Sunday, October 27, 2013

My longest night...

Now that it is Halloween, the amount of daylight is really low compared to when I arrived almost three months ago.  I guess that is what happens at 60.45 degrees North...

Since I love numbers and geography, I decided to look up exactly how little daylight we currently have here in Turku, and compare it to the shortest day of the year in Michigan.  It turns out that just three days ago the day length here was less than Michigan's shortest day (9:04:44), meaning that each night from now until the winter solstice is the longest night I have ever experienced.  Cool!

And now some cool pictures of the night (from the last few weeks), since there is so much time to take pictures of it:

One of the cool things about being this far north is that the ice crystals in the air can make moon rings!
Baltic Sea at night.  Notice the frost on the dock, and the wet footprints from running from the sauna into the cold water!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A (brief) History of Mining in Finland

When I was researching Finnish forestry for an earlier post, I learned that Finland has a multicentury history of sustainably exploiting their forest resources, which I think might be a significant contributor to their modern culture of sustainability.  While this is in obvious contrast to other European countries that at various points were almost completely deforested for their shipbuilding industry (looking at you England, Denmark, and probably many others...), it also made me wonder why Finland ended up focusing on their renewable forest resources rather than nonrenewable resources, like minerals, as many other countries have decided to.  It could be for some cultural reasons, but that would be a difficult hypothesis to test, so I began thinking about other possibilities.  Is it for geologic reasons (e.g. they are missing these minerals)?  Is it for economic reasons (e.g. the forest resources are valuable enough)?  How about political reasons (e.g. government has never encouraged mining or has bad laws)?  Fortunately, I am currently on a field trip studying the ore geology of Finland, which seemed like the perfect place to ask a lot of silly questions.

Learning about the Rapakivi granites on our geology field trip from Professor Krister Sundblad.

One of the main ways valuable minerals form, especially those that sought over the last couple hundreds of years (gold, silver, iron, copper), are when water gets heated by magma that approaches the surface.  This often happens near the boundaries of tectonic plates as they collide or pull apart.  Without going too much further into detail, Finland and the rest of the Nordic Countries are made up of many of these areas that have been stuck together throughout geologic time.  However, the mines that currently exist are not huge on the global scale -- some of the biggest Finnish mines contain on the order of 100 Megatons of ore, while the largest mine in the world is the El Teniemente mine in Chile, which is around 10,000 Megatons.

Oil basically does not exist in Finland because the most recent ice age removed pretty much everything down to the ancient (up to 1.9 billion years old!) bedrock, then left new (around 10,000 years old) sediment on top.  Oil and other petroleum resources are pretty much never found in these types of locations.


One important factor is that in order to search for ore deposits and begin mining, there must be the economic desire.  While it could be argued that these deposits are always worth it (as in "who doesn't love gold?!"), I believe that Finns have never really had the desire to look for it in their country.  The best example of this is that Finland currently has the biggest gold mine in Europe, but they did not start mining until the price of gold shot up in the mid-2000s.  In other words, Finland's small mine size could just be because mineral prices could be too low to for them to bother finding or exploiting larger ones.


Finnish politics until 1809 were run by Swedish politics, since it was part of that country.  From 1809-1917, it was an autonomous duchy in Russia, meaning it was technically Russian but actually just kept doing things the way they had under Swedish rule.  So, we should look to the historic attitudes of mining in Sweden.

In the early 1600s, Sweden was ruled by Gustav II Adolf, who among many other things (not least among them, expanding the Swedish empire to its maximum borders) encourage mining in both Sweden and Finland.  He began mining in Sweden at some of the oldest still-operated mines in the world, and even sent people to Finland to study how to find new ore deposits.  One such guy invented a technique we still use today that involves tracing glacial erratic boulders containing ore back based on the direction the glaciers came.  And he did that without knowing that glaciers had even even existed or were capable of such action!  King Gustav II Adolf even supported mining enough to pay personal visits to mines, such as one we visited on our field trip.  So, it seems that Finland has been open to mining, it therefore must be some other reason that they have not been avid miners.

Summary for the lazy reader:

Finland throughout time has been focused on exploitation of renewable forest resources rather than nonrenewable mineral resources, which I think is a possible root cause of its its modern sustainability.  Swedish-ruled Finland was active in searching for minerals, so it seems unlikely that politics played a role.  The geology is perfect for finding ore, though maybe is short on huge deposits, as evidenced by the numerous small mines in the Finland today.  Therefore, I think the most likely reason Finland never really developed as a mining superpower is that it was never economically necessary.  Perhaps when prices for ore-derived metals increase, Finland will decide that they want to add mining to their economic portfolio.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Is Finland the best education role model for the USA?

In the USA, there are many people who believe that our education system is "broken" and that it needs to be totally revamped.  While I disagree that it is 100% messed up, it definitely could be improved.  Many people in the USA are throwing their two cents into the discussion on how to improve education, and one popular theme is "copy what Finland is doing because they are good at it".  However, while I believe Finland has a good education system for the US to emulate, I do not think it is the best (I am here because they have an excellent education system AND are very environmentally conscious, see this earlier post for a further explanation of my reasoning).

In the most recent PISA ranking results [1], Finland came in behind Shanghai and Korea; why are we "settling" to study the bronze medalists?  Is it the fact that we are surprised by Finland's achievement and not surprised by their education systems that involve lots of study?  Is it because we think it will be easier to copy a culture we think is similar to our own?  Based on the rhetoric I have seen, I would guess it is (mostly) this last one.  But this ignores a big question - Is Finnish culture indeed similar to our own?

So, is Finnish culture similar to American?  I think we jumped to that conclusion based on the fact that the both countries are predominantly "white".  There many obvious and deep-seated differences.  The one that gets mentioned most often in the US is that Finland is far more racially and socioeconomically homogenous than the US.  Values differ greatly as well - in Finland it is political suicide to suggest repeal of socialized healthcare, while in the USA current events show that we (some of us at least) would rather have no government at all than a capitalist healthcare system that attempts to cover everyone.  Finland is perhaps the most gender-equal country in the world; it was the first European country where women could vote (allowed in 1904) and the first in the world to have women in Parliament, which happened in the FIRST election (1907) - 19 out of 200 members were women [2].  By contrast, US Congress did not have 19 women (total between both houses) until 1959-61, but that was out of 536 total members [3]! The foundation of the Finnish education system is the belief in providing equally good education for all, which to me seems inextricably linked to the equality that is clearly a key part of the whole culture.  We cannot truly emulate Finnish education unless we embrace the underlying culture that has created it, which seems rather unlikely to happen.

Of Finland's 12 presidents, 1 has already been a woman.  Tarja Halonen was Finland's 11th president from 2000-1012 and is pictured here with our 44th president, who still is not a woman.  Image from Atlantic Finland Society website
It seems clear that the USA will not be able to fully emulate the system of education in Finland when its values and history are so different, at least not without somehow instituting a major cultural change.  So what can we learn from Finland?  What country should we try to base our education on?

I think the best place to emulate might be - dare I say it - Canada.  Take another look at the PISA rankings.  They are currently #6, well above our showing at #17, and not too far off Finland's #3.  They share a lot more than just a border with the USA - history of immigration, diverse society, and division into states (provinces, technically).  Could we perhaps look to them for guidance?  I do not know enough about their culture, but I would hazard a guess that it is a lot more similar to the USA than Finland is.

1 - OECD; 2009 PISA Results;
2 - Wikipedia; Women's Suffrage in Finland;
3 - Rutgers Center for American Women in Politics, Historical Information About Women in Congress;

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Finnish Hot Sandwiches

Who knew people could be so excited about sandwiches?  So far the most popular recipe I have posted (in terms of pageviews) was the sandwich, so I figured people might appreciate another take on the sandwich: the hot sandwich.  I'm sure this kind of thing is popular in some parts of the US, but I don't remember ever really eating something like this.  But it's good and a different set of flavors than I'm used to, so go ahead and give it a try!

Difficulty - Slightly more involved than the previous sandwich, but only because you have to turn on the oven

The name
Sienivoileipä = Sieni + (Voi + Leipä) = Mushroom + (Butter + Bread) = Mushroom + Sandwich
Pretty descriptive of what it is...

The Ingredients
Leipä (bread), especially Ruisleipä
Majoneesi (mayonnaise)
Sitruuna (lemon)
Sieni (mushrooms, I used some wild Chantarelles)
Voi (butter, to sauté the mushrooms)
Juusto (cheese, again Edam is common here)

Mmmmm, mushrooms (fried in butter of course)
How to make it
  1. Preheat the oven to really hot (400 or above)
  2. Wash, chop, and sauté the mushrooms until they become nice and soft
  3. Mix the mayo with lemon juice.  Use just enough to give the mayo a slight sour taste
  4. Spread the mayo on the bread, top with sautéd mushrooms, then grated cheese
  5. Place the sandwiches on a baking rack and bake/broil them until the cheese is slightly brown
  6. Eat while still warm (because most of y'all are American, I probably should protect myself from lawsuit and say DON'T EAT IMMEDIATELY FROM THE OVEN OR YOU WILL BURN YOUR MOUTH)
Not as beautiful as the previous sandwiches.
But only because the cheese (delicious) is covering the other (delicious) ingredients

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Why am I in Finland?

As I have mentioned earlier, in most of my initial interactions with Finns they question why I came to Finland (that, and figuring out my age for some reason).  Since so many people are wondering why I had come here when, as they say, I "could have gone anywhere in the world," I figured it would be easy to explain it more fully in a blog post.  From everyone I have met, the most common reasons for people to come to Finland are a fascination with the Muumi characters, Finnish metal music, or the Finnish education system.  Knowing almost nothing about the first two before arriving (and still very little), I fall solidly into the third category.

Finland is also known as being fairly "environmentally friendly" AND "economically stable", which is a paradox to most Americans who fundamentally believe that you have to choose between the two.  Yet Finland has managed to build an economy that is hit less hard by global recessions around sustainable resource extraction (see my earlier post about sustainable Finnish forestry that forms the basis of their economy).  Such sustainability must be learned somehow, and I was struck by the fact that Finland is also known as a global leader in education.  This made sense to me -- a society must be educated about the effects of its choices on the global system in order to care about those choices.

To quickly check this hypothesis of correlation between education and environmental sustainability, I plotted proxy measures of "environmental sustainability" (Yale University Environmental Performance Index, Environmental Health ranking) against "education system quality" (PISA science test scores).  I also looked at GDP data (obtained from Gapminder) to see how that fit into the picture.

Plots showing the relationship between Environmental Health, Educational Achievement, and GDP.  The USA has a slightly below average Environmental Health for its Educational Achievement, but that is low for its GDP.  This makes me think that if we can improve education, we can improve our environment as well.  Finland is excellent in both cases, which is why I am here to learn from them.
This sort of simple analysis showing correlation does NOT prove causation, especially in complex social systems.  However, OECD studies show that the majority of students get their information about environmental issues from school, meaning that schools do indeed play a major role in shaping students' understanding of these issues.  So it would make sense that better education systems are better able to created sustainability-minded students.

Students get the majority of their information on environmental issues from school, though many get additional information elsewhere.  From "PISA in Focus - How Green Are Our 15-Year-Olds"
With all this in mind, I hope to learn a couple specific things from Finland that I believe are generally applicable:
  1. Educational and environmental policy.  How are education and environmentalism treated by the government?
  2. Underlying societal attitudes.  Policy is (supposed to be) an extension of the underlying cultural attitudes, especially in complex social arenas like education and environment.
  3. Cultural transmission.  How are these attitudes and philosophies passed on to the next generation?
  4. Innovations in both education and environmentalism resulting from the different attitudes.  While not everything will be applicable to the USA, I am positive I will find some new things that are applicable to my personal life and that of others who strive to be good educators and/or environmentally-conscious citizens.
As always, if you have something specific you would like to learn about, let me know!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Finnish Voileipä "recipe"

These sandwiches are classic Finnish food, eaten pretty much any time (one of my friends eats them for breakfast, and then packs several more to eat throughout the day).  There are basically infinite variations (it is a sandwich after all), but there are a couple things that stand out to me as Finnish rather than American: 1) rye bread, 2) open-face, 3) buttered bread, 4) fish is common (though not necessary).

Difficulty: It's literally just a sandwich

The Name:
Voi + leipä = butter + bread.  Literally, butter bread but this has come to mean sandwich.  So you know at least two of the ingredients now (and how Finns feel about butter)...

Voi (butter) Yup, that is a crucial ingredient in Finnish sandwiches, though margarine is much more common these days.  I think it is used much in the same way that mayonnaise is in the US.
Leipä (bread), especially Ruisleipä (a dark, semi-hard rye bread that is really common here)
Common Toppings:
   - tomaatti (tomato)
   - kurkku (cucumber)
   - silli (herring - usually cured in one of a bazillion different ways)
   - avokado (avocado)
   - juusto (cheese - Edam is probably the most common in Finland in general)
   - kananmuna (egg - hardboiled)

The jar is of Maustesilli, which I think is herring cured in maustepippuri (allspice), which is used in all sorts of things here.  I have been trying every type of cured herring they have (I have been here 2 months and this was the final type sold in the store I had not tried), and I think it is my favorite.

Preparation (really, you need instructions for making a sandwich?)
  1. Butter/margarine each slice of bread (if you are feeling healthy you can forego this step, but it won't be authentic or nearly as delicious)
  2. Slice whatever you are putting on top
  3. Put it on top
  4. Leave the sandwich open-face.  Good luck eating without making a mess...
Now that is a sandwich!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

GLOBE Science Education

If you are not going to inspire your students so that when they go home their heads are exploding with excitement, then you are not doing your job.
             - Bruce J. Oreck, current US Ambassador to Finland, addressing a group of teachers

It seems like only recently that we, as a culture, have begun to realize the importance of non-textbook  aspects of education.  The brand-new Next Generation Science Standards, created collaboratively by education researchers, policy makers, and educators, finally include some critical thinking skills as part of the national curriculum.  Perhaps this new focus is because there is now an overwhelming amount of information available through books and the internet to the motivated individual - motivation is now the limiting factor.

Whether or not the internet has caused this shift, it has definitely revolutionized the possibilities for education.  One awesome possibility I was recently made aware of is the GLOBE program.  The name stands for Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment, which represents the aims of the program well.  Simply put, it is a way for students around the globe to collaboratively collect and share data about their world.  Based on some of the examples given at the conference, this data includes everything from cloud type and cover to rainfall pH to phenology (when leaves blossom, turn color, and fall off).  This data is then accessible to the entire world, and there was one researcher present who apparently spends some of his time working with the GLOBE data (unless my Finnish misled me, which is quite possible...).

Stop and think how cool this is - your students can create data that gets used in actual research!!

However, GLOBE is much more than "just" learning to collect data, and then actually doing so.  It is almost like a scientific penpals program because the students get to interact with their agemates from around the world and learn what other places are like.  Some countries, like Estonia, are especially enthusiastic about this program and have not just a large percentage of their schools participating, but the also organize summer camps for the really excited students.