Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Draining California

National Geographic has an article about the California drought in the October issue called When the Snows Fail. The magazine comes with a fantastic pull-out map showing the natural and manipulated ways that water flows out of the Sierra Nevada into the Central Valley, the heartland of US agriculture.
The printed map sprawls across several flaps and shows a broad view of the entire regional water system in a way that can't possibly (or legally) be shown here. The image above gives an idea of much of what is shown on the map including aqueducts  (light blue lines), agricultural areas in green, dams, reservoirs (with information about  percentage above or below capacity) and various other bits of textual information.

Their web site has an interactive graphic that captures some of the map's information. Click on the second tab for the graphic, the first one is the article. The graphics do a nice job of showing the flow of water from the headwaters of the Rubicon River, near Lake Tahoe, into reservoirs, lakes, the American and then Sacramento Rivers. Three years of drought have left dry shorelines, lower volumes of surface water and increased use of wells causing subsidence of the land.
The interactive web graphics are very well done, but also are a good illustration of how computer images still cannot provide the awe inspired by a large paper map. I highly recommend getting a hold of the magazine and taking a look at the full "centerfold."

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Perils of Ancient and Modern Travel

An ongoing series of articles in National Geographic detail Paul Salopek's walk to trace the spread of humans throughout the world. In the most recent installment, he walks across the Hejaz of western Saudi Arabia, visiting ancient wells - the blue symbols on the map.
These wells were located a days walk away so that travelers would be able to traverse the desert region. Knowing the location of the wells was a matter of life and death.

And now for something completely different - a ridiculous comparison!

Today's electric car pioneers face a similar difficulty. Routes must be carefully planned around the location of charging stations. A recent article in the Mercury News details the first cross country trip in a Tesla by John Glenney. The article includes this map of their charging stations.
Tesla has a network of charging stations located close enough (about 265 miles per charge) to be able to travel certain routes across the USA. During Glenney's trip the Hagerstown, Maryland facility was not ready. He had a stressful trip from Newark, Delaware to Somerset in western Pennsylvania, arriving with only 11 miles left on his charge.

As the Tesla network expands, trip planning will gradually become less important as it has in Saudi Arabia, where drivers can find bottled water at gas stations. The wells now sit abandoned as traffic rushes past and planes fly overhead.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Scotland's Independence Vote In Maps

Tomorrow Scotland votes on independence. I don't have a "dog in this fight" though there is a "Duggy Dog" starring in a pro-independence video.
This map does a nice job of illustrating the political situation in service of the Yes campaign.
The Yes campaign also has a video titled Scottish Weather Forecaster Loses It Live On Air with some good map content. Here are a couple of still frames.
On the "No" side there's this map from The Economist full of typically snooty Economist cliches.
We get it. They're a buncha moochers!

Finally, there's the cover of The Battle for Britain by David Torrance...
... and its copycat images.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Franklin Expedition Ship Found

The Canadian Government announced today that they have found one of the two ships from the ill fated Franklin Expedition of 1845. While searching for the Northwest Passage, the expedition's ships became trapped in ice and the crew was never found. Sonar images from the waters of Victoria Strait, just off King William Island, show a wrecked ship on the ocean floor.
The wreck location is approximately at the northern ship on this Parks Canada map. The map is nice but could use a "leader line" to connect the inset to the main part of the map, otherwise you might think the area is in Saskatchewan.

These quotes from CBC detail how Inuit hunters of the 1840s helped direct the search:
 "The beauty of where they found it is it's proof positive of Inuit oral history," CBC chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge, who has covered the Franklin search for many years, said Tuesday.

"The Inuit have said for generations that one of their hunters saw a ship in that part of the passage, abandoned and ended up wrecking…. It's exactly where this guy said it was."

Canadian Geographic has a nice detailed map of the search area. It's not completely clear from the articles and announcement exactly where this find is but it appears to be very close, if not in the area outlined below.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

This Pizza Proves Vietnam's Sovereignty Over Islands

Students at Hoa Sen (Lotus) University in Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) made this pizza after a dispute with China over control of the Paracel (Hoang Sa) and Spratly (Truong Sa) archipelagos in the South China (or East Vietnam) Sea.
Tuna from nearby waters was used to shape the archipelagos. Boundaries and details were made from shrimp, chicken and mushrooms. This project was a response to the Haiyang Shiyou 981 standoff, China's deployment of an oil rig in the waters near the Paracel Islands (claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan) over the summer. See tuoitrenews for more details.

Here is a map from Wikipedia outlining the disputed archipelagos.
 For some older context here is the Paracel Islands as shown in Zheng He Voyage Map (the group of rocks at the lower right hand corner)
 "MAO KUN MAP-19" by Mao Kun - mybook. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Thursday, August 28, 2014


This lovely map of Ocean gyres appears in a long winded article on Medium

Gyres are where currents gather large patches of garbage. Much of this garbage is non-biodegradable plastic that is often consumed by fish and other tasty critters. The future effects of all this plastic on humans is not completely understood but it's not likely to be nearly as pretty as the map. Here's a detailed view-a good example of how less can be more in a map.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Propaganda Map of Ukraine

Ukraine's National Security Information and Analysis Center puts out and updates these maps showing the situation in eastern Ukraine. Click to see a larger version.
There's a lot to like about this map. It is busy but they keep it legible by using clean fonts and symbols. The small circular locator map uses a mostly consistent color scheme though the Crimea color is not explained. The legend is also pretty good, though not everything on the map appears in the legend.

Now the bad parts. First there's the obvious language of propaganda. Regardless of how anyone feels about the politics there, the use of terms like "liberated" and "terrorists" dumbs down the map. Then there's the color problems. It's a cute idea to use the blue and yellow Ukranian flag colors to represent the area but it also makes for a communication failure, especially if you don't realize what they're trying to do. After all, most people outside of the region probably wouldn't recognize those as the flag colors. Instead it creates the illusion of two separate regions divided by a curiously straight line. Also, the locator map only uses yellow for this region. One could also ask why the flag colors do not extend to the rest of the country. I guess they are trying to spotlight the eastern oblasts and make sure you know in no uncertain terms that these are part of Ukraine. Also, the use of flags to represent the "liberated" settlements should make this color scheme unnecessary.

The territory controlled by the pro-Russian, or "terrorist" forces is also confusing. Why is some of the area outlined with a background color and some of it just lines or varying darkness? There are also unexplained blue and red arrows and differing flag sizes. I can guess what all of these items mean but I may be wrong.

I want to like this map because it attractively conveys a lot of information, but it needs work. Still, it's much better than this ugly thing.