Science & Technology in Action

10th Edition

Mapping for Climate Change

Ordnance Survey Ireland

Severe flooding events in recent years have highlighted the importance of maps that show the likely extent of flooding for a given rise in water level. OSi generates maps from a database that is constantly being updated with data from total stations, GPS receivers, lidar, 3D scanners etc.
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Lesson excerpt

Maps are of fundamental importance in planning the construction of buildings, roads and other infrastructural developments. Maps not only indicate the scale of individual constructions but also their relationship to existing structures and the local environment. In fact, planning applications are of little value without appropriate maps. 

In recent decades unusually severe weather events have been attributed to increases in the amount of various greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, particularly carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. The resultant flooding and storm surges have highlighted the need for more careful planning and risk assessment which take account of changing conditions. 

Development of maps 
A map shows how objects in the environment are related spatially. It is a graphical representation but is generally not what would normally be called a picture. It is a kind of model of the world or of a part of it in which standard symbols are used to represent items such as mountains, towns, roads, rivers etc. 

Maps have been in use for at least 4000 years, and possibly 8000 years. The early maps were based on incomplete and inaccurate information and often included fictitious or mythical details. 

By around 500 BC Greek cartographers were using more mathematical methods; the word ‘geometry’ in fact refers to measurement of the land (geo ‘land’ or ‘earth’; metron ‘measurement’). 

Eratosthenes (275–195 BC) noted that there was a 7.2 degree difference (i.e. one 50th of a circle) in the angle of the Sun at Alexandria and at Syene (Aswan) about 800 km to the south. From that he calculated the size of the Earth to better than 99% accuracy. In his books (On the Measurement of the Earth and Geographica) he introduced the use of meridians (lines of longitude, from pole to pole) which indicate the angular distance east or west, and ‘parallels’ (lines of latitude) showing the angular distance north or south of the equator. 

Claudius Ptolemy (90–168 AD) produced a map of the known (Greco- Roman) world in eight volumes (Geographia) complete with an index of place names and their coordinates. Such books included not only maps but also descriptions of different places, peoples and customs and were of great value to travellers, explorers, traders and rulers. Kings and emperors needed them in planning communication, administration, taxes, security and indeed further expansion and so they typically commissioned teams of cartographers to produce or update maps of their realm and beyond. 

The construction of bridges and elevated aqueducts in Roman times required very precise surveying. Many of these structures are still standing today, more than two thousand years later. 

True or False?

  1. The first maps were made around 150 BC. false
  2. The process of calculating distances by measuring angles from a fixed baseline is called triangulation. true
  3. The study and process of making maps is called cartography. true
  4. Lines on the globe from pole to pole are called lines of latitude. false
  5. Lines of longitude are also known as meridians. true
  6. Airborne lidar technology uses sound waves to map large areas. false
  7. A theodolite is an instrument used in surveying to measure angles. true
  8. The largest greenhouse gas contributor is methane. true
  9. As new data are acquired maps can be automatically updated. true
  10. Modern ‘total stations’ included laser range measurement. true