One Billion Years of Continental Drift

So this animation went viral last week:

It shows the movement of Earth’s tectonic plates over the past billion years, and it was posted by one of the co-authors of this study proposing a new, single model of plate tectonic activity that covers the past billion years of Earth’s existence. (Previous models, if I understand the abstract correctly, covered shorter periods—for several-hundred-million-year values of short—and didn’t line up with each other.)

Making 3D Art from Old Geological and Relief Maps

Apparently independently of one another, Sean Conway and Dmitriy Worontzov have been taking old geological and relief maps and applying using digital elevation models to apply 3D effects to them. The end result is a two-dimensional image, or a print, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that these maps now have real depth and texture. Conway, an orthoimagery specialist, works mainly on old U.S. relief maps; the results are available for sale as posters. Read more about him at My Modern Met. Worontzov, a Moscow-based art director, goes for geological maps, mainly from the Soviet era; see his work on Behance and Instagram, and read about him at Abduzeedo. [Alejandro Polanco, WMS]

A Slice Through America

Out last month from Princeton Architectural Press: A Slice Through America: A Geological Atlas by David Kassel. This is a history of stratigraphic illustrations, which Kassel has been collecting for decades. “Historic stratigraphic illustrations depict the earth beneath our feet in captivating hand-drawn diagrams. Each drawing tells a unique geologic story, exquisitely rendered in colors from pastel palettes to brilliant bolds that show evolving scientific graphic conventions over time. Created by federal and state geologists over the course of one hundred years, the maps reveal sedimentary rock layers that present an unexpected view of our treasured public lands, making this collection an important record of natural resources, as well as a beautiful display of map design.” Amazon (Canada, UK), Bookshop.

Two Geologic Maps of Venus

Excerpted from López, I. and Hansen, V.L. (2020), Geologic Map of the Niobe Planitia Region (I‐2467), Venus. Earth and Space Science 7: e2020EA001171. doi:10.1029/2020EA001171; and Hansen, V. L., López, I. (2020). Geologic map of Aphrodite Map Area (AMA; I‐2476), Venus. Earth and Space Science 7: e2019EA001066. doi:10.1029/2019EA001066

Two geological maps of Venus have been published in Earth and Space Science. Produced by Vicki L. Hansen and Iván López, they each cover a 60-million-square-kilometre section of Earth’s twin: the Niobe Planitia Map Area geologic map (above, top) ranges from the equator to 57° north, and from 60° to 180° east longitude; the geologic map of the Aphrodite Map Area (above, bottom) is the Niobe Map Area’s southern hemisphere equivalent, covering the area from 60° to 180° east longitude, but from the equator to 57° south.

Explore Zealandia

Zealandia (Te Riu-a-Māui) is the name given to a proposed, and largely submerged eighth continent, of which New Zealand (Aotearoa) is the largest above-water remnant. Explore Zealandia is geoscience company GNS Science’s web portal to their maps of this largely submerged continent, including bathymetry, tectonics, and other data; the data is also available for download. [WAML]

Unified Geologic Map of the Moon

A new unified geologic map of the Moon, based on digital renovations that updated 1970s-era geologic maps to match more recent topographic and image data gathered by lunar orbiters, was released by the USGS last month. The map is “a seamless, globally consistent, 1:5,000,000-scale geologic map”; the paper version (25 MB JPEG) provides azimuthal projections beyond the 55th parallels and an equirectangular projection between the 57th parallels. [Geography Realm]

Previously: Lunar Geology and the Apollo Program.

Update, 22 April 2020: Version 2 of this map was released in March to address a number of errors in the first version.

First Geologic Map of Titan

Geologic map of Titan

The first global geologic map of Titan, based on radar and infrared data from the Cassini probe, has been released.

The map legend colors represent the broad types of geologic units found on Titan: plains (broad, relatively flat regions), labyrinth (tectonically disrupted regions often containing fluvial channels), hummocky (hilly, with some mountains), dunes (mostly linear dunes, produced by winds in Titan’s atmosphere), craters (formed by impacts) and lakes (regions now or previously filled with liquid methane or ethane). Titan is the only planetary body in our solar system other than Earth known to have stable liquid on its surface—methane and ethane.

The map is the result of research published today in Nature Astronomy.

Previously: Titan in Infrared; Mapping Titan with VIMS; A Topographic Map of Titan.

Lunar Geology and the Apollo Program

Geologic Map of the Copernicus Quadrangle of the Moon
H. H. Schmitt, N. J. Trask and E. M. Shoemaker, “Geologic Map of the Copernicus Quadrangle of the Moon,” 1967. USGS.

Planetary geologist David Rothery writes about the early attempts to map the Moon’s geology, both before and after the Apollo program. There was a symbiotic relationship between the map and the mission: maps suggested where landings might be most profitable from a geological perspective; and field work by the astronauts informed later moon maps.

Mapping Ground Displacement from the California Earthquakes


This interferogram shows the ground displacement caused by last week’s earthquakes in southern California. Produced by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, it’s based on synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images from JAXA’s ALOS-2 satellite taken both before (16 April 2018) and after (8 July 2019) the earthquakes. Each colour cycle represents 12 centimetres (4.8 inches) of ground displacement.

Mapping the Sulawesi Earthquake and Tsunami

The New York Times (detail)

Last week a magnitude-7.5 earthquake struck the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, triggering a tsunami that struck the city of Palu with far more force than expected. The New York Times has multiple maps and aerial images of the damaged areas; NASA Earth Observatory has before-and-after Landsat imagery.

Mapping the 2018 Kīlauea Eruption

Last week new lava vents opened in the Kīlauea volcano’s eastern rift zone, with fissures destroying a number of homes in the Leilani Estates subdivision of the island of Hawai‘i’s Puna District. Here are some maps.


The Washington Post’s coverage is typically first rate, its maps providing both detailed coverage and context: start there. More detailed maps come from the Kīlauea section of the USGS’s Volcano Hazards Program website, with fissure maps of the entire eastern rift zone (see above) and thermal maps of the Leilani Estates fissures receiving daily or near-daily updates.

The eruption was preceded and accompanied by a number of earthquakes; NOAA has created an animated map showing the incidence, magnitude and depth of the earthquakes that took place during the week of the eruption.

Map of the Late Jurassic World

Paleoartist Julio Lacerda has produced a pictorial map of the world as it was during the Late Jurassic (163½ to 145 million years ago). Available via Studio 252MYA, which sells paleontology-related swag (we have their Lambeosaurus pillow—it was a housewarming gift), it comes as either as a poster or as a framed print, and in two sizes; prices range from $26.50 to $142. Julio is threatening to do maps of other periods, which I hope he follows through on.

Marie Tharp on the BBC World Service

Still another profile of ocean cartographer Marie Tharp, this time from the BBC World Service’s Witness program: it’s a nine-minute audio clip called “Mapping the Ocean’s Secrets.” [Osher]

On the WMS Facebook group, Bert Johnson had this to say about this latest profile: “Hers is a standout story, but I wish some of these journalists who keep running these would spend some time and effort discussing some of the other women—known and unknown—who made contributions and helped open the doors of cartography to women.”