Map-Making for the Non-Cartographer

Did you know that you can learn now to draw maps in six weeks or less?!  As we are in the 21st century, lots of things are made easier and less time-consuming with the advent of technology – map-making is no different.  The advances in technology combined with the class offerings of higher education institutions have made interest and skill obtainable on a much tighter time frame than ever before.  So, what does this have to do with map-making?  As promised, this post will touch on just a few things I learned this summer from my graduate class on Cartography & Visualization.

Map Basics

In any introductory class, you are presented with some basics of the subject on which the class is based.  My recent class was no different and as the song goes, “let’s start at the very beginning”.

Maps are unique in that they provide both a visual and written representation of data.  Our professor used the following phrase to define a map:

“A map is a graphic representation of the milieu.” (Dr. Enru Wang, University of North Dakota)

So, what does this mean for John Q. Public?  This phrase means that a map is a picture whether on paper, or on your screen, that represents all aspects of the cultural and physical environment.  This could be interpreted as the acreage of farmland per square mile in the state of Minnesota, or the total number of dairy farms per 100 square miles in Wisconsin.

Whatever data you have complied, it generally can be represented with a map using a variety of colors, shapes, symbols and more.  This data can be mapped using different styles of maps such as General Purpose (reference) and Thematic (Special purpose, single topic, or statistical).

General purpose maps often are focused on showing the location of objects and are primarily used for reference navigation.  Think of topographic maps, road maps, atlases, etc.

Thematic maps are a little more complicated and often have more than one purpose.  These maps display some type of structural characteristic beyond just a location.  As the name implies, thematic maps present a theme about a subject — in the world of Geographic Information Science (GIS), thematic maps are a graphic display of attribute data.  Attribute data can be population density, income, temperature, and the list goes on and on.  Furthermore, thematic maps are broken down into two groups: qualitative (nominal data) and quantitative (numerical, colors, dots, etc.).

This is a good example of a general purpose map.  Pretty general, right?

Drawing Maps in the 21st Century

Besides learning about the different types of maps, design, coordinate projection, history, etc., the main focus of this particular class was learning how to use a software called ArcGIS.  This software system has a variety of sub-programs including a mapping software (ArcMap) that I used primarily this summer, an online mapping platform (ArcGIS Online), and a variety of applications that work in conjunction with ArcMap.

As you can see from the featured images, ArcMap can be used to create virtual maps in a matter of hours compared to the number of days and months that cartographers years ago would have spent on one document.  Additionally, ArcGIS Online makes wayfinding and tour maps that much easier (click here for an example) with the aid of an Excel spreadsheet.

Overall, programs such as ArcGIS and others make the once painfully slow process of map-making that much faster – these programs also allow the integration of numerous types of data in a variety of forms bringing map-making in the 21st century.

Why GIS and Map-Making?

I am often asked for my reasoning behind GIS and the graduate certificate I am pursuing.  After spending my undergraduate studies in Airport Management, I was often exposed to other areas of my field besides airport operations.  With the advent of GIS and programs such as AutoCAD, ArcGIS, and others, the opportunities to expand my skills into other areas became available.  With my alma mater’s graduate certificate in GIS, I saw an opportunity to explore a new interest in addition to adding to my resume.

For the last several years, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been collecting data on airports and other areas of aerospace using GIS.  ArcGIS and other programs provide a way to map that data which increases the ways to apply that data when developing airports, structuring airspace, mapping pavement condition, and much more.

Images courtesy of Google Images.

In the images above, we see different uses for GIS and mapping.  Pavement conditions, concourse 3D rendering, noise contours and more provide the basis of many different types of maps applicable to the aerospace industry and more specifically that of airports. In digital mapping, the possibilities are almost endless – if you have the data, you can map it.

Future Career or Just Curiosity?

The subject of cartography and digital map-making is something I have wanted to pursue for a few years now.  After earning my Bachelor’s degree, I was able to take these classes for credit and earn a certificate at the same time.  While I love my work in airport operations, I have wanted to work for a firm in airport planning and GIS – this certificate is a way to help myself get there.

But when it comes right down to it, I love learning and this is a way to learn something new and useful about my field.  When you work in a field you enjoy, why stop the learning after graduation?

Here is a fun picture because sometimes I find weird FOD on the runways.







Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s