Cartography (Encyclopedia of Science)
Cartography is the art of making maps. A map is a two-dimensional (flat) drawing or chart showing the political boundaries and physical features of a geographical region. For example, a map may show the location of cities, mountain ranges, and rivers, or may show the types of rock in a given region. Cartography is considered a subdiscipline of geography, which is the study of Earth's surface and its various climates, continents, countries, and resources.
The history of cartography
The oldest known map is of an area in northern Mesopotamia, an ancient region in southwest Asia. The baked clay tablet, found near present-day Nuzi, Iraq, dates from approximately 3800 B.C. Fragments of clay maps nearly 4,000 years old have been found in other parts of Mesopotamia, some showing city plans and others showing parcels of land. Over 3,000 years ago, the ancient Egyptians surveyed the lands in the Nile Valley. They drew detailed maps on papyrus for use in taxation.
The ancient Greeks developed many of the basic principles of modern cartography, including latitude and longitude, and map projections. The maps of Ptolemy, a Greek astronomer and mathematician who lived in the second century A.D., are considered the high point of Greek cartography.
The era of European exploration that arose in the 1500s supplied cartographers with a...
(The entire section is 616 words.)
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Cartography (World of Earth Science)
Cartography is the creation, production, and study of maps. It is considered a subdiscipline of geography, the study of spatial distribution of various phenomena. Cartographers are often geographers who particularly enjoy the combination of art, science, and technology employed in the making and studying of maps.
A map is a generalized two-dimensional representation of the spatial distribution of one or more phenomena. For example, a map may show the location of cities, mountain ranges, and rivers, or may show the types of rock in a given region. Maps are flat, making their production, storage, and handling relatively easy. Maps present their information to the viewer at a reduced scale. They are smaller than the area they represent, using mathematical relationships to maintain proportionally accurate geographic relationships between various phenomena. Maps show the location of selected phenomena by using symbols that are identified in a legend.
There are many different types of maps. A common classification system divides maps into two categories, general and thematic. General maps are maps that show spatial relationships between a variety of geographic features and phenomena, emphasizing their location relative to one another. Thematic maps illustrate the spatial variations of a single phenomenon, or the spatial relationship between two particular phenomena, emphasizing the pattern of the distribution.
Many maps can be either general or thematic, depending on the intent of the cartographer. For example, a cartographer may produce a vegetation map, one that shows the distribution of various plant communities. If the cartographer shows the location of various plant communities in relation to a number of other geographic features, the map is properly considered a general map. The map is more likely to be considered thematic if the cartographer uses it to focus on something about the relationship of the plant communities to each other, or to another particular phenomenon or feature, such as the differences in plant communities associated with changes in elevation or changes in soil type.
Some examples of general maps include large-scale and medium-scale topographic maps, planometric maps, and charts. Topographic maps show all-important physical and cultural features, including relief. Relief is the difference in elevation of various parts of the earth's surface. Planometric maps are similar to topographic maps, but omit changes in elevation. Charts are used by the navigators of aircraft and seagoing vessels to establish bearings and plot positions and courses. World maps on a small- or medium-scale showing physical and cultural features, such as those in atlases, are also considered general maps.
Although the subject matter of thematic maps is nearly infinite, cartographers use common techniques involving points, lines, and aerial photos to illustrate the structure of spatial distribution. Isarithmic maps use lines to connect points of equal value; these lines are called isopleths, or isolines. Isopleths used for a particular phenomenon may have a particular name; for example, isotherms connect points of equal temperature, isobars connect points of equal air pressure, and
isohyets connect points of equal precipitation. Isopleths indicating differences in elevation are called contour lines. Isopleths are used to show how certain quantities change with location.
A topographic map is a good example of how isopleths are used to present information. Topographic maps use isopleths called contour lines to indicate variations in relief. Each contour line connects points of the same elevation. Adjacent lines indicate variations in relief; these variations are called contour intervals. The contour interval is indicated in the map legend. A contour interval of 20 ft (6.1 m) means that there is a 20 ft (6.1 m) difference in elevation between the points connected by one contour line and the points connected by the adjacent contour line. The closer the lines are to each other, the more dramatic the change in elevation.
Chloropleth maps are another type of thematic map. They use areas of graduated gray tones or a series of gradually intensifying colors to show spatial variations in the magnitude of a phenomenon. Greater magnitudes are symbolized by either darker gray tones or more intense colors; lesser magnitudes are indicated by lighter gray tones or less intense colors.
Cartographers traditionally obtained their information from navigators and surveyors. Explorations that expanded the geographical awareness of a map-making culture also resulted in increasingly sophisticated and accurate maps. Today, cartographers incorporate information from aerial photography and satellite imagery in the maps they create.
Modern cartographers face three major design challenges when creating a map. First, they must decide how to accurately portray that portion of Earth's surface that the map will represent; that is, they must figure out how to represent three-dimensional objects in two dimensions. Second, cartographers must represent geographic relationships at a reduced size while maintaining their proportional relationships. Third, they must select which pieces of information will be included in the map, and develop a system of generalization, which will make the information presented by the map useful and accessible to its readers.
When creating a flat map of a portion of the earth's surface, cartographers first locate their specific area of interest using latitude and longitude. They then use map projection techniques to represent the three-dimensional characteristics of that area in two dimensions. Finally, a grid, called a rectangular coordinate system, may be superimposed on the map, making it easier to use.
Distance and direction are used to describe the position of something in space, its location. In conversation, terms like right and left, up and down, or here and there are used to indicate direction and distance. These terms are useful only if the location of the speaker is known; in other words, they are relative. Cartographers, however, need objective terms for describing location The system of latitude and longitude, a geographical coordinate system developed by the Greeks, is used by cartographers for describing location.
Earth is a sphere, rotating around an axis tilted approximately 23.5 degrees off the perpendicular. The two points where the axis intersects the earth's surface are called the poles. The equator is an imaginary circle drawn around the center of the earth, equidistant from both poles. A plane that sliced through the earth at the equator would intersect the axis of the earth at a right angle. Lines drawn around the earth to the north and south of the equator and at right angles to the earth's axis are called parallels. Any point on the earth's surface is located on a parallel.
An arc is established when an angle is drawn from the equator to the axis and then north or south to a parallel. Latitude is the measurement of this arc in degrees. There are 90 degrees from the equator to each pole, and sixty minutes in each degree. Latitude is used to determine distance and direction north and south of the equator.
Meridians are lines running from the north pole to the south pole, dividing the earth's surface into sections, like those of an orange. Meridians intersect parallels at right angles, creating a grid. Just as the equator acts as the line from which to measure north or south, a particular meridian, called the prime meridian, acts as the line from which to measure east or west. There is no meridian that has a natural basis for being considered the prime meridian. The prime meridian is established by international agreement; currently, it runs through the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England. Longitude is the measurement in degrees of the arc created by an angle drawn from the prime meridian to the earth's axis and then east or west to a meridian. There are 180° west of the prime meridian and 180° east of it. The international date line lies approximately where the 180th meridian passes through the Pacific Ocean.
Using the geographical coordinate system of latitude and longitude, any point on the earth's surface can be located with precision. For example, Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, is located 34° 35 minutes south of the equator and 58° 22 minutes west of the prime meridian; Anchorage, the largest city of the state of Alaska, is located 61° 10 minutes north of the equator and 149°s 45 minutes west of the prime meridian.
After locating their area of interest using latitude and longitude, cartographers must determine how best to represent that particular portion of the earth's surface in two dimensions. They must do this in such a way that minimal amounts of distortion affect the geographic information the map is designed to convey.
Cartographers have developed map projections as a means for translating geographic information from a spherical surface onto a planar surface. A map projection is a method for representing a curved surface, such as the surface of the earth, on a flat surface, such as a piece of paper, so that each point on the curved surface corresponds to only one point on the flat surface.
There are many types of map projections. Some of them are based on geometry, others are based on mathematical formulas. None of them, however, can accurately represent all aspects of the earth's surface; inevitably there will be some distortion in shape, distance, direction or area. Each type of map projection is intended to reduce the distortion of a particular spatial element. Some projections reduce directional distortion, others try to present shapes or areas in as distortion-free a manner as possible. The cartographer must decide which of the many projections available will provide the most distortion-free presentation of the information to be mapped.
Maps present various pieces of geographical information at a reduced scale. In order for the information to be useful to the map reader, the relative proportions of geographic features and spatial relationships must be kept as accurate as possible. Cartographers use various types of scales to keep those features and relationships in the correct proportions.
No single map can accurately show every feature on the earth's surface. There is simply too much spatial information at any particular point on the earth's surface for all of the information to be presented in a comprehensible, usable format. In addition, the process of reduction has certain visual effects on geographic features and spatial relationships. Because every feature is reduced by the ratio of the reduction, the distance between features is reduced, crowding them closer together and lessening the clarity of the image. The width and length of individual features are also reduced.
See also Earth (planet); Topography and topographic maps; Weather forecasting methods