It’s not like xkcd has a monopoly on comics about maps. Last week, Zach Weinersmith’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal web comic posted a comic about alternative non-spherical Earth theories: everything from a hollow Earth to, well, stranger variations—including a slightly lumpy oblate spheroid Earth, which I frankly find hard to believe in.
The NASA Applied Sciences Program has partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create the first publicly available map of ultraviolet (UV) radiation for all counties in the contiguous United States. The dataset, which spans 2005-2015, is available on the CDC’s National Environmental Public Health Tracking network, which delivers information and data about health issues related to environmental factors. Public health officials, city planners, or individuals concerned about Sun exposure can learn how much ultraviolet radiation is falling over each county each month, which is an important step in helping reduce skin cancer risks.
The animated map above shows the monthly average UV dose in 2015.
CityLab has launched The Maps That Make Us, a series of personal essays about the power of maps in our lives. Laura Bliss explains the premise of the series here, and kicks things off with this essay comparing the Thomas Guides of her childhood with the ubiquity—and diversity—of navigation apps today.
Previously: The Rise and Fall of the Thomas Guide.
Last month the Washington Post gained access to ARCOS, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s database of controlled substance transactions, which tracks the path, from manufacturer to pharmacy, of every pain pill in the United States. The Post’s initial analysis found that some 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills were distributed in the U.S. between 2006 and 2012, that only a few companies manufactured and distributed the bulk of the pills, and some regions of the country were utterly saturated with the pills. That’s where the maps come in: the Post has county-level maps of all this data.
Comparing county-level maps of opioid overdose deaths and pill shipments reveal a virtual opioid belt of more than 90 counties stretching southwest from Webster County, W.Va., through southern Virginia and ending in Monroe County, Ky. This swath includes 18 of the top 20 counties ranked by per-capita prescription opioid deaths nationwide and 12 of the top 20 counties for opioid pills distributed per capita.
Revealing. Damning. Horrifying.
Much study has been devoted to the Gough Map, a late medieval map of Great Britain, exact date and authorship unknown, that was donated to the Bodleian Library in 1809 by the map’s now-namesake, Richard Gough. (An interactive version is available online.) A new project led by Catherine Delano-Smith and Nick Millea explores the map on several levels: as physical object, combining hyperspectral imagery, pigment analysis and 3D scanning; the process of how the map was drawn (and redrawn); and a close analysis of the places and names found on the map. Some of the project’s early findings were published in Imago in 2016.
Previously: The Gough Map.
I can’t believe that, other than a brief mention in 2010, I’ve never written anything about the cartographic artist Heinrich C. Berann (1917-1992), whose work includes panoramic paintings for National Geographic and, in his later years, for the National Park Service. (To be honest, they remind me of Jim Niehues’s ski resort maps, but that surely should be the other way around.) He also worked with Marie Tharp and Bruce Heezen to turn their physiographic maps of the ocean floor into works of art.
Some links: Kottke looks at his panoramic paintings; so did All Over the Map last year. Also last year, The Map Designer has examples from Berann’s entire career. This site is maintained by one of Berann’s grandsons.
The augmented reality mode for Google Maps that was teased last year has finally arrived. After an “early preview” showed up on Google Pixel phones earlier this year, Live View—which superimposes walking directions on the view through your phone’s camera—was made available this week on Google Maps for both iOS and Android, on devices that support ARKit (iOS) or ARcore (Android). Engadget, TechCrunch, The Verge.
Three things make a roundup. Here we go:
Here’s a gallery of all 68 map projections supported in Arc
Chris Whong uses a clementine as a substitute for Tissot’s indicatrix: “I found myself eating a clementine this morning, and thought it would be interesting to slice up the orange peel on an 8×8 grid to visualize how much of the earth’s surface is represented in WebMercator tiles at zoom level 3. This is kind of an inverse of the Tissot’s Indicatrix above, showing chunks of the spheroid’s surface over the projected tiles that represent them in web maps.”
Alberto Cairo’s short piece arguing that the Mercator projection isn’t a monstrosity doesn’t cover particularly new ground: the Mercator was created for a specific purpose (bearing-based navigation) and is a good choice for small-scale maps, but it has no business on a world map. But it’s probably worth reiterating, since I still see over-the-top condemnations of the projection on colonialist grounds, channeling Arno Peters (which, you know: not new).
Fantasy worlds have established maps. Science fictional worlds not so much: what maps exist of imaginary planets are often fan imaginings rather than “official” work. One exception is the planet Bajor, a key location in the TV series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Its map was created by DS9 writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe, who drew it on a white board in the show’s writer’s room, and maintained it over five seasons. Wolfe posted the map to Twitter last week.
— Robert Hewitt Wolfe (@writergeekrhw) July 31, 2019
First You Make the Maps, a Story Map produced for Lapham’s Quarterly by Elizabeth Della Zazzera, surveys maps and mapmaking for sea navigation from the 15th through the 18th centuries.
From the fifteenth to the eighteenth century, European powers sent voyagers to lands farther and farther away from the continent in an expansionist period we now call the Age of Exploration. These journeys were propelled by religious fervor and fierce colonial sentiment—and an overall desire for new trade routes. They would not have been possible without the rise of modern cartography. While geographically accurate maps had existed before, the Age of Exploration saw the emergence of a sustained tradition of topographic surveying. Maps were being made specifically to guide travelers. Technology progressed quickly through the centuries, helping explorers and traders find their way to new imperial outposts—at least sometimes. On other occasions, hiccups in cartographic reasoning led their users even farther astray.
In a series of maps, the New York Times explores where the donors to the various Democratic candidates for U.S. president live. The maps are based on data to June 30, and include donations of $200 or more. Bernie Sanders has by far the most donors so far, and they’re distributed broadly, so the second map on the page excludes Sanders donors to tease out where other candidates’ donors are concentrated regionally.
Keith Myrmel, a retired landscape architect from Minnesota, has produced two maps of the Boundary Waters region that are proving popular with hikers and canoers. The maps—one of the Superior Hiking Trail, the other of the North Country Trail and Arrowhead region—are large (26 by 40 inches) and intricately hand-drawn. The Twin Cities Pioneer Press covered Myrmel and his work last June:
“It’s fascinating how many people are map lovers,” Myrmel said. He has an extensive collection of Boundary Waters Wilderness maps dating back to the 1950s. “I said, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this old-school style. It’s all by hand.”
Using pencils, markers and watercolor paint, he put down information from books, maps, the internet and personal experience on a 2-by-13-foot map. The process took hundreds of hours, he said.
Facebook’s AI tool has added some 480,000 kilometres of previously unmapped roads in Thailand to OpenStreetMap, BBC News reports, but some local mappers have been complaining about the quality of those edits, and the overwriting of existing edits by Facebook’s editors: see OSM Forum threads here and here. In particular, see OSM contributor Russ McD’s rant on the Thai Visa Forum:
What Facebook fail to state is the inaccurate manner in which their AI mapping worked. The OSM community in Thailand had for years, been working slowly on mapping the Country, with the aim of producing a free to use and accurate map for any user. Information was added backed by a strong local knowledge, which resulted in a usable GPS navigation system based on OSM data. Main road were main roads, and jungle tracks were tracks.
Then along came Facebook with its unlimited resources and steamrollered a project in Thailand with scant regard for contributors … sure they paid lip service to us, with offers of collaboration, and contact emails … but in reality, all our comments went unanswered, or simply ignored.
Sure, their imagery identified roads we had not plotted, but along with that came the irrigation ditches, the tracks though rice paddies, driveways to private houses, and in once case, an airport runway! All went on the map as “residential roads”, leaving any GPS system free to route the user on a physical challenge to make it to their destination.
Local users commented, but the geeky humans who were checking the AI, living thousands of miles away, having never visited Thailand, just ignored our comments. They would soon move onto bigger and better things, while sticking this “success” down on their resume.
Sounds like another case of local mapping vs. armchair mapping and automated edits, where local mappers are swamped and discouraged by edits from elsewhere. [Florian Ledermann]
Previously: OpenStreetMap at the Crossroads.
In the wake of serious and devastating spring flooding in 2017 and 2019, the Quebec government issued proposed flood zone maps that marked areas where rebuilding and new construction would be put on hold. There was immediate pushback: as CBC News reported last month, the maps included substantial areas of small towns (such as, in my neck of the woods, the villages of Fort-Coulonge and Campbell’s Bay), or, in the case of Gatineau, areas that were not flooded in either 2017 or 2019 as well as major new developments. The mayor of Vaudreuil-Dorion suggested that the mapmakers forgot to correct for cloud cover. In the end, new maps were issued that removed substantial areas of Montreal from the flood zone, among other areas: some 20 percent of the 120,000 homes affected by the first set of maps were removed from the revised maps.
Previously: Quebec Flood Maps.
Copyright and Cartography is a research project exploring the historical relationship between cartography and copyright law.
Throughout history, maps have been made and used in different ways and for different purposes. They can be seen as cultural artefacts, artworks, sacred objects and tools for wayfinding. Often their purposes are legal—they can be used to administer property regimes, resolve proprietary disputes or make territorial claims. But what about the laws that regulate the maps themselves, that decide who can own them or who can distribute them? This website explores these questions, juxtaposing images of maps with the legal documents intimately involved in their creation and circulation.
The project focuses on mapmakers in London, Edinburgh, Melbourne and Sydney, and seems to be in the early stages, with only a dozen cases, relating to infringement and other copyright disputes, listed.
This project is limited to cases in the U.K. and Australia. Back in 2000, J. B. Post compiled a list of cases of copyright litigation in the U.S. from 1789 to 1998: the page is no longer online but can be accessed via the Wayback Machine.