Mercator revisited

The 5th of March 2012 marks the 500th birthday of Gerardus Mercator, the creator of the world map that profoundly changed our views of the world. He was not the only one who worked on a conformal map projection in the 16th century, which was still an age of exploration and discovery. But he was the first to do the maths right and complete a world map that allowed ships to navigate around the planet by its ability to represent lines of constant course. That makes the Mercator projection a milestone in the history of cartography and remains one of the central map projections up to the present day. Continue reading

Material flows: Global resource extraction

Climate change as discussed at the climate talks in Durban is just one of the complex impact that humans have on the natural environment. The history of humanity is closely linked to benefiting from (or exploiting) the natural environment in order to improve living conditions. “Stone, Iron, Bronze and Steel Ages – the names of these periods have been chosen according to the main materials in useContinue reading

Maps for the 21st Century

499 years after Mercator’s birth we may feel that the age of discovery is long gone. We seem to have explored almost every patch of our planet, considerably supported by Mercator’s famous world map that allowed sailors for the first time to reliably navigate across the world’s oceans. His innovation was a significant contribution to the early days of globalisation. Globalisation has turned our planet into a human planet, where people have become a substantial component of the processes that influence our livelihoods – some go as far as calling this a new geological era, the anthropocene. But while we have maps and images of every spot of the earth, we do not fully understand the human environments and interrelations to the natural environment. Normal maps show where sheep and other lovely creatures of nature live but hide much of the so important populous spaces of humanity.
The maps that I created as part of my PhD research are based on a novel cartogram mapping technique, deploying Gastner/Newman’s diffusion-based cartogram algorithm in a new way. The maps give every person living on this planet the same amount of space, while reducing the least populated places to a minimum. The map projection is calculated from an equally distributed population grid so that, unlike in other cartograms, the transformed grid cells preserve an accurate geographical reference. This allows us to map a diverse range of geographical layers on top of the population projection. The new maps show the social and physical environment in relation to population and provide a fresh perspective on the complex geography of the 21st century world. The following animation shows a series of maps that demonstrate the visual capabilities of the technique (the video can be switched to HD resolution by clicking the 360p note in the bottom panel):
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