Melting glaciers are keeping a special team of cartographers at Swisstopo, Switzerland’s national mapping agency, busy: they’re the ones charged with making changes to the Swiss alps on Swisstopo’s maps. The New York Times reports:
“The glaciers are melting, and I have more work to do,” as Adrian Dähler, part of that special group, put it.
Dähler is one of only three cartographers at the agency—the Federal Office of Topography, or Swisstopo—allowed to tinker with the Swiss Alps, the centerpiece of the country’s map. Known around the office as “felsiers,” a Swiss-German nickname that loosely translates as “the people who draw rocks,” Dähler, along with Jürg Gilgen and Markus Heger, are experts in shaded relief, a technique for illustrating a mountain (and any of its glaciers) so that it appears three-dimensional. Their skills and creativity also help them capture consequences of the thawing permafrost, like landslides, shifting crevasses and new lakes.
The article is a fascinating look at an extraordinarily exacting aspect of cartography. [WMS]
Since 2013, Peter Bolt—whose company is called Landfall—has been making bespoke 3D relief models based on from nautical charts, Ordnance Survey maps and aerial photographs (see his portfolio for examples). The models are layered along contour lines—a process that can be seen in several of his videos. Everything is a custom job, made by hand; prices begin around £250 for an A4-sized model and go up from there.
“Mapping a Better Tomorrow” is a 30-minute film produced in 1971 to explain the work of the U.S. Army Topographic Command (TOPOCOM). After explaining maps from first principles, it covers the state of the art in terms of cartography, computer mapping, photogrammetry and surveying circa 1971, including the production of topographic maps, maps of the Moon and maps of, erm, southeast Asia. Since U.S. government publications are public domain, it’s available in several locations, including the Internet Archive (above), DailyMotion and Vimeo.
But on certain maps, in Switzerland’s more remote regions, there is also, curiously, a spider, a man’s face, a naked woman, a hiker, a fish, and a marmot. These barely-perceptible apparitions aren’t mistakes, but rather illustrations hidden by the official cartographers at Swisstopo in defiance of their mandate “to reconstitute reality.” Maps published by Swisstopo undergo a rigorous proofreading process, so to find an illicit drawing means that the cartographer has outsmarted his colleagues.
It also implies that the mapmaker has openly violated his commitment to accuracy, risking professional repercussions on account of an alpine rodent. No cartographer has been fired over these drawings, but then again, most were only discovered once their author had already left. (Many mapmakers timed the publication of their drawing to coincide with their retirement.) Over half of the known illustrations have been removed. The latest, the marmot drawing, was discovered by Swisstopo in 2016 and is likely to be eliminated from the next official map of Switzerland by next year. As the spokesperson for Swisstopo told me, “Creativity has no place on these maps.”
The article suggests these drawings are a coping mechanism, an opportunity to blow off a little steam. I can believe it. [r/MapPorn]
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.
If the purpose here is to point to the route less travelled, well and good, but I suspect the effect will be rather like what happens when a travel guide raves about an out-of-the-way, hidden gem of a restaurant.
“The world-changing differences documented by maps in the Eastern Bloc Borderlands project cannot be overstated,” says Michelle Dalmau, head of Digital Collections Services for IU Libraries, and the project’s principal investigator. “In some cases we see villages and settlements depicted that no longer exist.”
Created by the Russian Military from 1883 to 1947, the maps traveled widely through their tactical use in the field. In the years surrounding World War II, many were captured by opposing forces, including German and American troops. As a result, myriad stamps from institutions they passed through—such as the University of Berlin, the U.S. Army Map Service, and the CIA Map Library—mark the maps with a unique and visual history.
Two things about CityGuide’s beginner’s guide to map collecting. One, it’s not so much for beginners as written by a beginner; the author, Chris Sharp, is recounting his own journey into map collecting. Which brings me to the other thing: what kind of map collecting he’s talking about, which is to say, the “collecting all the OS Landranger maps” kind of map collecting, not the “paying exorbitant sums for a rare and ancient map that might be a forgery or sliced out of a volume from a library’s rare books collection” kind of map collecting. I don’t want to invoke Dunning-Kruger here, but I’m not sure he knows how much more there is out there. I suspect that he’s going to find out. Not being British myself, I don’t know to what extent Ordnance Survey maps are the gateway drug to a serious map collecting jones, but I have my suspicions. [WMS]
During the second half of the twentieth century, the Soviet Union’s military and civilian cartographers created topographical maps of the entire world of a very high standard of quality and accuracy. How they did so, and why, remains in large part a mystery, one that John Davies and Alexander J. Kent’s new book, The Red Atlas: How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World (University of Chicago Press, October) fails to solve completely.
The Red Atlas is not the definitive history of those Soviet mapping efforts because so much about those efforts remains a secret. The only reason we know about them is because, in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, so many physical copies of those once-highly secret maps fell into the hands of map collectors. The Red Atlas talks about that: for more than a decade, Davies and Kent have been studying those maps. (I’ve been following their work. See the links at the bottom of this post for my earlier posts on the subject.) What they know about the Soviet mapping efforts—sources, methods, their reason for doing it—is extrapolated from the final product of those effort: the maps. The Red Atlas is above all else an exercise in cartographic forensics.
With the Great Lines Project, Karen Rann explores the history and origins of the contour line. In addition to her rather heavily illustrated blog, there’s a related exhibition, the Great Lines Exhibition (naturally enough), which opens today at the Lit & Phil (Literary and Philosophical Society) in Newcastle. Free admission. Details here and here. [WMS]
London Hiker reviews the A-Z Adventure Atlas series of maps. “They contain 1:25,000 scale Ordnance Survey maps, but in a book format, like the A-Z street map books you’re probably used to. […] Many of the new A-Z style map books are extremely convenient and are fast becoming a favourite with me, depending on the circumstances.”
“For the past number of years, I have been collecting the U.S.G.S.’s maps, treating them as eminently affordable pieces of American art,” writes Tom Vanderbilt in the New York Times Magazine. “The beauty intrinsic to these maps is the byproduct of an entirely different mode of production, the last gasp of an antiquated way of representing the world.” [Gretchen Peterson]
Daniel Macháček released his topographic map of Mars, based on the latest probe data, in November 2014. It uses the Mercator projection between 65° north and 65° south latitude and stereographic projections for the poles. It can be downloaded in insanely high resolution: 17,400×14,700 (78 MB JPEG, 106 MB PDF). His blog post (in Czech: use the translate button) has all the technical details. I particularly like the colour scheme he used for elevation data: the low-lying areas are coloured like deep oceans, which seems appropriate. [Maps on the Web]
Switzerland is updating its official map series. The new maps are digitally based and use new fonts, symbols and colours—railways, for example, are now in red. They replace the 1:25,000 series that dates back to the 1950s; all 247 sheets should be replaced by 2019. You can compare the old and new map designs on this interactive map (screencap above). [via]