The geography we learn as kids - where continents, countries, and rivers are - may or may not stick with us throughout our lives, but on the whole, we know what the planet looks like. Or so we thought.
We found out a lot of facts about geography in 2021 that make us question what we thought we knew. Maps reoriented us, comparisons blew our minds, and measurements changed how we view size entirely. Up, down, big, small - here are some of the Earth-shaking, world-shattering, and just plain mind-blowing things we learned about geography in 2021.
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Alaska Is The Easternmost, Northernmost, And Westernmost US State
It's somewhat intuitive to identify Alaska as the northernmost and westernmost state in the US. Spanning nearly 600,000 square miles, Alaska is the largest state in the country and sits at the most extreme northwest part of North America. Barrow, AK, also known as Utqiagvik, is the northernmost city, while the Aleutian Islands extend well into the Bering Sea.
What isn't so obvious is that Alaska is also home to the easternmost point in America. The far reach of the Aleutian Islands places Alaska in the Eastern Hemisphere - making it the easternmost state. The 180-degree meridian line goes through the Aleutian Islands. Among the islands that fall into the Eastern Hemisphere are Semisopochnoi, home to a variety of volcanic landforms, and Attu Island, a landmass Japan invaded during WWII.
Throughout the world, there are living languages, dead languages, and even languages that remain to be developed. Countries with diverse populations and large groups of people have individuals who speak native and foreign languages alike, but a relatively small part of the world is home to more than 840 different languages.
In Papua New Guinea, where roughly 9 million people live, the longevity of native languages is the result of its remote, isolated setting. While the math would indicate nearly 11,000 people per language in Papua New Guinea, the official languages of Papua New Guinea are English, Tok, sign language, and Hiri Motu.
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Over the last six decades, Mexico City has sunk 32 feet - and it continues to sink 3.2 feet every year. The city was built atop an enormous aquifer, which is also the source of most of its water. Currently, Mexico City consumes twice as much water from the aquifer as it replaces.
The rapid depletion of the aquifer means Mexico City is running out of water. Additionally, due to land subsidence, major buildings like the Metropolitan Cathedral at Zocalo Square are now struggling to remain upright.
Located in the South Pacific areas of Polynesia and Micronesia, about halfway between Hawaii and Australia, the tiny nation of Kiribati (pronounced "keer-ruh-bass") consists of Banaba Island and 32 atolls spread across three groups of islands (the Gilbert, Phoenix, and Line Islands). Boasting an estimated population of slightly more than 100,000, it is one of the poorest countries in the world. Once under the dominion of the United Kingdom, it gained its independence in 1979.
But what makes Kiribati unique is that it is the only country in the world located in each of the four hemispheres. The Phoenix Islands are located in the Southern Hemisphere while the Gilbert Islands lie in both the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere.
The prime meridian, which separates the Western Hemisphere and the Eastern Hemisphere, cuts through the nation. Kiribati's easternmost point lies in its southern Line Islands, while Banaba Island marks its westernmost point.
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Vulcan Point Is An Island In A Lake In A Volcano In A Lake In An Island
Welcome to Vulcan Point, otherwise known as the island within a lake within a volcano within a lake within an island.
To break down the specifics of this geographical and geological oddity, start with the island of Luzon in the Philippines. On that island is a large body of water called Lake Taal. The lake contains Taal Volcano - or Volcano Island - which is one of the most active volcanoes in the world (33 recorded eruptions).
Located on Volcano Island, 10,000 feet above Lake Taal, is Main Crater Lake. And inside of that lake is Vulcan Point Island. So again, that's an island within a lake within a volcano within a lake within an island. Simple, right?
Except on January 12, 2020, when tragedy struck and Taal Volcano erupted, claiming 39 lives. The eruption also led to the Main Crater Lake drying up.
The flight - on an eight-seater Britten Norman Islander - goes from Westray to Papa Westray, two remote islands on Scotland's northeast coast. Teachers, doctors, police officers, and school pupils are common passengers. Officially, the flight is scheduled at 90 seconds; Guinness says it's two minutes if taxiing on the runway is included.