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Why Maps Matter

“The Relevance of Cartography,” A Cartographer’s Perspective

A column by Georg Gartner, President of the International Cartographic Association

This is the first of a regular column of the International Cartographic Association (ICA) in ArcNews, reflecting the long and outstanding cooperation between Esri and ICA. Issues related to the world of cartography and ICA and reflecting a variety of topics will be discussed and presented here. You can expect a broad range of themes, such as the history of maps; cognitive processes in cartographic communication; and the application of the newest technologies on cartography, for example, currently augmented reality, applications for location-based services, and service-oriented cartography.

Why would reading this column eventually be beneficial to you? And what is the International Cartographic Association, and why could that have something to do with your interests?

Why Will This Column Be Beneficial to You?

For this first question, I would like to refer to my contribution to the ArcNews Winter 2013/14 issue, where I argued that the domains dealing with spatial data are growing fast. There are more and more techniques, algorithms, sensors, and software available that can contribute to data acquisition, data modeling, and data analysis. There is huge potential in spatial data, and we are definitively not short of data. Rather, it’s just the opposite. The problem is often not that we don’t have enough data but too much. We need to make a greater effort to deal with all this data in an efficient sense, mining the relevant information and linking and selecting the appropriate information for a particular scenario. We are also not short of technologies. Here, too, it is the opposite. Just as we are learning to fully employ the potential of a particular new data acquisition, modeling, or dissemination technology, new technologies are developed and need to be considered. New technologies become available more quickly and need to be evaluated, addressed, and applied.

But how is the world participating in all our developments and improvements? How will a new sensor solution or new algorithms be of benefit to a decision maker? To a tourist? To a citizen? At the end of the day, maps play a key role in this context. Whenever we talk about spatial data or geoinformation, and whenever this information needs to be presented and communicated to a human user, the interface and all the intelligence behind it can very often only be “unleashed” through a map. I would go as far as arguing that investing in maps means investing in the overall success of spatial data handling.

Maps help humans understand big data: Earthquakes primarily occur along tectonic plate boundaries with many events happening in proximal locations. Visualizing these overlapping events is a challenge that is met using a "glow" effect obtained with multilayer symbols and varying levels of transparency, an approach developed by John Nelson of UDV Solutions. Applying this effect in ArcGIS allows the thousands of earthquakes to offer us a vivid depiction of the global pattern of these explosive events.
Maps help humans understand big data: Earthquakes primarily occur along tectonic plate boundaries with many events happening in proximal locations. Visualizing these overlapping events is a challenge that is met using a "glow" effect obtained with multilayer symbols and varying levels of transparency, an approach developed by John Nelson of UDV Solutions. Applying this effect in ArcGIS allows the thousands of earthquakes to offer us a vivid depiction of the global pattern of these explosive events.
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