Tom Patterson’s Physical Map of the Contiguous United States

Physical Features Map of the Contiguous United States
Tom Patterson

Tom Patterson’s latest project is a map of the physical features of the contiguous United States.

This map showcases physical features—mountains, plains, rivers, lakes, etc.—of the 48 contiguous US states. Map colors reflect natural environments across the continent from the forested east to the snowcapped Rockies to the desert southwest. You will also find a smattering of cities and faint state lines for reference.

Emphasis on smattering: there are only enough human features—cities and borders—to orient the reader; the focus is on bodies of water and landforms.

It’s freely available and in the public domain: it can be downloaded, shared and modified.

Tom Patterson’s Map of Prince William Sound

Prince William Sound
Tom Patterson

Tom Patterson’s projects are always worthy of note. His latest is a wall map of Alaska’s Prince William Sound—a physical relief map that, Tom warns, will very soon be out of date:

Prince William Sound turned out being the most laborious map that I have ever made. The culprit: climate change. Although much of the data that went into making the map was of recent vintage, glaciers in the region have melted noticeably these last few years.

Updating physical features—glaciers, coastlines, rivers, and lakes—from recent satellite images took up ninety percent of my time. Nevertheless, the completed map is only a snapshot in time. Columbia Glacier, for example, lost another one kilometer of its length during the summer of 2019. Much of what the map depicts will be out-of-date again before too long.

It can be downloaded, printed (it’s 44 × 36 inches) and modified free of charge.

Equal Earth Physical Map

On Sunday Tom Patterson announced that the Equal Earth Physical Map is now available for download in JPEG, Illustrator and GeoTIF formats. Unlike its political counterpart, no territorial boundaries appear on this map (though cities do). Not having borders doesn’t mean that Tom and his collaborators won’t get into trouble with the names of natural features, though: I note they use Sea of Japan rather than East Sea, for example (see above). But, importantly, they’ve released the map into the public domain: if you don’t like their labels, or their choice of cities or colours or textures, you can make changes to the map and put out your own version.

Previously: Equal Earth Gets a Wall Map.

The Equal Earth Projection

In 2014 cartographer Tom Patterson and his colleagues, Bojan Šavrič and Bernhard Jenny, introduced the eponymous Patterson projection, a cylindrical projection that reduced polar exaggeration while maintaining the familiar shape of continents.1 Patterson, who recently retired from the U.S. National Park Service, has teamed up with Šavrič and Jenny to produce a new projection: the Equal Earth projection.

This projection can be seen as the cartographer’s response to the Peters map: in fact, the team created it in reaction to the furor over the Gall-Peters projection being adopted by Boston public schools. “Our message—that Gall-Peters is not the only equal-area projection—was not getting through,” the authors wrote in the International Journal of Geographical Information Science (mirrored here). “We searched for alternative equal-area map projections for world maps, but could not find any that met all our aesthetic criteria.” Citing their own research into map readers’ projection preferences, they decided against projections like the Eckert IV, Mollweide and sinusoidal and opted to make their own: “a new projection that would have more ‘eye appeal’ compared to existing equal-area projections and to give it the catchy name Equal Earth.”

The end result is a Robinson-like pseudocylindrical projection that nevertheless preserves area—and, like the Robinson, is nicer to look at than a cylindrical equal-area projection like the Gall-Peters. It’s actually kind of impressive that they were able to square that particular circle. The article details their decision-making process and the math behind the projection and is worth a read. It’ll be interesting to see whether this map gains any traction. I wish it well.

Previously: The Patterson Projection; The Peters Projection Comes to Boston’s Public Schools; The Peters Map Is Fighting the Last War; More on Boston Schools and the Peters Map; The 74 on Boston Schools and the Peters Map.

New (17 Aug): Equal Earth Updates.

The Patterson Projection

Patterson Projection

Map projections are inherently interesting, and also a great way to start a fight among a group of cartographers: just ask them their favourite and step back. Everyone has their preferred projection, me included, that fits their own needs and aesthetic. Cartographer Tom Patterson, whose work I’ve featured previously on The Map Room, has added another projection to the mix, the eponymous Patterson Projection, a cylindrical projection which “falls between the popular Miller 1, which excessively exaggerates the size of polar areas, and the Plate Carrée, which compressess the north-south dimension of mid latitudes.” It looks like a compromise projection in cylindrical form. A full article on the design and development of the projection is forthcoming at the link.

Previously: Shaded Relief World Map and Flex Projector; New, Free Physical Map of the United States; Shaded Relief.