The ICA Angle: Cartography and the technological revolution

The ICA Angle: Cartography and the technological revolution

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Rapid advances in technologies have opened a new chapter in map-making as millions have taken to this age-old craft. By Georg Gartner

Any individual with modest computing skills located anywhere on earth can create maps today and use it for almost any purpose. In this new map-making paradigm, users are often present at the location of interest and produce maps that address instantaneous needs. Cartographic data may be digitally and wirelessly delivered in finalised form to the device in the user’s hands or he may derive the requested visualisation from downloaded data in situ. Rapid advances in technologies have enabled this revolution in map-making by the millions. One such prominent advance includes the possibility of deriving maps very quickly, almost immediately after the data has been acquired through the Internet. Real-time data handling and visualisation are other significant developments in addition to location-based services and mobile cartography augmented reality.


The launch of Google Maps and Earth brought cartography to the common man

While the above advances have enabled significant progress on the design and implementation of new ways of map production over the past decade, many cartographic principles remain unchanged; the most important one being that maps are an abstraction of reality. Visualisation of selected information means that some features present in reality are depicted more prominently than the others while many features might not even be depicted at all. Abstract reality makes a map powerful as it helps to understand and interpret very complex situations.

Abstraction is essential in all stages of geospatial information dissemination. Cartographic depictions allow us to understand situations on the earth, even if they are very complex. Cartographic technologies, including innovative map derivation, crowdsourcing and neocartography techniques and location-based services, are available in a ubiquitous manner to everybody now. Maps are produced to enable decision-makers, experts and the general public alike to understand the kind and levels of a particular spatial situation or spatial topic. Modern cartography enables the general public to participate in modelling and visualising their neighbourhood on a voluntary basis. Modern cartography also helps to quickly disseminate spatial information, even if it is crucial, for example in case of disaster management.

Cartography is most relevant in this sense. Without maps we would be ‘spatially blind’. Knowledge about spatial relations and location of objects are most important for handling disasters and crisis situations or simply to be able to make good decisions. Cartography is also most contemporary, as new and innovative technologies have an important impact into what cartographers are doing.


Modern cartography enables the general public to participate in visualising and modelling their neighbourhood on a voluntary basis. For instance, National Geographic offers interactive maps through MapMaker Interactive

Maps can be derived automatically from geodata acquisition methods such as laser scanning, remote sensing or sensor networks. Smart models of geodata can be built allowing in-depth analysis of structures and patterns. A whole range of presentation forms are available nowadays, from maps on mobile phones to geoinformation presented as augmented reality.

In such a situation, it is of high importance that those interested in maps, mapping and cartography are working together on an international level. This is exactly the role of the International Cartographic Association (ICA). It is the world’s authoritative body for cartography and GI Science comprising of national and affiliate members. The association encourages every nation in the world to join the big family of cartography and GI science. Companies, universities and other bodies involved in cartography and GI Sciences join ICA as affiliate members, and the numbers are growing.

I am happy to announce, that we will use the opportunity of this quarterly column in Geospatial World to inform you about the ongoing activities in the domain of modern cartography.