The Circle Visible From Space
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I don’t think there’s a better example of how
humanity changed the landscape of New Zealand than right here, at this dividing line between
wild forest and managed farmland. It’s a little bit difficult to see close up,
though. For the best view, you need to go a few kilometres
that way. In the centre of that circle is Mount Taranaki, a stratovolcano on the west coast of New Zealand’s
North Island. And from six kilometres up, the landscape
looks bizarre: there are very few large-scale circular features
like that in the world. Taranaki is also one of the most symmetrical
volcanoes on the planet, which adds to the effect. This mountain is one of the natural features
of New Zealand that’s been granted the
legal rights of a person, in sort of the same way that corporations
are considered people in a lot of countries. Although the nuances of that, and the history of war and land confiscation
that got us to this point, is something that this British tourist is
not qualified to talk about. So I’ll put some links at the end of the video
and in the description. Before humans arrived in New Zealand,
about 700 years ago, most of the country looked
something like this: dense forest. Not that exact species of tree everywhere, but certainly that sort of haven
for wildlife and birds. Māori settlers cleared some of it after they
landed here, but the European settlers,
a few centuries later, they cleared forest on an industrial scale. Trees that were valuable for construction
were cut down, and anything else was burned, making way for this sort of pastureland. About half of New Zealand was eventually converted
to grasslands for grazing for imported species of animals,
on imported species of grass. The national government reserved
an area around that peak, to help defend against flash floods and erosion. In 1900, that area became a National Park, defined as a circle six miles in radius from
the summit of the mountain, plus a few other interesting parts
on the edge. Farmers, of course, cleared everything up
to that circle, as far as they could legally go, and the result was this mathematical line
made real, this wonderful view out the window as you
fly from Auckland to Wellington. Although at some point, that flight’s going
to become a bit more difficult. As is living around here. Because Taranaki is not an extinct volcano. Under that rock, there’s still
magma ready to go: Taranaki is active, just quiet right now,
and it’s overdue. On average, there’s at least a minor eruption
every 90 years. And it’s been more than 150
since the last one. One study said there’s an 80% chance of some
sort of eruption in the next fifty years. There will be warning signs and
plenty of time to evacuate folks, but if it’s the big one, the government’s
civil defence evacuation plans describe the entire National Park as an area
where people “are unlikely to survive”. And it could shut down air traffic over most
of the North Island: engine-shredding ash will probably blow east
right into that flightpath. And the cone of the mountain
could collapse entirely, as it’s done several times in the eons when
humans weren’t around to see it. So if you are flying between Auckland and
Wellington any time soon, and the skies are clear: do enjoy the view. Because at some point, it’s going to change.

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