From the craters of Mars to the streets of Zurich, these maps show cartography at its best.
Have you ever looked out at the ocean and wondered what’s on the other side? Andy Woodruff has. Woodruff, a Boston-based cartographer, made a fascinating series of maps earlier this year that show, for any bit of coastline, which landmass you would encounter next if you were to walk, swim, or fly in a straight (and probably very long) line. The results are often unexpected, thanks to the intricate, jagged shapes of coastlines and due to the fact that the world is, of course, round. Setting out from the East Coast of the U.S., for example, you’d be more likely to hit Africa, South America, or possibly even Australia than Europe. (Don’t believe it? Consult a globe.)
This detail from a supplemental map published with the September issue of National Geographic charts several storylines in British Columbia, from the history of First Nations people to the development of energy to the plight of salmon. The biggest challenge, says cartographer Lauren Tierney, was getting all this information onto the map without having it look cluttered—and without having any one storyline stand out more than the others. The team also worked hard to make sure the province’s rugged terrain was still visible underneath. “It’s a very drastic landscape,” Tierney says.
The Osher Map Library in Portland, Maine, recently began digitizing its collection of antique globes and putting them online. So far they’ve scanned eight globes (four more are in the works) and created an online 3D viewer that lets you see them from different angles, zoom in and out, even examine the elaborate stands that house them. The celestial globe above was made by the Dutch cartographer Willem Blaeu in 1603.
During World War II, British surveyors, architects, engineers, and construction workers mapped London’s bomb damage in real time, creating an incredible series of hand-colored maps. This one shows the area around Waterloo station.
Secret Japanese military maps captured at the end of World War II have recently caught the attention of scholars interested in the environmental and geopolitical history of Asia. The maps, created from the 1870s through the 1940s, vary widely in style. Some are works of cartographic art; others were hastily sketched by spies operating behind enemy lines. The early 20th-century map above depicts the area around Pyongyang, North Korea.
The screenshot above comes from an interactive map—created by three students at the University of Wisconsin, Madison—that explores the maritime world of the colonial era. The students compiled historical records of sea travel from 1750 to 1850, then created an interface that lets users select a colonial power—British, French, Dutch or Spanish—and see where their ships roamed. Users can also examine wind patterns, weather reports, and notes from the captains’ logs.
GPS and other technological advances are allowing scientists to track wild animals in more detail than ever before. Geographer James Cheshire and designer Oliver Uberti created 50 new maps of animal tracking data for their book, Where the Animals Go, published this year. The map above charts the wanderings of a single elephant seal in the Southern Ocean.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has said that he plans to invest $550 billion in improving the country’s bridges, roads, and other infrastructure. Earlier this month, The Washington Post published six maps to illustrate where and what that infrastructure is (and therefore where the money would be likely to go). This map shows the country’s pipeline network: 150,000 miles for oil, 1.5 million miles for natural gas.
John Nelson, a cartographer at the mapping software company Esri, made this map to depict five years of drought conditions across the United States. The colors correspond to the severity of drought (purple is worst). More solid colors indicate where drought conditions have been present a higher percentage of the time.
An interactive database launched this year allows anyone to search hundreds of maps and documents that contributed to housing discrimination beginning in the 1930s. The federal government created the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation to shore up the housing market during the Great Depression. But the local real-estate agents tasked with mapping the investment risks of different neighborhoods often used blatantly racist criteria, making it difficult—if not impossible—for people in minority neighborhoods to take out loans to buy a home. It’s a troubling legacy that’s now more open to study by academic and amateur historians alike.