Interactive graph of changes in GDP/person and life expectancy in Mexico since 1800

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Aug 252012
 

Gapminder is a wonderful resource for an overview of all manner of things geographic. The link below will take a few minutes to load, but should then show how Mexico’s GDP/person (on a purchasing power parity basis) and life expectancy have changed since 1800. The size of the yellow circle for each year is proportional to Mexico’s total population, with a scale that can be user-modified at the bottom right of the graph. Hover your mouse over a circle for the year to be identified.

The early figures for GDP/person are unlikely to be very reliable, but once we reach the 20th century, the figures are based on better assumptions and data. After falls in GDP/person and life expectancy in the early stages of the Mexican Revolution (which began in 1910), both variables increased steadily until about 1926. While life expectancy has continued to rise since then, with the occasional dip, GDP/person shows some obvious “blips” such as the early 1950s when it fell quite sharply.

It is interesting to play with the chart and look at how GDP/person and life expectancy have changed for other countries.

To do this:

  1. Select one or more countries by clicking on them [each country is identified when your mouse hovers over it]
  2. Use the slider at the bottom of the chart to select the time period of interest
  3. Sit back and prepare to get engrossed in the world of Gapminder!

Rocks and relief fieldtrip: Tequisquiapan and the Peña de Bernal

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Jun 212012
 

There is a close connection between geology and relief in many parts of Mexico. In this post we describe a one-day fieldwork excursion in the Tequisquiapan area of the central state of Querétaro that looks at this connection. The fieldwork is suitable for high school students but could easily be extended to provide challenges for college/university students.

The fieldwork starts with a fieldsketch from near Tequisquiapan. Any suitable vantage point will do, provided it offers a clear view northwards to the very distinctive Peña de Bernal (seen in the background of the photo below). At this point, a simple line sketch should suffice to help students identify the following four different kinds of terrain:

  • flat or gently sloping plain, used for cultivation
  • low hills, with gently sloping sides, which look to be covered in bushes and cacti [scrub vegetation]
  • high mountains, with steeper slopes, also with no obvious signs of cultivation
  • the Peña de Bernal itself, a distinctive monolith with exceptionally steep sides

There is no need to identify any rocks or use any geological terms (students can add appropriate labels later!). Engage the students in a discussion about why there might be four different kinds of relief visible in this area, and how their ideas or hypotheses could be investigated further. Conclude the discussion by explaining that they are now going to look for evidence related to the idea that these four different kinds of relief are connected to significant differences in geology.

View looking north from "Las Cruces" near Tequisquiapan. Photo: Tony Burton; all rights reserved.

View looking north from "Las Cruces" near Tequisquiapan. Photo: Tony Burton; all rights reserved.

The next stop is a small roadside quarry on the flat area. The most accessible quarry many years ago was located a short distance south of Tequisquiapan on the east side of the highway, but any quarry on the flat land will serve to reveal the rocks that form the plain.

Roadside quarry, near Tequisquiapan. Photo: Tony Burton; all rights reserved

Roadside quarry, near Tequisquiapan. Photo: Tony Burton; all rights reserved

[Warning: Ensure that you park off the highway; when examining the rock in the quarry, avoid any overhanging sections, and do not do anything to cause slope instability or collapse].

The rocks in the quarry are in layers (sedimentary) and very distinctive. The individual particles of the rock are rough to the touch and sand-sized, so this is some kind of sandstone.

Some layers are more or less horizontal, but in places successive layers are laid down at a much steeper angle. This is “current bedding” and indicates that the rocks were formed by water, perhaps where a river entered a lake. The individual particles in the rock are not well-rounded, so have not traveled all that far.

Within each major layer, the material shows signs of sorting, with fine material sitting on top of coarse material. In some places, the sandstone contains small pebbles, so this rock is a sandstone conglomerate. Small casts of fossil shells can be seen in places, further suggesting it is a sedimentary rock deposited in a former lake.

A very thin white layer is present (at about head height in the photo). This layer is totally different to the sandstone conglomerate. It is fine material that has been compacted. Given the volcanic history of central Mexico, this is almost certainly a thin layer of volcanic ash that covered older rocks before being covered in turn by the next layer of sediments.

With some guidance, students should be able to work most of this out for themselves! The last stage at this stop is to ask why this rock forms the flat land in the area, rather than the hills. (Answer: softer, weaker, less resistant, easier to erode, etc).

The next stop is to take a look at the rock forming the low hills. The highway between Tequisquiapan and Ezequiel Montes (see map) conveniently cuts through a low ridge at San Agustín. This affords an opportunity to take a close look at the rock forming that ridge. [Warning: Ensure that you find a safe parking spot, and take every precaution, since traffic along this highway can be heavy and very fast-moving]

The rock at San Agustín is darker and much harder than the rock in the quarry. It has clear crystals in it, apparently arranged haphazardly. From its color (grey) and grainsize (fine), it is a rhyolite [a fine grained, acid igneous rock].  It is far more difficult to erode than the sandstone on the plain, so it forms upstanding ridges and low hills in the landscape.

From San Agustín, drive through Ezequiel Montes and on to the town of Bernal, one of Mexico’s “Magic Towns“. The next part is the most physically-challenging part of the excursion since it is necessary to climb at least part-way up the Peña de Bernal! [Warning: this is very steep in places, and climbing beyond the mid-way “chapel” is definitely not recommended]. Examining the rocks of the Peña de Bernal reveals that they are lighter in color than the rhyolite and fine-grained, but with larger crystals (phenocrysts) in some places. This rock must have cooled very slowly (or the phenocrysts would not have had chance to form) and this is an intrusive igneous rock known as microgranite. Eagle-eyed students should also find some other rocks while climbing the Peña de Bernal. In places, it is possible to find good specimens of a very hard, banded metamorphic rock that was formed when heat and/or pressure transformed pre-existing rocks. The banded rock is a gneiss [pronounced “nice”].

The presence of intrusive igneous rocks (formed underground) together with metamorphic rocks strongly suggest that the Peña de Bernal is an example of a volcanic plug. It represents the central part (and all that now remains) of a former volcano, whose sides, presumably composed of ashes and lava, have long since eroded away.

Conclusion:

After students have had chance to work most of this out for themselves, a look at the local geological map should confirm that their deductions are reasonable. As can be seen on the map below, the flat area is indeed an alluvial plain (sandstone), with low rhyolite hills and ridges in places, and higher rhyolite mountains in the background, with the distinctive Peña de Bernal made of igneous and metamorphic rocks at the northern edge of the map.

In this particular part of Mexico, as in many other areas, the link between geology and relief is very strong! Happy exploring!

Sketch map, Geology of the Tequisquiapan area

Sketch map, Geology of the Tequisquiapan area; click to enlarge

Related posts:

Mapping remittance flows to Mexico, a practical exercise

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Jan 262012
 

Looking for a practical exercise about migration and remittance flows to challenge your students?

Remittances (the funds sent by migrant workers back to their families) are a major international financial flow into Mexico. Remittances bring more than 20 billion dollars a year into the economy, an amount equivalent to 2.5% of Mexico’s GDP. On a per person basis, Mexico receives more worker remittances than any other major country in the world. An estimated 20% of Mexican residents regularly receive some financial support from relatives working abroad. Such remittances are the mainstay of the economies of many Mexican families, especially in rural areas of Durango, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Jalisco and Michoacán.

Two data tables [see link]  included in the World Bank Working Paper by Raúl Hernández-Coss, referred to in several previous posts, offer an ideal starting-point for practical mapping and analysis exercises for students. (The data is from 2004 but we are more interested in general patterns than precise values). The data tables are here:

A ready-made printable base map, showing the state boundaries of Mexico and USA, can be found here:

Suggested mapping exercises:

1. Which US areas have most Mexican migrants?

Use Column 2 (Mexican nationals living in this jurisdiction) of Table VI.A.1 and draw proportional circles on a base map to show which areas have most migrants. [To draw circles where the area of each circle is in direct proportion to the number of Mexican nationals, the first step is to calculate the square root of each number. These square roots are then used as the basis for working out the diameter (or radius) of the circle you draw for each location. The area of each circle is then proportional to the number of migrants. Remember to choose the most appropriate scale for the circles, so that it is easy to compare places. (If you draw very small circles, or super-large circles, they will be difficult to compare!)

2. Which US areas send the highest value of remittances back to Mexico?

Use column 4 of Table VI.A.1 to show the value of total “annual remittance flows” on a base map. You may be able to superimpose this information on the same base map you drew for Q1 which would make it very easy to see if the areas with most Mexican nationals send the most remittances back to Mexico each year. Can you see any anomalies on your map, either where an area sends far more remittances back than might be expected from the number of migrants, or where an area sends only a small value of remittances back despite having a very large number of Mexican nationals?

3. How does the “average remittance” (column 5 of Table VI.A.1 vary?

Use the available figures to see if you can identify any pattern to which areas send relatively large remittance payments, and which send much smaller average payments.

4. Where do all the remittance payments go?

Level One: Use the information from Table VI.A.2 to draw a map with arrows showing the largest single flows from each area in the USA to their corresponding state in Mexico.

Level Two: Work out the dollar value of the main remittance flows, by using the % figures given for some areas in Table VI.A.2 and their corresponding total annual remittance values from Table VI.A.1. (eg the value of the Los Angeles to Jalisco flow is 26% of $7,886.3 million). Then map the ten largest flows using flowlines (arrows where the width of each arrow is proportional to the value of remittances).

Look at the map or maps created and see if you can identify any patterns. If you can describe a pattern, then also look to see if you can find any anomalies, and try to explain your findings.

Related posts:

Food speculation fuels a tortilla crisis in Mexico

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Oct 292011
 

The Ecologist Film Unit has produced an excellent 8-minute video on how financial speculation on corn (maize) has led to a dramatic rise in the price of corn tortillas, with potentially disastrous effects for the health and well-being of the many of Mexico’s poorest. Reporter Tom Levitt’s video, accompanied by text, presents a compelling case, one which would be an excellent starting-point for class discussions.

Two short quotes set the scene:

“For many Mexicans, particularly the estimated 40 million living on less than $5 a day (£3), tortillas account for almost half of their average daily calorie intake. As a whole, the country consumes 23 times more maize than rice.”

“In 2000 there was $6 billion invested in commodities, by 2011 it was $340 billion, of which $126 billion, according to data from Barclays Capital, is reported to be invested in food. The vast majority of this new investment has been by speculators with no interest in the agricultural sector or in actually taking delivery of the commodity.”

The result? Higher prices for corn, greater unpredictability in prices, and adverse changes to the diet of tens of thousands, as corn becomes more expensive than meager household budgets permit.

The video is a powerful indictment of the harm being done to ordinary people in many parts of the developing world by rich-world market speculators and investment banks. Watch it now, or read the full article:

The maquiladora export landscape

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Oct 102011
 

InfraNet Lab is “a research collective probing the spatial byproducts of contemporary resource logistics.” Given its emphasis on spatial aspects, it includes many topics of interest to geographers.

InfraNet Lab was included on Planetizen’s 2009 list of the 10 best planning, design, and development websites. Planetizen describes InfraNet Lab as:

“An intense and directed blog focusing on the physical manifestations of controlling resources. It’s a fresh look at the impacts of modern world’s infrastructural needs and the intertwined networks between urbanism, architecture and landscape that result. With archives dating back to April 2008, InfraNet Lab offers a crash course in innovative ideas that reframe the infrastructure conversation around the impacts of human resource dependence and, ultimately, methods for making improvements. An insightful and inciting read for anyone feeling underwhelmed by the status quo of modern-day infrastructure.”

One post on InfraNet Lab of particular interest to us is the guest post by Juan Robles, following an InfraNet Lab seminar at Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto. Robles writes about the landscapes resulting from the growth of maquiladoras in Mexico. He looks at how the necessary infrastructures and networks for maquiladoras to succeed have developed, and how they have transformed the Mexico-US border area. The changes have certainly been profound:

“The ongoing processes of trade and communication that now integrate the 21st century regional economies have created numerous territories of abundance. Among these spaces the maquiladora landscape, in the northern border of Mexico, has seen the greatest change in the last 50 years.”

This is a well illustrated account of the spatial changes associated with maquiladoras, and includes a variety of useful maps and graphics.

Shanty towns support maquiladoras

Shanty towns support maquiladoras. Credit: Juan Robles/InfraNet Lab.

InfraNet Lab is a valuable resource for AP, A-level and IB. In InfraNet Lab’s words:

The globe’s networked ecologies of food, water, energy, and waste have established new infrastructures and forms of urbanism linking dispersed entities. These agglomerations evolve and shift as resources are uncovered or depleted. While these ecologies exist at the service of our contemporary lifestyles, they have typically remained hidden from view and from the public conscience. Yet as resources of food, fuel and water begin to run scarce, new resources are mined and new networks develop.

InfraNet Lab takes the view that “Long accepted patterns of globalization are being called into question as transportation costs soar and resources run scare, transforming mobility and trading patterns. New local, regional and international networks of goods, movement and trade are beginning to emerge.”

This means that InfraNet Lab offers some very valuable resources for courses such as the IB Geography’s Paper 3 for Higher Level students which looks at the impacts of all kinds of international interactions.

The financial flows involved in Mexico’s vehicle manufacturing industry

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Sep 192011
 

In previous posts, we have seen Where Mexico’s vehicle assembly plants are located, as well as looked at some of the reasons for Mexico’s success in this industrial sector and examined Mexico’s vibrant autoparts sector.

In this post we analyze the varied financial flows involved in the industry. Both local and international financial flows underpin vehicle manufacturing in Mexico.

financial flows

The following are some of the most important financial flows in the vehicle manufacturing sector.

  • International financial flows are in green
  • Domestic/local financial flows are in magenta

1. Foreign firms form Mexican subsidiaries and invest in Mexico; start-up capital to construct the factory and set up the business comes almost entirely from outside the country and enters Mexico as FDI. In recent years, FDI for auto firms has varied from $1 billion to $3 billion.

2. In many cases, local partners are involved, and they also contribute some of the start-up funds.

3. The factories employ workers, in some cases several thousand of them. These workers earn wages and spend most of their wages in the local economy. Each manufacturing job therefore has an economic multiplier effect, and generates more (indirect) jobs in the local economy. These jobs include positions in shops, services, transport, banking, auto-repair, etc. It is estimated that the economic multiplier for vehicle manufacturing is 3:1 – in other words, for every dollar spent in the industry three more are spent in the economy.

4. The factories purchase parts (components), some from Mexican suppliers, and some from overseas.

5. The factory produces vehicles, some of which are sold in the local market, via a series of vehicle distribution/sales points. This generates smaller two-way financial flows within the country.

6. Most of the parts and vehicles made in Mexican auto factories are exported. This generates another major financial flow, as purchasers overseas send funds back into Mexico to pay for their goods. This financial flow (a) allows production to continue and (b) generates profits for the factory owners (the car firms and shareholders).

7. The majority of these profits leaves Mexico, and is repatriated to the corporation’s home country, but both the workers in the factory, as well as the factory owners, pay taxes (state and federal) which remain in Mexico. In the case of shareholders, it is usually a financial flow towards their home country.

Previous posts in the mini-series:

Class exercise:

Use the description of financial flows above to draw an annotated diagram or a map to show the financial flows associated with the manufacturing of vehicles in Mexico. If you can think of additional flows that might be important, add those as well. Compare your diagram/map with that of other students and discuss the results.

Where are Mexico’s vehicle assembly plants located?

 Teaching ideas  Comments Off on Where are Mexico’s vehicle assembly plants located?
Aug 272011
 

Mexico is one of the world’s “Top Ten” countries for vehicle production and for vehicle exports. 75% of Mexico’s annual production of around 2 million vehicles are made for export. The industry attracts large amounts of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Vehicle assembly plants provide around 60,000 jobs, with a further 80,000 employed in distributorships nationwide and a whopping 420,000 employed in the autoparts sector. The combined exports of vehicles and autoparts bring 85 billion dollars a year into the Mexican economy.

There are more than 25 vehicle assembly plants in Mexico, manufacturing many brands of cars and trucks (see map). In addition, there are 1100 firms specializing in making parts for vehicles. In this post, we consider the location of vehicle assembly plants; in a later post we will look more closely at the characteristics of the vehicle assembly and autoparts industry in Mexico.

Vehicle assembly plants in Mexico, 2011

Vehicle assembly plants in Mexico, 2011. Credit: Tony Burton/Geo-Mexico; all rights reserved.

As the map shows, certain areas of Mexico have attracted more investment in vehicle assembly plants than other areas. The two largest existing concentrations are focused on Toluca in the State of México, and on Saltillo in northern Mexico. However, the fastest growing cluster is in the central state of Guanajuato, where two major plants are currently in the planning stages.

  • 1. What are the advantages and disadvantages of having several vehicle assembly plants in the same area?
  • 2. What the advantages and disadvantages of locating vehicle assembly plants far apart?
  • 3. Vertical linkages occur when one company controls many or all stages in the production of a product. For instance, an auto company may make its own engines and accessories to attach to the vehicles it makes. Horizontal linkages exist where one company is supplied with the components (engines, gearboxes) it needs by another company. What part do you think vertical and horizontal linkages might play when a major automaker decides where to locate a new vehicle assembly plant?
  • 4. Why are there no vehicle assembly plants in southern or eastern Mexico?
  • 5. What are the main reasons for the cluster of vehicle assembly plants near Mexico City and Toluca?
  • 6. Why has Ford chosen to locate its two plants in northern Mexico in different states?

Discuss your suggestions with your classmates and teacher. The answers to these questions should give you a useful list of the major factors that explain the distribution of vehicle assembly plants in any country, not just Mexico.

Related post:

A case study of clustering in a different industry

Aug 162011
 

In several previous posts we have looked at specific migration channels connecting Mexico to the USA:

A Mexican government website, for its Institute for Mexicans Abroad, has lots of statistics about the number of Mexicans registered at each of Mexico’s consulates (which number more than 40) in the USA, together with their state of origin. A series of handy interactive maps for 2008, 2009 and 2010 provide a quick overview of some of the major flows.

Hovering your mouse over any state in Mexico brings up details of which consulates in the USA attracted the highest number of registrations for migrants who originated from that state.

Example of map

Example of migration map, courtesy of Dr. Seth Dixon

By way of illustration, consider the patterns shown using the 2010 map for migrants who originated in the three states (Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo) forming the Yucatán Peninsula. It turns out that migrants from the state of Yucatán are far more concentrated than migrants from the other two neighboring states. About 60% of all migrants from the state of Yucatán who registered in Mexican consulates in the USA registered in either San Francisco, Los Angeles (both California) or Portland (Oregon).

For migrants from Campeche, the “top three” consulates are Omaha (Nebraska), Atlanta (Georgia) and Dallas (Texas), but these three account for only about 22% of all Campeche migrants registered with a consulate, meaning that the spread of migrants from Campeche is far less focused than that of migrants from Yucatán state.

In the case of Quintana Roo, the top three consulates for registrations are San Francisco (California), Atlanta (Georgia) and Dallas (Texas); these three account for almost 40% of all registrations of migrants from Quintana Roo.

Identifying a pattern, or variations between the patterns for several states is one thing; explaining it is another!

Q. What factors might influence the differences in patterns noted for the three states of the Yucatán Peninsula?

Aug 082011
 

Durango has long been considered the scorpion capital of Mexico (even the local soccer team became known as Los Alacranes, the Scorpions). At one point in the past, the city paid a bounty for each scorpion killed. Some historical accounts suggest that the scorpion catch rose dramatically, until the local authorities realized that some families had started their own financially lucrative scorpion-breeding programs.

These days, few scorpion stings are reported in Durango, partly because Durango’s scorpion hunters (alacraneros) catch and kill thousands each rainy season; prime specimens are encased in souvenir key rings and wall clocks sold in the local market. They also supply medical research labs.  Research in one lab at the University of California has isolated several peptides that appear to suppress the immune system, promising another way to prevent transplant rejection.

Lourival Possani, and his colleagues at Mexico’s National University (UNAM) have discovered a toxin (named scorpine) in scorpion venom that slows down the growth of malaria parasites in fruit flies; if similar techniques work in malarial mosquitoes, it may be possible to dramatically reduce the spread of malaria.

About 250,000 people in Mexico are stung by scorpions each year—more people than in any other country. Several dozen people die each year. Indeed, for the past 20 years, scorpion stings have been the leading reason in Mexico for  deaths due to adverse reactions and poisoning caused by venomous plants and animals. There are more than 200 different species of scorpions in Mexico, of which only 8, all belonging to the genus Centruroides are a significant public health risk. The map shows the areas defined by Mexico’s Health Secretariat as being of High, Medium and Low risk for dangerous scorpions.

Mortality remains higher in the smallest settlements, and is greatly reduced in mid-sized and large settlements. This is a function of both the reduced proximity of medical care in small settlements and of the higher numbers of scorpions/10,000 people in less urbanized settings. The highest mortality rates by age occur in the 0-1 years group (7 deaths/million), followed by the 1-4 age group (3.8/million) and the 60+ years group (0.8/million) (all data from http://www.scielo.br/pdf/rpsp/v21n6/05.pdf)

Scorpion risk in Mexico

Scorpion risk in Mexico (Secretaria de Salud)

Fortunately, progress is being made. The number of recorded deaths from scorpion stings [1] has fallen from more than 1,000/year in the 1950s to 285 in 1995, about 80 in 2003, and 57 in 2005. This improvement is the result of public health campaigns stressing the importance of seeking emergency treatment and of the development of antivenin serum (known as Alacramyn in Mexico and Anascorp in the USA). Mexico’s antivenin industry, led by the Bioclon Institute, is world class, exporting serum to the USA and Australia as well as throughout Latin America. The biggest threat from scorpions comes from central and northern states in Mexico, including several along the Pacific Coast: Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima, Michoacán and Guerrero.

According to UNAM’s Biomedical Investigation Institute, 277,977 people in Mexico reported scorpion stings in 2010. In the first five and a half months of 2011, 98,818 people in Mexico have been stung. The five states with the highest incidence of reported scorpion stings are: Jalisco (19,995), Guerrero (15,769), Morelos (13,123), Guanajuato (12,326) and Michoacán (10,597).

The incidence of scorpion stings rises sharply in summer when higher temperatures encourage scorpions to leave their lairs and go exploring.

Q. What other factors, besides the ones mentioned in this post, might help explain the pattern of risk shown on the map? Hint – can you think of things that the states shown as “high risk” — or the “low risk” ones — have in common?

– – – – –

[1] A Google search using the terms “scorpion”, “deaths” and “Mexico” finds dozens of websites all claiming that “In Mexico, 1000 deaths from scorpion stings occur per year.” This includes the two highest ranking sites in the results here and here, for articles dated 14 April 2011 and 20 August 2009 respectively. Given that 1000 deaths/year from scorpions has not been true for 20+ years, perhaps it’s time for these sites  to update their data by referring to Geo-Mexico!

Some rural areas are more rural then others

 Excerpts from Geo-Mexico, Teaching ideas  Comments Off on Some rural areas are more rural then others
Jul 022011
 

We all recognize that some cities are more urban than others. For example, Mexico City is considered more urban that a town of 20,000. By the same token, some rural communities are more “rural” than others. For example, a small settlement located near a city or along a main road would be considered less rural than an equally sized settlement in a more isolated area.

CONAPO's categories of rural area applied to eastern Michoacán

CONAPO's categories of rural area applied to eastern Michoacán. Credit: Tony Burton; all rights reserved.

The National Population Council (CONAPO) classifies rural localities into four groups based on accessibility to cities, towns and roads. The map shows how these four groups relate to a region in the eastern part of Michoacán state.

Suggested classroom exercise:

Appendix B of Geo-Mexico gives the percentages for each of these four rural groups in each state. What would be the best way to map the figures for the percentages of rural groups in each state?

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