Whenever there’s a major news event, there will be an outbreak of fake, misattributed or misleading images that purport to be about that event. That goes for maps as well.
Take the serious situation with Australia’s bushfires at the moment. Social media is jammed with maps showing practically the whole damn continent on fire, or superimposed on another continent to let people there know just how big Australia is (and also on fire). It’s a profoundly serious situation, and as NASA’s Joshua Stevens points out, it’s possible to present an accurate map that shows its seriousness without resorting to hyperbole.
The trouble is, social media thrives on hyperbole, because it thrives on “engagement”—which means outrage and anger and, as Joshua Emmons notes, as we get inured to a certain level of outrage, even more outrage is needed just to get noticed.
Which brings me to this thing, which is showing up all over the social web:
The Australian government agency responsible for printing topographic maps will stop printing them as of December, ABC Australia reports. Geoscience Australia cites a lack of demand for paper maps, but as you can imagine there’s some pushback against the decision.
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.
During World War I, Australian troops staying at nearby Hurdcott Camp carved a gigantic map of Australia into a Wiltshire hillside. Chalk gravel was used to fill shallow trenches to create an outline map some 150 feet wide with 18-foot-tall letters. Since then, despite a restoration in the 1950s and its designation as a Scheduled Ancient Monument, the map has faded, but for the past four years the Map of Australia Trust has been working on restoring the map. It was finished in time for Armistice Day. More from BBC News (video) and Historic England. [Jonathan Potter]
Clickhole, The Onion’s satirical clickbait website, had a hilarious piece last October declaring that rising sea levels will turn Australia into a rhombus: good news for cartographers, for whom Australia will be easier to draw.
According to a new study by the National Ocean Service, melting icecaps and glaciers will raise sea levels enough to cause drastic coastal erosion to virtually every landmass on the planet, including Australia, which will transform from its current shapeless continental configuration into a crisp, tightly angled quadrilateral. While this will unquestionably result in an incalculable amount of economic and ecological devastation, it will likely be a welcome change for cartographers, who instead of spending hours trying to perfect the jagged and asymmetrical outline of the Australian coast like they do now, will in the coming decades be able to handily dash off a geographically accurate rendering of the continent in just a few seconds flat.
The Australian government has released high-resolution sea floor map data of the Great Barrier Reef; the data improves the view of the relief by a factor of eight, from 250-metre resolution to 30-metre resolution. The result of a collaboration between James Cook University, Geoscience Australia and the Australian Hydrographic Service, the data “can be used for policy, planning and scientific work. For example, this data is an important input for oceanographic modelling, which we can use to enhance our knowledge of climate change impacts, marine biodiversity, and species distribution.” Press release, data files.
When it comes to maps of the results of Australia’s same-sex marriage referendum (or, to be more precise, postal survey), it’s a mixed bag. At the official end, the Australian Bureau of Statistics provides infographics, but no maps. The Sydney Morning Herald provides a map of the results by district (see screenshot above), but it’s boolean (yes/no) rather than a choropleth or heat map. For that, you’ll want to look at The Australian’s interactive map (they also have a map showing yes/no by constituency, centred on Sydney, whose western districts voted against the most).
Finally, this map by “lunatic map maker” Matthew Isbell is making the rounds; I want to make sure he’s correctly attributed.
A rare Braille globe held by the Queensland State Library is being digitized so as to create a 3D-printed replica. The globe, invented by Richard Frank Tunley in the 1950s, is one of the last copies still in existence and is in poor physical shape—problematic for something designed to be touched. That’s where the replica comes in. It’s funded by the library foundation’s crowdfunding initiative, which will also help fund the original globe’s restoration. ABC News, Sydney Morning Herald. Media release. [ANZMapS]
Many of Evans’s humorous stories go a way to responding to some of the scientific inadequacies and toponymic foibles so common in place naming studies. And after I’ve spent almost a decade inundated with often sterile and uninspirational place name theory and how it may fit within more general research in onomastics, the study of proper names, Evans’s tongue-in-cheek take is more than welcome.
I get the distinct impression that this is a less-serious work of scholarship than Monmonier’s. [WMS]
Decades of continental drift mean that GPS coordinates in Australia are off by approximately 1.5 metres (5 feet), which has implications for self-driving cars and other applications that require very precise positioning. See coverage from Atlas Obscura, BBC News, Popular Mechanics and the Washington Post.
Basically, the discrepancy comes from the fact that GPS is based on the Earth’s core rather than any point on the surface, whereas local coordinates are based on a geodetic datum—in Australia’s case, GDA94 (North America uses NAD83)—that is based on a fixed point on the surface. But with plate tectonics, points are not fixed: Australia moves northward at seven centimetres a year.