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Keeping Up with the Cartographers


New and updated maps reflect global issues.

In How Maps Change Things author Ward Kaiser explains, “We all use maps as tool of exploration. But the most basic—and most surprising—discovery we can make with maps goes far beyond any factual information; it comes in that ‘Aha!’ moment when we perceive that maps are loaded not just with data but with meaning.” That meaning can range from the highly political to a personal understanding of our place in the global scheme of things, and can interpret everything from history to languages to population. In fact, ODT Maps just released their 2015 population map in which each country’s size is represented by its population. Whereas Canada appears as a tiny yellow sliver atop the purple mid-sized U.S., India is a hulking blue mass.

The cartographers charged with updating the map from its 2005 version were surprised at the changes that were visualized. They found that the Middle East is growing rapidly with Qatar, Bahrain, and Cyprus all surpassing the one million mark, and that the only countries with decreasing populations were in Eastern Europe. The map itself also features information charting population growth in the past 100,000 years and the percentages of countries with children under the age of 15, a strong indicator of what future maps may look like.

As the world rapidly changes, geographers and researchers are striving to map out a variety of issues. New maps have been developed to chart recent problems such as plastic in the ocean while older maps like the National Geographic Atlas of the World are being updated to show the affect of the dramatically decreasing Arctic ice sheet. In doing so, information can be tracked and communicated. However, maps, like most media that undergoes editorial decisions, must be looked at critically. In updating the population map, publisher Bob Abramms explains, “The challenge as a publishing company, was that the map had grown in size so much that it couldn't fit onto any reasonable size of paper … So in the end we needed to crop off all the map explanation material from our 2005 map.” And on the updated National Geographic atlas, there was debate on what portion of ice to show since it shifts throughout the seasons. You’ll be able to see the final outcome when it’s released this September.

Image by Nicolas Raymond, licensed under Creative Commons.