Using Maps to Organize Space
In years past, there were several common kinds of maps. There were political maps showing the boundaries of countries, states, counties, etc. There were road maps to help you travel across the country or to help you find a street in your town. There were wonderful three-dimensional maps to show the mountains. There were also topographical maps. There were weather maps and special hurricane maps,
In recent years, the ways we use maps to display data has multiplied.
As a bird watcher, I appreciate the great improvements in range maps for each species, showing where they are in various seasons.
I look with amazement at the maps, or should I say photographs, taken from satellites and merged to form a wonderful single image like this map from Google. This is our world. We might wonder what it will look like in the future with global warming.
Speaking of Global Warming, there are maps to show what might happen as the ice melts and the ocean level rises. This map from the US Environmental Protection Agency shows what is expected to happen to the coastline
This map shows only the early stages, as the water rises 1.5 meters (red) and 3.5 meters (blue). There is a map in our library that shows much more of the state of Florida under water.
This sort of visual display of information is more likely to motivate people to take action. Newspaper articles with data in written form would be ignored by most readers.
It is surprising and shocking to see how much more acid the rain is in the Eastern half of the country.
Another interesting map is a result of studying mitochondrial DNA. It shows the apparent paths our early ancestors took as they left Africa and spread around the world.
At election time we study the wonderful maps of red and blue states or even counties. Just imagine all the data that was collected and organized in a single map. Think how many pages you would need to display this data if you didn’t use a map.
This is map by MEJ Newman, is of a series of election maps from the 2008 presidential elections. The first map, by counties, was almost entirely red. It looked like a Republican victory for sure, until you realize that is rural countries with small populations, you find more Republicans.
When the data was organized by state, there was still more red than blue, but it was closer to being equal. The Democrats had a chance of winning.
This wonderful map to the right, shows the US map distorted so there is an area proportional to the population. How can this be? Now there’s a lot more blue. The answer is simple. The Democrats are often found in large numbers in small areas, in and around large cities. By areas, the map is nearly all red. By population, it is mostly blue.
This teaches us that data shown on a map can be misleading if we aren’t careful.
The next set of 3 maps come from worldmapper .org These distorted maps are sometimes called cartograms.
I include three to show the comparison. The first map shows area. Notice that Canada and Alaska seem much smaller. That’s because the maps we usually see don’t display area.
The second map shows population. Now Alaska and Canada are even smaller. North and South America are smaller. India has grown immensely and China is also very large. You might also wonder what happened to Australia.
The third map shows poverty. The United States has almost gone.
Look at Japan, small in area, much higher in population, but tiny in the third map as they have very little poverty.
I find it interesting that some African countries have grown far more than others showing that some counties in Africa have much greater problems with poverty.
Here are links to some other interesting maps: Tectonic plates and volcanoes USGS Maps
Asteroid Impact Sites, Geology.com and Google Earth: Asteroid Impact
The Human Toll of Climate Change: zoom out to see the world. Zoom in to see your areas. Click for details. Read the explanation following the map
Think about ways you might use a map, possibly on a more local scale, to display data.
The next page shows a way to create simplified maps. I find them helpful for learning the location of the countries in a continent or the sections of a country, etc. Simplified Maps