In a world driven by digital communication, information is no longer shared primarily through paper and postage. Books and letters are frequently generated and transmitted through the computer, as are maps. With the rise of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Global Positioning Systems (GPS), the use of traditional paper maps is on a certain decline.
Paper maps have been created and used since the development of basic geographic principles. The foundation of geographic analysis was established by Claudius Ptolemy during the second century CE in his Tetrabiblos. He created numerous world maps, regional maps of varying scale, and fathered the concept of our modern-day atlas. Through its highly topographic nature, Ptolemy’s work transcended time, and greatly influenced Renaissance scholars’ perception of the Earth. His cartography dominated European mapmaking between the 15th and 16th centuries.
By the late 16th century, cosmographer and topographer Gerhard Mercator introduced the Mercator map. The first globe was presented in 1541, and in 1569 the first Mercator world map was published. Using a conformal projection, it represented the Earth as accurately as possible for its time. Meanwhile, land surveying was pioneered in India’s Akbar Empire. A procedure for gathering information on area and land use was developed, in which statistics and land revenue figures were mapped on paper.
The years following the Renaissance Era witnessed groundbreaking cartographic achievement. In 1675, the establishment of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, England marked the prime meridian at Greenwich, our current longitudinal standard. In 1687, Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica on gravitation supported the decrease of latitudinal distance when moving away from the equator, and suggested the slight flattening of Earth at the poles. Similar advances made world maps astonishingly accurate.
Aerial photography made its debut during the mid-1800s, in which land surveying was done from the sky. Aerial photography set the stage for remote sensing and advanced cartographic technique. These basic principles laid the foundation for cartography, modern day paper maps, and digital mapmaking.
Throughout the 1800s and 1900s, the paper map was the layman’s navigational tool of choice. It was accurate and reliable. During the latter half of the 20th century, the progression of paper maps came to a slow. At the same time, advances in technology sparked a human reliance on all things digital, notably data processing and communication.
During the 1960s, mapping software development began with Howard Fisher. Under Fisher, the Harvard Laboratory for Computer Graphics and Spatial Analysis was established. From there, GIS and automated mapping systems grew, and associated databases evolved. In 1968, the Environmental Science Research Institute (ESRI) was founded as a private consulting group. Their research on cartographic software tools and data structure revolutionized modern mapping, and they continue to set precedent in the GIS industry.
In 1970, instruments like Skylab enabled the collection of information about Earth on a fixed schedule. Data were constantly measured and updated, one of the primary advantages of GIS and GPS. The Landsat Program was established during this time, a series of satellite missions managed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Landsat obtained high resolution data at a global scale. Ever since, we’ve had an improved understanding of Earth’s dynamic surface, and man’s environmental impact.
Space based navigation and positioning systems were designed during the 1970s as well. The U.S. Department of Defense utilized GPS primarily for military purposes. Available for civilian use in the 1980s, GPS provide signals for the tracking of movement anywhere on the planet. GPS systems are not affected by topography or weather, making them reliable tools for navigation. Today, the IE Market Research Corporation expects a 51.3% global market increase for GPS products by 2014.
As a result of public reliance on digital navigation systems, traditional cartography jobs are being downsized, and in many cases eliminated. For example, the California State Automobile Association (CSAA) produced its last paper map of highways in 2008. Since 1909, the had created their own maps and distributed them free to members. A near century later, CSAA had eliminated their cartography team and produce maps only through the AAA national headquarters in Florida. For organizations like the CSAA, mapmaking is now seen as an unnecessary expense. Although the CSAA is no longer investing in traditional cartography, they realize the importance of providing paper maps, and will continue to do so. According to their spokesperson Jenny Mack, “free maps are one of our most popular member benefits”.
A downside to the outsourcing of cartographic skill is the lack of regional knowledge. In the case of the CSAA, their original cartographic team personally surveyed local roads and intersections. The accuracy of survey and cartography from thousands of miles away is questionable. In fact, studies show that paper maps are more accurate than GPS navigation systems. In an experiment done at the University of Tokyo, participants traveled on foot using either a paper map or GPS device. Those using the GPS paused frequently, traveled greater distances, and took longer to get to their destination. Paper map users were more successful.
While digital maps are helpful in getting from "Point A" to "Point B," they lack topographic details and cultural landmarks, among other details. Paper maps show “the big picture”, whereas navigation systems only show direct routes and immediate surroundings. These shortages can lead to geographic illiteracy and dissipate our sense of direction.
Electronic navigation systems are advantageous, especially when driving. However, these advantages are limited, and the best navigational tool to use depends on the situation. Paper maps are simple and informative, yet advanced navigational tools such as Google Maps and GPS are useful as well. Henry Poirot, president of the International Map Trade Association says there is a niche for both digital and paper maps. Paper maps are often used as backup for drivers. He says, “The more people use GPS, the more they realize the importance of the paper product”.
Are paper maps in danger of becoming obsolete? Just as e-mail and e-books are convenient and reliable, we have yet to see the death of libraries, bookstores, and the postal service. In reality, this is highly unlikely. These ventures are losing profit to alternatives, but they simply cannot be replaced. GIS and GPS have made data acquisition and road navigation more convenient, but they do not equate unfolding a map and learning from it. In fact, they would not exist without the contributions of historic scholars. Paper maps and traditional cartography have been rivaled by technology, but they will never be matched.
Cartographers utilize color on a map to represent certain features. Color use is often consistent across different types of maps by different cartographers or publishers. Map colors are (or should be, for a professional looking map) always consistent on a single map.
Many colors used on maps have a relationship to the object or feature on the ground. For example, blue is almost always the color chosen for fresh water or ocean (bust blue may not just represent water).
Political maps, which show more human created features (especially boundaries), usually use more map colors than physical maps, which represent the landscape often without regard for human modification.
Political maps will often use four or more colors to represent different countries or internal divisions of countries (such as states). Political maps will also use such colors as blue for water and black and/or red for cities, roads, and railways. Political maps will also often use black to show boundaries, differing the type of dashes and/or dots used in the line to represent the type of boundary - international, state, or county or other political subdivision.
Physical maps commonly use color most dramatically to show changes in elevation. A palette of greens is often used to display common elevations. Dark green usually represents low-lying land with lighter shades of green used for higher elevations. In the higher elevations, physical maps will often use a palette of light brown to dark brown to show higher elevations. Such maps will commonly use reds or white or purples to represent the highest elevations on the map.
With such a map that uses shades of greens, browns, and the like, it is very important to remember that the color does not represent the ground cover. For example, just because the Mojave Desert is shown in green due to the low elevation, it doesn't mean that the desert is lush with green crops. Likewise, the peaks of mountains shown in white does not indicate that the mountains are capped in ice and snow all year long.
On physical maps, blues are used for water, with darker blues used for the deepest water and lighter blues used for more shallow water. For elevations below sea level, a green-grey or red or blue-grey or some other color is used.
Road maps and other general use maps are often a jumble of color. They use map colors in a variety of ways:
· Blue - lakes, rivers, streams, oceans, reservoirs, highways, local borders
· Red - major highways, roads, urban areas, airports, special interest sites, military sites, place names, buildings, borders
· Yellow - built-up or urban areas
· Green - parks, golf courses, reservations, forest, orchards, highways
· Brown - deserts, historical sites, national parks, military reservations or bases, contour (elevation) lines
· Black - roads, railroads, highways, bridges, place names, buildings, borders
· Purple - highways, (also used on U.S.G.S. topographic maps to represent features added to the map since the original survey)
As you can see, different maps can use colors in a variety of ways. It is important to look at the map key or map legend for the map you are using to become familiar with the color scheme, lest you decide to turn right at an aqueduct.
Special maps called choropleth maps use map color to represent statistical data. The color schemes used by choropleth maps is different from general maps in that the color represents data for a given area. Typically, a choropleth maps will color each county, state, or country a color based on the data for that area. For example, a common choropleth map in the United States shows a state-by-state breakdown of which states voted Republican (red states) and which states voted Democrat (blue states).
Choropleth maps can also be used to show population, educational attainment, ethnicity, density, life expectancy, prevalence of a certain disease, and so much more. When mapping certain percentages, cartographers who design choropleth mas will often use different shades of the same color, which produces a very nice visual effect. For example, a map of county-by-county per capita income could use a range of green from light green for lowest per-capita income to dark green for highest per-capita income.
Topographic maps are frequently paired with handheld GPS devices, sports & fitness GPS devices, and smartphone applications.
"Topo" maps provide highly detailed information about the natural and man-made aspects of the terrain, but are best known for their series of contour lines that show elevation changes, and colors signifying varying land types and bodies of water. Topographic maps in their paper form have been in use for many years, and are a mainstay of outdoorspeople and those who must understand landscape details for business purposes.
Topographic maps are increasingly stored, transmitted, and used in digital format. For example, Garmin and DeLorme offer dozens of topo mapsets that may be purchased on DVD, SD card, or via direct download.
Topographic maps come in different scales, and the differences are important. For example, the common "24K" topo map is in the scale of 1:24,000 (1 inch = 2,000 feet) and shows great detail. The 24K map is also known as a "7.5 minute" map, because it covers 7.5 minutes of latitude and longitude. Another common format, the "100K" topo map, is in the scale of 1:100,000 (1 centimeter = 1 kilometer) and shows less detail, but covers a wider area than the 24K topo.
It is impossible to accurately represent the spherical surface of the earth on a flat piece of paper. While a globe can represent the planet accurately, a globe large enough to display most features of the earth at a usable scale would be too large to be useful, so we use maps. Also imagine peeling an orange and pressing the orange peel flat on a table - the peel would crack and break as it was flattened because it can't easily transform from a sphere to a plane. The same is true for the surface of the earth and that's why we use map projections.
The term map projection can be thought of literally as a projection. If we were to place a light bulb inside a translucent globe and project the image onto a wall - we'd have a map projection. However, instead of projecting a light, cartographers use mathematical formulas to create projections.
Depending on the purpose of a map, the cartographer will attempt to eliminate distortion in one or several aspects of the map. Remember that not all aspects can be accurate so the map maker must choose which distortions are less important than the others. The map maker may also choose to allow a little distortion in all four of these aspects to produce the right type of map.
· Conformality - the shapes of places are accurate
· Distance - measured distances are accurate
· Area/Equivalence - the areas represented on the map are proportional to their area on the earth
· Direction - angles of direction are portrayed accurately
A very famous projection is the Mercator Map.
Geradus Mercator invented his famous projection in 1569 as an aid to navigators. On his map, lines of latitude and longitude intersect at right angles and thus the direction of travel - the rhumb line - is consistent. The distortion of the Mercator Map increases as you move north and south from the equator. On Mercator's map Antarctica appears to be a huge continent that wraps around the earth and Greenland appears to be just as large as South America although Greenland is merely one-eighth the size of South America. Mercator never intended his map to be used for purposes other than navigation although it became one of the most popular world map projections.
During the 20th century, the National Geographic Society, various atlases, and classroom wall cartographers switched to the rounded Robinson Projection. The Robinson Projection is a projection that purposely makes various aspects of the map sightly distorted to produce an attractive world map. Indeed, in 1989, seven North American professional geographic organizations (including the American Cartographic Association, National Council for Geographic Education, Association of American Geographers, and the National Geographic Society) adopted a resolution that called for a ban on all rectangular coordinate maps due to their distorion of the planet. .
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