Sunday, January 25, 2015
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

Red Cross honors community heroes

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Bridges of Yolo County: Wear, tear … repair?

By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Four days of unusual, adventuresome music

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Spanish police arrest 4 suspected members of a jihadi cell

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Rockets kill 30 in Ukrainian city as rebels launch offensive

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

Abe ‘speechless’ after video claims IS hostage dead

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
GOP presses state bills limiting gay rights before ruling

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

Abortion opponents express renewed hope at California rally

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Share your love (story) with us

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Sip wines at St. James’ annual tasting

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

 
Fake schools draw federal scrutiny

By The Associated Press | From Page: A3 | Gallery

Winter produce available at Sutter market

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

 
Vote for your favorites in Readers’ Choice poll

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

 
Donations to be distributed during homeless count

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A4

Speaker will share computer security tips

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Logos Books celebrates 5 years, offers language groups

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Australian olive oil company opens U.S. headquarters in Woodland

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

 
Pedal around Davis on weekly bike ride

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Explore at the YOLO Outdoor Expo

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Yolo animal shelter seeking rawhide donations

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A5

 
Woodland Healthcare employees take Great Kindness Challenge

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

At the Pond: Nest boxes give birds new homes

By Jean Jackman | From Page: A6 | Gallery

 
California ranks worst in nation for guidance counselors

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Words and Music Festival events

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A12

 
Davis, Woodland are saving water

By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A12

.

Forum

Family isn’t keen on relationship

By Creators Syndicate | From Page: A8

 
 
Caring for the aging mouth

By Samer Alassaad | From Page: A8

Big utilities’ nightmare begins to play out

By Tom Elias | From Page: A10

 
Mayor’s Corner: Let’s renew Davis together

By Dan Wolk | From Page: A10

We have the right to choose

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

 
We don’t have to suffer

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

City helped immensely

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

 
Rick McKee cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A10

When measles spreads from Disneyland, it’s a small world after all

By New York Times News Service | From Page: A11

 
From innovation parks to innovative buildings and planning

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11

.

Sports

Lady Devils hold off Pacers, stay perfect in league

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

 
Wildcats’ inaugural kids development league exceeds expectations

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Aggies get top 2015 gymnastics score, but fall short

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Loud crowd sees DHS boys win

By Spencer Ault | From Page: B1 | Gallery

UCD men take two tennis matches

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B8

 
Watney in ninth at Humana Challenge

By Staff and wire reports | From Page: B8

.

Features

.

Arts

.

Business

Davis man focusing on cannabidiol business

By Will Bellamy | From Page: A9

 
Marrone Bio’s Regalia approved for new uses in Canada

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9

 
UCD grad makes insurance ‘hot 100′ list

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

Yolo County real estate sales

By Zoe Juanitas | From Page: A9

 
.

Obituaries

Thomas George Byrne

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

 
.

Comics

Comics: Sunday, January 25, 2015

By Creator | From Page: B8