MapCarte 78/365: Atlantic Ocean Floor by Heinrich Berann, 1968

MapCarte76_berannIn 1967, Austrian landscape panoramist and cartographer Heinrich Berann painted the first in a series of plan oblique physiographic maps of the ocean floor which ultimately culminated in the 1977 World Ocean Floor map for Columbia University and the U.S. Navy. He worked in collaboration with pioneering oceanographers Bruce Heezen and his assistant Mary Tharp and together they revolutionized the theories of plate tectonics and continental drift. The individual maps were printed by National Geographic (this from 1968) and labels added using the familiar yet unobtrusive NatGeo typeface.

Berann skillfully combined blue-greys to create a topologicallly accurate, though hugely exaggerated, picture of the ocean floor that leads readers to want to explore.  The Mid-Atlantic Ridge and fracture zones appear so life-like with a rippling effect and intricate detail that it draws your eye in and captures your attention.  This creates a strong figural component positioned central to the map page that suggests the page (and fracture zone itself) splitting down the middle. The yellow land and deep grey-blue ocean floor provides a strong contrast between land, shoreline and oceans.


This map is also testament to the outcome of strong collaborations. Berann knew little of the sea floor topography but worked alongside domain experts whose knowledge was key to the end product. This is a lesson for all map-makers in that their designs should be based on sound data, detail and judgement. Cartographers are good at cartography. More often than not bringing in expertise gives the work authority. Of course, the counter is also true and many domain experts could use a good cartographer.

More of Berann’s work can be seen at his web site here.