Global positions on cartography

Framework for the World

March 6, 1998

In Framework for the World, David Rhind tackles the complex themes of spatial data and its evolution from paper-based maps. He brings together a series of papers that address the way in which geographic information is combined, how map-based information is generated and the needs of the users of this information. These themes are discussed by a diverse set of authors representing a disparate set of institutions and bodies from around the world.

The first two chapters examine the requirements for map-based information and the evolution of the global framework. Thanks to developments in electronic technology, the speed and ease of cartography has improved but demands on map-based information have changed. It is now the user who defines the information required and its scale, a development Joel Morrison in chapter two refers to as the "democratisation" of cartography.

The book is arranged in sections, each introduced by the editor who has harmonised the subsequent chapters. The first section examines the national frameworks of mapping and the forces driving them. This opens with an account of the Japanese experience where the national mapping organisation embraces new technologies such as global positioning systems to ensure the island is re-mapped after tectonic movements. In contrast, the South African mapping organisation is motivated by political and social change as political institutions require spatial data to meet the basic demands of the population. The section concludes with the Russian Roskartografia contribution, which is driven by development and land reform issues but also stresses the importance of international cooperation.

The topic of international collaboration is continued into the second section. Papers from members of the United Nations, the World Conservation Monitoring Centre and the US military who use global data sets outline the problems arising from inconsistent formats and scales, which hamper biodiversity studies (the primary reason for holding the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992), the sustainable development schemes proposed by the UN and humanitarian efforts by the US military. As the military produces global spatial data, it is in a strong position to implement its suggested standards to ensure compatibility. This is, of course, a continuation of the long tradition of the military acting as the stimulus for more accurate maps and as a provider of the technology by which these may be achieved.

Section three moves on to examine the changes in technology that affect how spatial data can now be used. Again, standardisation is addressed, along with papers on the theme of national coordination strategies. The contributions from mapping agencies in the US, Europe, Australia, Asia and the Pacific, which have formed national data frameworks, suggest common elements in implementing coordinated approaches: for instance, foundation maps maintained by one body can be used as a basis for combining other shared data from a range of sources. Most noteworthy is the contribution by Carl Calvert, Keith Murray and Neil Smith, which provides a comprehensive overview of the most influential technologies connected with geographic information. The concepts, their value and their limitations provide the background to the data collection, processing and dissemination referred to in other chapters.

The final section moves from the technology to changes in the management and future of the national mapping agencies, again by using experiences from a number of countries including Canada, Denmark and New Zealand. In the examples given, where the agencies are becoming market driven, a contradiction is clear. Now that the use of geographic data has broadened, users demand more accuracy, and the complexity of the information has increased -but the resources of the national centres have been reduced. David Rhind's chapter on the "Redesigning and rebuilding of the Ordnance Survey" describes the process of change for the mapping agency in Britain from that of a traditional government body to a commercial agency with a global outlook.

Framework for the World successfully brings together a varied group of writers who address the themes in the context of their own experiences. In doing so, it examines the new spatial data sources, the new technologies and the relevance of geographic information today. The only serious omission is a contribution from the Middle East, where economic, social and political issues act as a different set of driving forces. This would be an excellent textbook for all those working with geographical data or those looking to use this valuable information in their own applications.

Anna Corlyon is a senior engineer at the VEGA Group plc specialising in remote sensing and geographical information systems.

Framework for the World

Author - David Rhind
ISBN - 1 86242 021 1
Publisher - GeoInformation International
Price - £45.00
Pages - 325

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