Two important geography snippets this week: forensic and biogeography. (a) Forensic geography: Ocean currents, winds, and waves in action – will these help grieving people from fifteen nations who lost their loved ones in mysterious tragedy? (b) Biogeography: Ants and their geographic distribution, and how you can do some fun exploring online.

Missing flight MH370

On 8 March 2014, at 01:19MYT (Malaysian Time), Malaysian airlines flight MH370, made its last contact with air traffic controllers. It had taken at 00:41 MYT, from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia en route to Beijing, China. On board were twelve Malaysian crew members and 227 passengers from fifteen nations (including Malaysia).

After that last contact, military radar tracked the aircraft over the northern Andaman Sea. After that, no trace of the aircraft.

Many nations immediately mobilized a coordinated and cooperative search for the missing plane. Alas, the search was futile. Grieving loved ones are still trying to find out what happened.

Until 29 July 2015.

On a beach on Saint-Andre, in the island nation of Reunion, something that looked like part of a wing of an aeroplane washed up. This is quite far from the location where the MH370 was estimated to have disappeared. How did it get there? Winds, ocean currents, and waves – these are the forces that have brought this piece to Reunion. The piece was transported to Toulouse, France and has now been confirmed to be a piece of MH370. Slowly, the mystery may yet be solved.

Where are the ants?

One morning in the late 1990s, on my way to work at the university where I taught in the USA, I was listening to an interview on the radio. The guest was Professor E.O. Wilson, a world-famous entomologist (expert in the study of insects). He was talking about ants and their importance. I still remember something he said: “If all the ants were to disappear tomorrow, the world would collapse in a very short time. If all the humans were to disappear tomorrow, the world would hardly notice it.”

These important insects come in a very wide variety across the world. But not all ants are found everywhere. There are patterns to their distribution.

Now, you can see an interactive atlas of ant distributions online.  It is a very interesting and informative map. You can also observe several interesting aspects of maps and mapping. Check it out.

Then go to this excellent ecology blog post and check out some of the ants that are found in southern India and Bengaluru in particular.

Below, I list a few things you can do. If you do these, you will be able to:

  • Understand the importance of ocean and wind movements.
  • Understand the importance of international cooperation.
  • Appreciate how small we are compared to the vastness of Earth.
  • Appreciate those marvels of nature: ants and how many different species of these are known.
  • Learn to look at geographic distribution and how useful it is in understanding our environment.

And a whole lot more!

Now, get going.

Things you can do:

  1. Read an overview of the story  and view an article that contains a good map showing you the distance traveled by the debris, and a “drift analysis” animated map (set the resolution to 480p). (All links open in a new tab/window)
  2. Why is France involved in all this?
  3. When you follow the timeline of MH370’s short journey, what were the corresponding times in India and in Beijing? Create a table to show these.
  4. Select names of ants that you may have seen (they may be listed in the ants blog post) and use the atlas to find out where else in the world they may be found.
  5. Explore the atlas for different ant species and observe patterns of their occurrence, e.g.: which latitudes do they seem to span, which countries are they native to, and so on. Hint: the legend on the map will help you with this.

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