MapCarte 115/365: Landsat imagery by USGS, 1972-present



The Earth Resources Technology Satellites Program to launch satellites able to acquire remotely sensed images of Earth began in 1972 with the launch of what was to later become known as Landsat . April 2014 marks the 15th Anniversary of the launch of Landsat 7 and May 2013 saw the first data returned from the latest Landsat 8. Now managed by USGS in conjunction with NASA, the Landsat programme is the world’s longest running continuously acquired collection of space-based imagery of Earth. It’s imagery has revolutionised the way we view, explore, analyse, map and understand our world. It has provided an indispensable set of data to support agriculture, geology, planning, forestry and global change research.


Dry valleys in Antarctica

The images and maps that have been made from Landsat data have given the world a new perspective. They’ve brought the beauty of the planet to popular media and the desktop. They’ve been uniquely informative in shedding light on our environment and how humans have reshaped it for better and worse. They enable us to better map and understand land use, land use change and help bring us discoveries that are only visible from space.


Mississippi River

While Landsat is only capable of capturing ‘data’, the way in which we interpret that and map it has given us some spectacular images of the earth. Remotely sensed images are, of course, a form of map.  The resolution of each pixel is a generalised representation of the predominant land cover captured. Successful data processing and symbolisation can bring to light very specific features. In particular, false-color composites can be processed to a true-colour likeness as the leading image of Hawaii shows from the Enhanced thematic mapper (ETM+) instrument on Landsat 7. What the image captures is the beauty of Hawaii’s land cover that shows us hardened lava flows, volcanic smoke plumes, lush tropical forests, plantations and human settlement.


World Trade Center site in New York, September 12, 2001

Depending on the precise timing of the satellite orbit and data captured, Landsat has also brought us spectacular images of major events such as tornadoes, hurricanes, sandstorms and even the 9/11 attack on the World trade Center in New York. It has also shown us natural beauty such as the almost Van Gogh-like appearance of the swirling waters and plumes of phytoplankton around the Swedish island of Gotland.


Swedish island of Gotland takes on the appearance of Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’

This MapCarte entry cannot possibly do justice in describing the detail of the Landsat programme or showcase the many fine examples of maps and imagery it has underpinned. It is a masterpiece of technological innovation and design to overcome our need for acquiring remotely sensed data to support our mapping of the planet.

For more, check out the Landsat pages on the USGS web site here and view and download Landsat scenes here.


MapCarte 114/365: Disneyland by Sam McKim, 1958-1964

MapCarte114_mckimIt’s well known that Walt Disney had large format, elegant maps made as part of the proposals to secure investment for the creation of Disneyland in California in the early 1950s. The perspective views of the imaginary land he envisaged, drawn by Herbert Ryman, were crucial to securing the finances he needed for the project. Another iconic map, by Peter Ellenshaw was featured on early souvenir postcards and brochures of the park. Ellenshaw was an acclaimed artist and visual effects pioneer who worked on many of Disney’s films and is credited with the first official map of Disneyland.

Disneyland opened in 1955 but an early oversight, or lack of time and funds, meant that the first souvenir map proper wasn’t available to purchase until 1958. Neither the Ryman or Ellenshaw maps were to be used. Instead, Disney artist and Imagineer Sam McKim became the master of Disney’s theme park maps. Actor turned artist McKim’s drawings inspired many of Disney’s films and theme park attractions but it is his early, intricate and fascinating theme park souvenir maps for which he is renowned. The maps are rich in detail, contain perfectly positioned drawings amongst the landscape and the text and labels sits effortlessly in the design. There are characters, animals and motion depicted throughout (e.g. running or flowing water) to give a sense of a living, breathing, exciting place.


What better way to remember your time in the ‘happiest place on earth’ than by taking home a map and pinning it to your wall. The detailed pictorial style of McKim’s map matched the enchantment of the park itself, allowing one to relive a visit and also think out and plan the next. The map’s detail is labyrinthine and encouraged deep exploration to uncover all of the pieces in the park which, quite simply, was impossible during a single visit to the park itself. The map, then, became an intrinsic part of the experience and even though the park was an imagined environment, the presence of such a map brought a sense of realism and permanence. Even when you are not in the park, you can pour over the map and experience it all over again. The ability of McKim to convey the sense of wonder that Disney wanted the park to evoke is a classic piece of cartographic story-telling.

Souvenir maps became a priority in 1957 and McKim was tasked with creating the map. The first edition, measuring 30″ by 45″ was sold during 1958 in a rolled up tube but subsequently, the maps were folded in twelfths measuring 8″ by 15″ to allow them to be sold more readily. McKim was responsible for revisions for two more editions of the map in 1958 and 1959 to add various new attractions as the park grew rapidly and four more of his maps were produced until 1964. They can be identified by the coloured border with the blue one shown here being the 1962 version. All followed the beautiful illustrative form of the original.


McKim even managed to make a small appearance in the map himself as he hid his initials (SM) in amongst the trees and bushes next to the covered bridge (above). Many cartographers include small hidden visual treats. McKim’s original maps are now much sought after collectibles for their quality and beauty. McKim was also responsible for drawing the map for the celebrated opening of Euro Disneyland in Paris in a style similar to his original maps.


McKim’s work lay the groundwork for theme park mapping globally. His style and approach has been used by countless other artists for many other parks. If the true measure of cartographic greatness is imitation then McKim’s work stands tall. He has been recognised with his own window on Main Street in Disneyland as which states “Cartography Masterworks – Sam McKim – Map Maker of the Kingdom – There’s Magic in the Details.” Attention to detail is more often than not what makes great cartography. McKim’s maps certainly captured the detail of the park, the imaginary world it represented and portrayed it in a captivating style.

Discover more about McKim’s work and the multitude of maps of Disneyland here.

MapCarte 113/365: Desk Globe by Bellerby & Co. Globemakers, 2012


Globes. Possibly the finest representation of the planet in map form that exists. No need to be concerned about the awkward process of mathematically crow-barring the earth’s detail onto a flat map or a computer screen. No digital devices to be bothered with. A simple, spherical, physical model that shows us how the planet actually is – a three-dimensional physical object represented perfectly by a three-dimensional physical object. Most of us at one time or another have spun a globe in a classroom or on a desk. Many of us own a globe…most likely one made of a plastic printed shell, possibly that lights up and if you look closely you’ll likely find lines of latitude that don’t quite line up and overlaps of bits of countries and text. But not all globes are created equally and Peter Bellerby’s globes are exquisite.

In an era where digital is surpassing physical it was a brave man who decided to build his own globe making company. Bellerby did just that in 2008. He wanted to get a globe as a present for his father’s 80th birthday but couldn’t find one suitable…so he set about making his own and thus his company was born. Making globes is no easy task. Making high quality globes even harder and his story is one of dogged persistence in achieving perfection.

Peter Bellerby – The Globemaker from Cabnine.

Bellerby’s collection includes a wide range of globes from the 12″ desk globe shown here to massive 50″ Churchill globes. Each is hand-crafted, involving Formula 1 racing car fabrication techniques (to create a perfect sphere) and then hand painted. As maps they are simply beautiful with colour being expertley applied and labels sitting perfectly across the map. Of course, each globe can be customised to whatever requirements you wish but the standard desk globe is a perfectly balanced piece of work without modification. As a globe, the maps take on an extra dimension quite literally. The exacting construction means the gores line up perfectly and as you’d expect the map itself is based on up-to-date information and correct at the time of construction. The desk version weighs 3kg and sits atop a hand made black walnut plinth housing roller-bearings that allows the globe to glide and rotate effortlessly. This is the very essence of engaging with a map – to touch it and to feel it as you control its movement with perfect fluidity.


You cannot just make a globe without a fine attention to detail. Precision and craftsmanship are what sets these globes apart and makes them not only unique but masterpieces of cartography. These globes are made to last and have brought a dying art back to the fore. Peter Bellerby has resurrected the lost art of high quality globe making and his globes are literally out of this world.

For a more detailed exploration of Bellerby’s history, collection and processes visit his web site here.

MapCarte 112/365: Atlas of Oregon 2ed by William G. Loy, Stuart Allan, Aileen Buckley and Jim Meachem 2001

MapCarte112_oregon_coverDescribed as a ‘tour-de-force in cartography and design’ by Allen Carroll, former Chief Cartographer at National Geographic Society and one of Edward Tufte’s favourite atlases for its clear design, this atlas provides a detailed exposition of the physical and human geography of Oregon in the United States. It contains 320 pages each beautifully depicting a wide range of fascinating information across some 700 maps and accompanying graphs and commentary.


The atlas contains rich information graphics and, in particular, the thematics are well produced with a strong figure-ground relationship that allows the detail to literally jump off the page. The statistical map pages are detailed and clear. The colours throughout show a clear lineage to co-author Stuart Allan’s Raven Maps.


The atlas has rightly won a number of awards and plaudits for it’s state-of-the-art design and production. A richer set of maps that demonstrate the very clearest cartography you’ll struggle to find. An atlas should present a place in detail but making an atlas a work of art brings another dimension to the work and encourages people to explore and keep coming back for more.

MapCarte 111/365: Mapdive by Instrument, 2013


Click image to go to the web site and play MapDive.

Maps don’t have to simply provide us with reference information or a way to understand the world. They can simply just be art or provide a vehicle for entertainment. Here, Instrument showcase the Google Maps API and capabilities of the Chrome browser in creating an interactive game. It’s simple and effective.

Google’s map, itself, provides a bright and well crafted product suited to the screen. The player controls Google’s Peg Man (from the Streetview product) in skydiving gear as he hurtles towards earth (the map!) and attempts to navigate to a particular location (e.g. Statue of Liberty). You have to control the skydive through hoops and collect objects along the way but what makes the game so well produced is the way the map sits in the view, out of focus until you get closer to its surface. As you end your successful dive the fireworks begin.

Google Maps API: Map Dive Installation from Instrument

While you can play the game in the browser, the use of Google’s Liquid Galaxy shows how maps can provide a platform for an installation where players can navigate through motion-sensed gestures. There’s a highly complex set of technologies that work together to provide this capability and make the game play and experience so smooth and enjoyable. This mirrors the map itself – a lot of great work is required to make a product perform well.

We include Mapdive here because it’s a well designed piece of work that has a map as the central basis of the work. Instrument did not just rely on Google’s default map design though, they showcase a variety of styles by re-styling the base map to correspond to various climates. It’s also just fun and cartography can just be fun!

Plenty more details and images at the Instrument web site here.

MapCarte 110/365: Vinex Atlas by Jelte Boeijenga and Jeroen Mensink, 2008

MapCarte110_vinexcoverAn atlas is simply a compendium of maps. We normally see such collections comprise maps of the world and so the world atlas is perhaps the most common form. Of course, an atlas can be about any related theme and this example from 010 Publishers showcases the approach beautifully. The maps are of a related theme and the design of the atlas pages is consistent throughout – the key to a great atlas.

A report In the 1990s published by the Dutch Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment outlined a project referred to by its Dutch acroym ‘Vinex’. Hundreds of thousands of houses were constructed under the proposals which became known as Vinex districts. In planning terms the policy has been heavily debated and criticised. This atlas provides a detailed visual, spatial and statistical account describing all 52 Vinex districts. The atlas includes a thorough essay on the programme and then illustrates the districts with detailed maps, plans, graphs, aerial photographs and photographs.


The atlas has a very distinctive appearance being predominantly black and white with muted colours across the maps and flashes of yellow used to provide accents throughout. The ink to paper ratio is consistent which gives each page a very similar look and feel. The relatively high proportion of white space is used effectively to give each map and graph space to breath and contribute to the overall composition. The graphics are bold and crisp.


Designed by the Joost Grootens studio and published by 010, it’s an exceptional example of designing information-based graphics with detail being brought to focus with clear structure and precise depiction. The atlas won the 2009 ‘best book design from all over the world’, beating 700 other entries to the gold medal.

More page spreads can be viewed at the Joost Grootens web site here.


MapCarte 109/365: Mt McKinley by U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, 1941

MapCarte109_mckinleyRelief representation is always a challenge for cartographers. It often makes or breaks a map giving the representation realism or appearing to sit uncomfortably. The choice of method alone is cause for a headache…illuminated relief shading, hachures, contours, hypsometric tinting and a multitude of alternative approaches provide a rich palette. The ultimate goal is to create a representation that mimics the three-dimensional character of the landscape itself and which can be easily understood by the map reader. Unless you know how to read a map, traditional techniques such as contours can appear confusing despite them being blatantly obvious to the map-maker. Here then, is perhaps the most readily understood form of relief representation – the plastic relief model.

This example of Mount McKinley illustrates the pinnacle of small format plastic relief model design. The model itself is well produced. The two dimensional surface is created in a mould that warps the plastic using heat. The physical character of the landscape, its hills, valleys, ridges and depressions are faithfully reproduced and once the topographic map has been overprinted the landscape springs to life in real 3D. Of course there are problems with this sort of map. Firstly, they often require considerable vertical exaggeration to make features across a large area appear sufficiently to make the third dimension believable. Exaggeration, of course, is part of the cartographer’s generalization toolbox and applied with care can emphasise the features sensibly which this example evidences.

The Lambert conical projection gives this map its curvature but the cartographers have used the flat borders to great effect to relay the detail for the legend. Rather than orientating everything to read in the same way, the reader has to rotate the model to see different information. A nice touch that promotes the idea that the model can and should be viewed from multiple angles to reveal different perspectives. The printed map is of a high quality that helps ensure the model is pleasing to the eye as well as detailed and informative.


The main drawback to the adoption of plastic relief models is their relatively high cost of production, storage issues and the fact that the plastic degrades. Maps such as these remain collectible and sought after. They have also been used as a way of generating two-deimensional shaded relief using a camera with a long focal length and then combining the photograph with other planimetric detail. The use of LiDAR scanners have also been used to create three-dimensional point cloud of plastic relief models to allow the recreation of a computerised 3D model.

Nothing compares to the use of a three-dimensional object to show relief.  It provides a tactile representation of reality that no computer generated model can similarly achieve. This is a beautiful example of the type and as a delightful map object in its own right. Of course, a 2D computer screen cannot do this work justice but…go find a copy!

MapCarte 108/365: Watercolor by Stamen Design, 2010


Click on image to view web map

One of the ways in which mapping technology has changed, particularly in the early 21st century is that we now have a wide range of pre-canned work that can be re-purposed as part of our own work. Google’s 2005 map revolution played a massive part in this as the idea of cached, tiled basemaps at multiple scales became the de facto digital map experience. Soon after, people began ‘mashing up’ their own content across Google’s basemap and the mashup craze was born. Cartographers have always compiled their work from a range of different sources, and often used base mapping produced for other purposes, so conceptually this wasn’t anything new but practically this developed into a radical departure. For compile, read mashup.

But what if you don’t want a Google topographic reference map as your underlay? What if you want something else more suited to the data you’re draping across the top? Many mapping companies, design studios and individuals have developed techniques for re-styling other people’s tiles or for re-cooking new tiles based on modifications you make yourself. This provides the map-maker with a fantastic opportunity to prepare a basemap that truly meets the map’s needs.

Stamen Design  have developed a reputation for thinking outside the box and using a technological sophisticated approach to produce aesthetically pleasing work. This includes digital base maps. They’ve produced many different, eye catching designs but perhaps the one that has caught most attention has been Watercolor. The map takes on an ethereal feel because it’s appearance is similar to the soft strokes of a watercolor painting. Fills are inconsistent in tone, texture and transparency, line widths are not at all uniform in width or colour and many of the features are little more than a hazy amorphous blob. But what an effect!


Click on image to view web map

The concept of taking a digital map data set and portraying it in the most un-digital way possible provides a natural attraction. There’s something very appealing about the way that an apparently painted picture challenges the stereotype of rigid digital data and traditionally produced maps. It provides a very organic product from a very sterile set of coordinate data. As with all good digital basemaps, the detail is re-styled at different scales and the process of simplification and generalisation works well – less detail and more smudges at smaller scales and some refinement as you zoom in.

Many have used the basemap, often, it has to be said as a stand-alone map just because it has a strong visual appeal. Ironically, it’s also been printed and hung as a picture by many too. Of course, as with any basemap it’s also possible to find examples where people have used it wholly inappropriately under data not suited to the style but that’s to be expected. What Stamen did was challenge our notions of what a digital basemap can be and inspired us to move beyond functional digital maps to beautiful digital maps.

More about Stamen’s maps can be found here. Their overall design studio work is here.

MapCarte 107/365: Yosemite by Jo Mora, 1931

MapCarte107_moraOf the thousands of maps, illustrations and photographs of Yosemite one sits proud as a work of art that captures the beauty and scale of the valley and is arguably as much loved as the valley itself. Uruguayan Joseph Jacinto ‘Jo’ Mora first visited Yosemite in 1904 and as is the case with the millions of visitors since was left in awe of the sheer magnitude and splendor of the place. The park inspires and whether your interest be climbing, hiking, photography or painting, many are compelled to express their experience. Mora’s map is a response to the sights and sounds he saw in the valley.

Mora became fascinated with the American West in the early 1900s and his first visit included a two week journey from San Francisco. Upon arrival his first view of the valey was diarised as “Soon came to ‘O! My! Point.’ Perfectly charming, fine view of part of valley. Photoed. Drank it all in.”. His copious notes, diaries and photographs became a narrative that captured the ever changing natural landscape and the various ways people were seen to be enjoying their stunning surroundings. He began drawing maps in 1927. The pictorial, humorous style became a trademark that he applied to many areas but it is the Yosemite map first published in 1931 that remains his most memorable.

The map provides an overview from the Merced River entrance looking eastwards. The main physical features are clearly represented and labelled along with characters providing an associated visual pun. For instance, a cloud resting on an easy chair is drawn at Cloud’s Rest and a Bishop straddles Cathedral Spires. Indeed Mora explained his humorous style succinctly as “There is so much grandeur and reverential solemnity to Yosemite that a bit of humor may help the better to happily reconcile ourselves to the triviality of man. Give me the souls who smile at their devotions! Now, should this light effort, not altogether truthful, so not although dull, afford you a tithe of mirth, I shall feel I have added to your reverence for Yosemite.”


Many of the people are going about tasks that hint at an autobiographical approach and a representation of Mora’s own experiences. The map was originally printed in black and white but later colour versions published by the Yosemite Park and Curry Company in 1941 and 1949. Many of Mora’s works, including Yosemite, go beyond the humour and depict visual references to indigenous cultures, animals and traditional activities particularly in the border.

Mora’s map is not only meant to entertain but also provide a window into the environment. It’s endlessly fascinating and perhaps as adults his work gives us a way to relive some of the magic of children’s pictorial atlases which we’re no longer supposed to reference as much as a ‘proper’ map. This is, though, a proper map…expertely observed, ground truthed and designed with an attractive style. It helps to begin with a magnificent place to map…but combined with the skill, artistry and humour of someone who had a passion for the place makes an exceptional map.

More of Jo Mora’s work can be seen at his trust’s web site here.

MapCarte 106/365: Mapping Connected Places by Ed Manley, 2014


Big data is one thing but Ed Manley describes the dataset he used to create this map as ‘massive data’. It’s the Oyster Card tap ins and tap outs across London’s transport network over a 3 month period in 2012. That’s a log of every single journey made by public transport. trying to make any sort of sense of such data requires a clear head but also the ability to mine the data to get to the crux of a very specific question. Without focus and homing in on a tightly controlled idea then work such as this becomes nothing more than a visual data dump. What Manley has achieved here is to extract meaning from the data and represent it with clarity.

The map shows how associated two places are in the transport network by mapping the most popular destination station for any origin station. It’s a gross generalisation but then that’s the idea…to see what the most likely end-point might be for a traveller from the origin of a journey. Manley only used peak period journeys between 7-10am on weekdays to avoid ‘noise’ caused by bidirectional journeys or the very different patterns of weekend travel. He therefore uses selective omission to great effect as well as a range of generalisation operations on the data to capture the nugget of detail he wants.

At a meta level it gives us a glimpse of the structure of the network by route for the morning commuter influx rather than the real network which might map infrastructure itself rather than the routes people travel. The curved lines emphasise the abstract nature of the concept well. Mapping true geography and a network would assign too much meaning to the actual route which may be inaccurate anyway given the multitude of ways to get from A to B. The saturated colours, clean black backdrop and sensible use of transparency add to the visual appeal of the map as does the fact there isn’t a title. The map stands on its own as abstract art. It demands that you read an associated commentary to understand the complexity. An interesting approach that works well.


The map supports basic knowledge acquisition about interdependencies, key stations, spatial concentrations and stations which act as local hubs in addition to the concentration in central London.  too which are detailed on Manley’s blog about the map.

The old KISS principle of ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’, often taught in cartography classes, is a key tenet of this work. To clarify a complex system, keep it simple. This is exactly what Manley has done in designing not only a piece of data driven map art, but one with a purpose and which can be used to explore questions of the data. A lot of data driven map art is purely for appearances and when explored critically often shows up some serious liberties taken by the designer.

Check Manley’s blog here for more detail and a link to a higher resolution version as well as a version with labels.