#AntarcticAlphabet: G is for geography

The map is not the geography. Its presentation, our knowledge, is always partial, biased and incomplete, in the process of becoming. We measure the unknown on maps, progress towards a new geography. Our inching forwards (or backwards) takes us to a new place, or an old place seen again for the first time, or maybe just the news. (Wars, after all, reflect and recreate the map, though less so than agriculture.)

Genetics thrives on maps; we capture the genome, extract the DNA pellets, translate the bases into codes we can read, and believe we have mapped the organism’s potential. (‘The homosexuality gene’ scream the tabloid headlines.) Yet that map too is focused and bound by place and new environments; it will morph under pressure of scarcity or competition. The Tristan thrushes, blown to that isolated corner by some long ago storms, become opportunistic gangsters, taking down petrels many times their size. Their cousin, your trilling garden friend, would never do such a thing; she has no need.

Genetics teaches us geography. Across sub-Antarctica (beyond Aotearoa) there is just one species of giant kelp, yet in northern Chile and California, in the older rafts and forests, species proliferate. A map will tell us distribution, and the genome maps the speciation. Andean glaciation gives us a key to this bizarre arrangement. The ice, inching west from the mountains to the sea, cut apart the onward march of family macrocistys pyrifera, a rift from which it has not yet recovered. Geography changes with time, does not stay still: the jigsaw pieces are identified and assembled in labs, on dives and on mountainsides. There is no betraying box showing us the completed picture; we are always just getting the gist.

Bookmark the permalink.


  1. LIKE IT!

  2. Philosophy cloaked in Science!! 🙂

Comments are closed