18 November at a meeting at the Royal Society in London. They suggest that interbreeding went on between the members of several ancient human-like groups living in Europe and Asia more than 30,000 years ago, including an as-yet unknown human ancestor from Asia. ..

… All humans whose ancestry originates outside of Africa owe about 2% of their genome to Neanderthals; and certain populations living in Oceania, such as Papua New Guineans and Australian Aboriginals, got about 4% of their DNA from interbreeding between their ancestors and Denisovans, who are named after the cave in Siberia’s Altai Mountains where they were discovered. The cave contains remains deposited there between 30,000 and 50,000 years ago. 

Those conclusions however were based on low-quality genome sequences, riddled with errors and full of gaps, David Reich, an evolutionary geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts said at the meeting. His team, in collaboration with Svante Pääbo at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now produced much more complete versions of the Denisovan and Neanderthal genomes — matching the quality of contemporary human genomes. The high-quality Denisovan genome data and new Neanderthal genome both come from bones recovered from Denisova Cave.

The new Denisovan genome indicates that this enigmatic population got around: Reich said at the meeting that they interbred with Neanderthals and with the ancestors of human populations that now live in China and other parts of East Asia, in addition to Oceanic populations, as his team previously reported. Most surprisingly, Reich said, the new genomes indicate that Denisovans interbred with another extinct population of archaic humans that lived in Asia more than 30,000 years ago, which is neither human nor Neanderthal.

It would seem that when the world was still in the grip of an ice age 30,000 – 50,000 years ago, the reality of human history was not so far away from Tolkien’s Middle Earth.  Ancient history but it was only 1,500 – 2,500 generations ago. Middle Earth was where men could breed with elves and hobbits were an off-shoot of men. The Druedain were also off-shoots of men and some – if not all – orcs were deliberately bred from elves while all trolls and dragons were artificially bred.

From the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment

from The biology of Middle eart - Tolkien Encyclopedia

from The biology of Middle Earth – JRR Tolkien Encyclopedia

Looking for the Entwives – new Berkeley model predicts forests will march polewards because of global warming

May 7, 2013

It is the Age of the Models.

Where physical experiments and real data are obsolete. Where experiments are virtual and data-sets are generated by Monte Carlo methods. Where a room with a computer is called a lab. Where outputs of one model become the inputs of another model – never to be sullied by real observations or data. Where the garbage in is never questioned and the garbage out  takes the place of reality.

When you have a model who needs data!

This is a press release (marketing bumf)  from Berkeley Labs to get publicity for a new paper: “Boreal carbon loss due to poleward shift in low-carbon ecosystems,”  published on Nature Geoscience’s website on May 5, 2013.

And when the Ents start marching Saru-Mann is doomed! (apologies to JRR T).

Press Release: 

…. New Berkeley Lab research offers a way to envision a warmer future. It maps how Earth’s myriad climates—and the ecosystems that depend on them—will move from one area to another as global temperatures rise.

The approach foresees big changes for one of the planet’s great carbon sponges. Boreal forests will likely shift north at a steady clip this century. Along the way, the vegetation will relinquish more trapped carbon than most current climate models predict.

Boreal ecosystems encircle the planet’s high latitudes, covering swaths of Canada, Europe, and Russia in coniferous trees and wetlands. This vegetation stores vast amounts of carbon, keeping it out of the atmosphere where it can contribute to climate change.

Scientists use incredibly complex computer simulations called Earth system models to predict the interactions between climate change and ecosystems such as boreal forests. These models show that boreal habitat will expand poleward in the coming decades as regions to their north become warmer and wetter. This means that boreal ecosystems are expected to store even more carbon than they do today. ….

But the Berkeley Lab research tells a different story. The planet’s boreal forests won’t expand poleward. Instead, they’ll shift poleward. The difference lies in the prediction that as boreal ecosystems follow the warming climate northward, their southern boundaries will be overtaken by even warmer and drier climates better suited for grassland.

And that’s a key difference. Grassland stores a lot of carbon in its soil, but it accumulates at a much slower rate than is lost from diminishing forests.

“I found that the boreal ecosystems ringing the globe will be pushed north and replaced in their current location by what’s currently to their south. In some places, that will be forest, but in other places it will be grassland,” says Charles Koven, a scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Earth Sciences Division who conducted the research.

“Most Earth system models don’t predict this, which means they overestimate the amount of carbon that high-latitude vegetation will store in the future,” he adds.

Treebeard the Ent

Wow! paraphrasing Dr. Koven — “All other models are crap. Mine is the real thing”.

Koven’s results come from a new way of tracking global warming’s impact on Earth’s mosaic of climates. The method is based on the premise that as temperatures rise, a location’s climate will be replaced by a similar but slightly warmer climate from a nearby area. The displaced climate will in turn shift to another nearby location with a slightly cooler climate. It’s as if climate change forces warmer climates to flow toward cooler areas, making everywhere warmer over time.

This approach can help determine where a given climate is going to in the future, and where a given climate will come from.

Koven applied this approach to 21 climate models. He used simulations that depict a middle-of-the-road climate change scenario, meaning the range of warming by the end of this century is 1.0°C to 2.6°C above a 1986 to 2005 baseline. …..

….. In general, he found that climates move toward the poles and up mountain slopes. In parts of South America, warmer climates march westward up the Andes. In the southern latitudes, warmer climates head south.

dancing tree woman i entwives and other beauties av

An Entwife? (from http://www.myspace.com)

But the most dramatic changes occur in the higher latitudes. Here, boreal ecosystems will have to race poleward in order to keep up with their climates. They’ll also be encroached by warmer climates from the south. By the end of this century, a forest near Alberta, Canada will have to move 100 miles north in order to maintain its climate. And it will gain a climate that is now located 100 miles to the south.

Forests can’t adapt this quickly, however, meaning that in the short-term they’ll be stressed. And in the long-term they’ll be forced to move north and give up their southern regions to grassland.

Only one of the Earth system models shows this precipitous loss of carbon in southern boreal forests. Koven says that’s because most models don’t account for random events such as fire, drought, and insects that kill already-stressed trees. His “climate analogue” approach does account for these events because they’re implicit in the spatial distribution of ecosystems.

In addition, Earth system models predict carbon loss by placing vegetation at a given point, and then changing various climate properties above it.

“But this approach misses the fact that the whole forest might shift to a different place,” says Koven.

So it is climate model outputs as input to his model to give Dr. Koven his marching boreal forests.  Garbage in and Garbage out. But not a word about the Entwives and where they are to be found.

Somehow I find JRR  T is a lot more readable  — and much more convincing.


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