Sunday 5 October 2014

BCS President's Bulletin September 2014

Well, in the end I suppose it was all a bit of a damp squib with the Scottish independence vote being decisively won by the ‘Better Together’ campaign despite some polls predicting a much closer result right up to the day of polling. So we won’t have to re-draw the map of the United Kingdom although lots of versions were being produced right up to the last minutes to show how things might have looked had the vote gone the other way.

And this wasn’t the only geopolitical issue in the news last month, there was also a little bit of a spat between Russia and Canada over the Crimea, and I quote “when diplomats from Canada and Russia engaged in passive-aggressive cartography on social media.” Apparently Canada’s mission to NATO tweeted a map that was aimed at helping Russian soldiers who kept getting lost and not knowing on which side of the border they were and it also clearly labelled the Crimean Peninsula “not Russian”. Not to be outdone, Russian diplomats tweeted their own map that showed Crimea fully under Russian control. The Canadian Tweet was shared 25000 in one day, the Russian Tweet? Just 400.

The BBC also reported last month on the latest development in the South China Sea. You

may remember in my July Bulletin that I included a picture of Vietnamese models wearing map dresses in what was called ‘soft power’ showing their interpretation of the maritime boundaries. Well it would appear that China has taken an altogether more practical approach and is actually constructing new islands in order to bolster its territorial claims. The appearance of these islands has happened suddenly and is a dramatic new move in a longstanding territorial struggle in the South China Sea. At the beginning of this year, the Chinese presence in the Spratly Islands consisted of a handful of outposts, a collection of concrete blockhouses perched atop coral atolls. Now it is building substantial new islands on five different reefs. Full details can be found at

Cartography on the Internet

It’s nice to know that my blog is widely read and thank you to those who have commented
positively on it. This month I have had for the first time, people suggesting stories that I might like to include, so thanks to Mary Spence for pointing out this article, Do you play Minecraft? No, me neither, but perhaps I will start as it has now been augmented by Ordnance Survey completing a Minecraft map of the UK. Made from 83 billion blocks, each representing 25m on the ground, It has been designed in such stunning detail, that you should be able to locate your own house on it.

Sue Brett pointed me to another BBC article that reported on recent work done at
Stonehenge to map the underground picture around the monument, a process that has revealed a much large network of sites and related activity that had previously been known. Ground penetrating radar and 3D scanning were used to reveal previously unknown detail that indicates that Stonehenge was not as isolated as previously thought being part of a much large set of Neolithic activity.

Here’s one for your Christmas list, a game called Cartography. Its Facebook page at doesn’t really give much detail and I’m struggling to find more details about it. It would appear that it hasn’t actually been produced yet and is looking for ‘kickstarter’ funding. But is does say on the website “Please share Cartography with your nerd friends!”

And talking of Christmas lists, you might also like to add ‘Maps; their untold stories’, a new book published by The National Archives and authored by Rose Mitchell and Andrew Janes. Chapters highlight how early mapmakers viewed their world; there are military maps and
sea charts, maps showing exploration and settlement overseas; maps for treaties and diplomacy; and even maps which capture the imaginative element of cartography. Available at £25 from TNA.

As someone who has always marvelled at how accurately some ancient charts appear to depict coastlines and continents, I was really interested to read an article on Portolan Charts. These have been described as one of the most remarkable and mysterious technical advances in the history of navigation. The example first presented in the article is a chart of the Mediterranean so accurate that ships today could navigate with it. Most earlier maps that included the region were not intended for navigation and were so imprecise that they are virtually unrecognizable to the modern eye. The person who made this document — the first so-called portolan chart, from the Italian word portolano, meaning “a collection of sailing directions” — spawned a new era of mapmaking and oceanic exploration. That first portolan mapmaker also created an enormous puzzle for historians to come, because he left behind few hints of his method: no rough drafts, no sketches, no descriptions of his work.

Equally as mysterious is this next map. Whilst we are used to seeing maps of the Moon and
Mars, this is another extra-terrestrial object that has been mapped, the catchily named 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko Comet. Mapped by the European Space Agency’s satellite, Rosetta, the plan is to identify a suitable site for Rosetta’s probe to land on the surface of the comet. Rosetta is the first mission in history to rendezvous with a comet, escort it as it orbits the sun, and will deploy a lander to its surface.

By now we are all familiar with ‘Google Street View’, with details captured for a vehicle mounted camera; some may be aware of ‘Google Trekker’, a man-portable system for monitoring anything from hikes to trails and now comes the ‘Google Cartographer’ to capture details inside buildings. As the website reports,

The Cartographer uses a process called “simultaneous localization and mapping” (SLAM), a
technique that’s typically used for mapping new locations and that Google is now putting to use to map anything from hotels to museums.

As the backpacker walks through a building, the floor plan is automatically generated in real time, Google says. The wearer also uses a tablet to add points of interest while walking around the building (say room numbers in a hotel or the exhibits in a museum).

I know that I have been concerned to ensure people that cartography is not dead, but I am not sure that I had this in mind when I was thinking of the modern day cartographer.

Restless Earth

It would appear that we are going to have to update some of the information that we provide to the students who attend the BCS Restless Earth workshops. Research carried out by scientists at the British Geological Survey, in association with the University of Rhode Island and the University of Tokyo, has revealed that a submarine landslide contributed to the enormity of the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Research showed that the very high waves recorded along the northern part of the affected coast could not be explained by the earthquake, because the epicentre was located farther south. The high waves, however, could be explained by a submarine landslide located offshore of the Honshu coast. Using sophisticated modelling of the Japan event a location for the possible landslide was found and seabed imagery showed that there was one present. Modelling of the tsunami from the earthquake and landslide together reproduced the waves that had devastated the north Honshu coast.

ICA Map Carte

Image maps are very familiar to us, but in the 1960s they were still a fairly new concept. Certainly photography was used to compile mapping but in its raw form was thought to be

too detailed and difficult to interpret. This composite map of the moon shows how effective it can be when done well. True, there are no features overlaying the topographic base, but it is a stunning image of something we perhaps take for granted and seldom look at in any detail.

I wonder why the compiler of Map Carte chose Nottingham to illustrate John Speed’s work?!
Beautiful historical cartography that as a print would grace any wall, but is probably beyond the means of most. The bold, vivid colours of Speed’s atlas perhaps look a little garish for modern tastes but reflect the opulence that was often part of the process. Often created as prestigious ways of recognising a royal patron, the brighter the better, and they in no way detract from the maps themselves.

And finally

A reminder that the BCS AGM will be held on Monday 17th November at the RAF Club in London. It will be preceded by an Historical Military Mapping Group event at the British Library and followed by a talk by BBC Weather Presenter Helen Willetts on ‘The Changing Face of the Weather Map’. Check out the BCS website for full details of the day.

Pete Jones MBE FBCart.S CGeog
5th October 2014

Twitter: @geomapnut

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