Wednesday, October 1, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Kansas isn’t as flat as you think

By Jerome E. Dobson and Joshua S. Campbell

Which U. S. state is flattest? In a recent nationwide poll, 33 percent of respondents said Kansas and 23 percent said Florida.

Florida is correct by any measure. Its highest point is only 345 feet above sea level, so no local view can have much relief. Yet 77 percent of all national respondents, including 62 percent of Floridians, failed to recognize how overwhelmingly flat the place is.

Kansas? The Great Plains as a whole are not as flat as people imagine. Any mildly alert observer can see that most of Kansas is rolling to quite hilly. When people visit us in eastern Kansas, they almost always express surprise that our terrain is not as flat as they expected. Yet the state’s reputation is so pervasive that flatness typically leads the conversation whenever we visit other parts of the country and introduce ourselves as being from Kansas.

In 2003, a team of clever geographers from Texas and Arizona published a spoof proving that “Kansas is flatter than a pancake.” Their conclusion was widely reported by news media and accepted as true by a public already inclined to believe that Kansas is flat.

Lee Allison, then director of the Kansas Geological Survey, conjectured that all states, including Kansas and Colorado, are flatter than a pancake. Our calculations prove him right. Indeed, Kansas would need a mountain higher than Mount Everest in order to not be flatter than a pancake. Imagine your favorite slumping, tilting, bubble-pocked flapjack stretched to the size of a state, and you will understand why.

It may be easy to calculate a state’s flatness based on the difference between its lowest and highest points, but that’s not how people really experience it. They cannot perceive what they cannot see, and the curvature of the Earth limits any flat surface view to only about 3.3 miles.

We performed a quantitative analysis of the contiguous United States, employing geographic software, digital elevation data and a new algorithm for measuring flatness. We took as our measure the viewpoint of a person standing on any spot and looking toward the horizon in all directions. We repeated the calculation every 295 feet across the entire United States, and the computation ran for 36 hours on a fairly powerful desktop computer. We aggregated these calculations for each state and determined flat land as a percentage of each state’s total area. Kansas came in No. 7.

Which state is the second flattest behind Florida? Which state is least flat? We have solid answers.

Illinois ranks second. Even before starting our analysis, we agreed that Central Illinois is the flattest place we ever see as we drive across the country.

Which state falls dead last? At least John Denver got that right when he sang, “West Virginia, mountain mama.”

Our Geographical Review article, “The Flatness of U.S. States,” contains maps and tables ranking all states except Hawaii and Alaska.

And for those clever spoofers, Texas ranks eighth, only one notch behind Kansas, and Arizona ranks 14th.

— Jerome E. Dobson is president of the American Geographical Society, professor of geography at the University of Kansas, and Jefferson Science Fellow with the National Academies and U.S. Department of State.

Joshua S. Campbell is a geographer and GIS architect with the Humanitarian Information Unit, Office of The Geographer and Global Issues, U.S. Department of State.

Comments

comments

Special to The Enterprise

.

News

Jury: Marsh legally sane during murders

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Undocumented Student Center offers help to immigrants

By Julia Ann Easley | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Rairdan supports more inquiry-based learning

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Standing In: Don’t write? I may as well stop breathing

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A2

 
Woodland man convicted in domestic violence case

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

Apply soon to be a Master Gardener

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

 
Katehi will address Rotarians on Monday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

 
Mondavi Center hosts all-star lineup of classical, jazz, dance and more

By Enterprise staff | From Page: C3 | Gallery

Willett students sensitized to those who are different

By Maria Clayton | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Friends of the Library host biggest book sale of the year

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Give blood and get a free movie ticket

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

 
Pedal around Davis on weekly bike ride

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

‘Edible City’ discussion planned

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

 
TSA bomb training may be noisy

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

AIM testing dates set this fall, winter

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A4

 
Tour Honey Bee Haven on Friday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Woodland City Cemetery tours planned

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
 
‘ADHD — Myth or Reality’ addressed at UCD talk

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Quotes from the Marsh double-murder trial

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A5 | Gallery

 
UCD athletics have break-from-work entertainment for everyone

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: C5 | Gallery

Quad abuzz with students

By Tanya Perez | From Page: A7 | Gallery

 
Wetlands visitors may see ducks arriving

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A10 | Gallery

Boy Scouts host family event in park

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A10

 
How did the Aggies get their name?

By Enterprise staff | From Page: C12

.

Forum

Hey, it’s free childcare …

By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

 
Will you open your heart, and your home?

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

 
The right vote for education

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

Just what Davis schools need

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

 
Tom Meyer cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6

Nolan’s a calm voice of reason

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

 
.

Sports

DHS girls tennis team tames Lions

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Devil girls play dynamite pool defense

By Spencer Ault | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Davis volleyballers finish strong at Franklin

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

 
Hard-working Blue Devil boys get a water polo win

By Spencer Ault | From Page: B1 | Gallery

A’s fall as AL wild-card game lives up to its name

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Legacy roundup: Milliennium takes Manteca tournament

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2

AYSO roundup: Beans, Capay can’t shake each other in U19 play

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Alliance roundup: Los Azules, Italia win tourneys

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3 | Gallery

Sports briefs: Real Salt Lake has too much for Republic

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B8

 
.

Features

From the ground up: Rediscovering classic cheesecake

By Ann Evans | From Page: A10 | Gallery

 
.

Business

.

Obituaries

Leonard D. Blackford

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

 
Anne Elizabeth Elbrecht

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

.

Comics

Comics: Wednesday, October 1, 2014

By Creator | From Page: A8