Racing Islands

Last weekend was a dead one for Formula 1 racing.  The previous week had the race in Monte Carlo and this weekend, they’re in Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix.  The track is located on Île Notre-Dame and uses the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.  For me, the most notable part of the circuit is the Hairpin although the "Wall of Champions" has to be a close second.  I’m fascinated by the amount of money that goes into this racing series.  Imagine the cost of packing up all the teams and cars and coming into Montreal for a two hour race and then heading back to Europe.  It makes sense to me that the US Grand Prix would be run back to back with the Canadian race but it doesn’t appear on the schedule until November.

So, what do you do on a dead weekend of Formula 1 racing?  You turn to the other series and last weekend the Detroit Grand Prix was run on Belle Isle.  For Detroit, it was a great opportunity to showcase the community to the racing world.  The race was marred with the incident of the track but a red flag enabled some repairs to be made mid-race.

Because of the race stoppage, there was a great deal of time for the announcers to fill in with some more material and one of the facts shared was that Belle Isle was the biggest island park in the United States.  I thought that was pretty impressive and so fired up Google Earth to check it out for myself.  Impressive.  As I was doing this, I thought how strange it was that the IndyCar race and Formula 1 races were both on islands on consecutive weeks.  Ever curious, I wondered how Belle Isle and Île Notre-Dame compared in size.  I don’t have a mapping program on my computer but I’ve used some web-based utilities in the past with success so decided to give that a shot.

Bookmarked for moments like this is Google Planimeter.  What’s neat about this resource is that it overlays Google Maps and allows you to draw pins around an area on the earth and get some measurements.  So, I’m off to Montreal and pin off the area of interest.

According to the measurements, it’s 116.9 hectares from what I roped off on the man-made island.

Next stop, the middle of the Detroit River.  You can see Belle Isle from Windsor’s Riverside Drive and on race weekends, you can certainly hear the cars.  Here’s what Belle Isle looks like.

And, according to this measurement, Belle Isle is 376.8 hectares.  So, it’s considerably bigger!

But, the bigness appears to be in the width of the island.  I wonder…

Another web utility that does an intriguing job at times like this is Mapfrappe.  It has an interesting approach.  The program provides the user with two maps.  You locate two locations – in this case for me, both islands.  The program adjusts the scale of the maps so that you’re looking at both with the same proportions (or roughly the same proportions – the site deals with the issue of projections at different locations in the world.)

So, I’m on a roll.  I locate Belle Isle on the first map and Île Notre-Dame on the second one.  I check the scale in the bottom left to make sure that both images have the same scale and draw out Belle Isle.

What happens next is very cool!  The image that I’ve drawn is overlaid on the second map.  Of course, it’s even more impressive if you’ve centred the second map first but it’s not a big problem.  You can pick up and move the map until you get it just where you want under the drawing.

The overlay of the two makes for some very interesting comparisons.  There definitely is a visible difference in width of the two islands.  The only thing that would have put this over the top would have been the ability to rotate one of the islands.  I supposed if I really wanted, I could fire up Photoshop and do some editing but I got what I wanted as described above.

Having maps and world images so accessibly available on the computer opens a whole new world of exploration and deeper understanding of things geographic.  I really like the ability to overlay a known area on top of an unknown area to put things in perspective.

There are some very interesting things that you can do with overlays.  I really like "The True Size of Africa".  It just takes a little inquisitiveness and the right tools.

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