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Geography and maps

Let’s clarify the difference between geometry, geology, geography and geodesy.


the branch of mathematics concerned with the properties and relations of points, lines, surfaces, solids.


the science that deals with the earth’s physical structure and substance, its history, and the processes that act on it.

Moho discontinuity


the spatial study of Earth’s landscapes, peoples, places and environments. This includes cartography (map-making.)

…we have a wide variety of sub-disciplines in the field of geography (like political geography, cultural geography, physical geography, etc.).
Businesses use geography when they decide WHERE to locate a new plant. Real estate developers use geography when they decide WHERE to build a new housing development.

– World Regional Geography GEG 101, http://harpercollege.edu/mhealy/g101ilec/intro/int/g3intrfr.htm

Cartography (map making)

There are many types of maps used in geography.

How to teach geography

Zombie based geography


Geodesy combines applied mathematics and earth sciences to measure and represent the Earth (or any planet)

what is Geodesy

NOAA National Geodetic Survey, from a PPT by Hawaii Geographic Information Coordinating Council


Geodesy reasons

from the  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Ocean Service Education page on Geodesy:

Geodesists basically assign addresses to points all over the Earth. By looking at the height, angles, and distances between these locations, geodesists create a spatial reference system that everyone can use.

Building roads and bridges, conducting land surveys, and making maps are some of the important activities that depend on a spatial reference system. For example, if you build a bridge, you need to know where to start on both sides of the river. If you don’t, your bridge may not meet in the middle.

As positioning and navigation have become fundamental to the functions of society, geodesy has become increasingly important.

More info



Precise Geodetic Infrastructure: National Requirements for a Shared Resource (2010) – Geodesy for the Benefit of Society

Why study geography

Canadian council for geographic education


To understand basic physical systems that affect everyday life (e.g. earth-sun relationships, water cycles, wind and ocean currents).

To learn the location of places and the physical and cultural characteristics of those places in order to function more effectively in our increasingly interdependent world.

To understand the geography of past times and how geography has played important roles in the evolution of people, their ideas, places and environments.

To develop a mental map of your community, province or territory, country and the world so that you can understand the “where” of places and events.

To explain how the processes of human and physical systems have arranged and sometimes changed the surface of the Earth.

To understand the spatial organization of society and see order in what often appears to be random scattering of people and places.

To recognize spatial distributions at all scales — local and worldwide — in order to understand the complex connectivity of people and places.

To be able to make sensible judgements about matters involving relationships between the physical environment and society.

To appreciate Earth as the homeland of humankind and provide insight for wise management decisions about how the planet’s resources should be used.

To understand global interdependence and to become a better global citizen.

What is a map? How do we represent a 3D world on a 2D map?


The fundamental problem

Try to peel an orange into a flattened shape that accurately shows what’s on the surface:

Earth 3D map on orange flattened out problem

Image from blogs.lincoln.ac.nz

Map Projections Part 1: Where on Earth are we?

In short – it’s impossible. Or rather it’s impossible to do it in such as way that you retain all the relationships between what’s on the surface. When flattening out the orange peel you have to make some choices about what you’re going to sacrifice.

Is it direction? Is it area? Is it proximity? Any attempt to flatten the peel will mean sacrificing one or more of these relationships.

When making maps, it’s the same set of choices to make. And this is where map projections come in. Projections are methods that translate the three-dimensional surface of the earth (the globe) into flat, two-dimensional spaces (maps) and there are a multitude available.

This section from Map Projections Part 1: Where on Earth are we?, GIS Blog


It’s impossible to transfer the features on the surface of a sphere onto a flat plane without creating some sort of distortion. As soon as we turn the light on (metaphorically speaking) we sacrifice something: area, shape, bearing, or distance.

Another way we can classify projections is what aspect of the surface they preserve. Here are the main categories:

Direction Preserving (azimuthal or zenithal)

Shape Preserving (conformal or orthomorphic)

Area Preserving (equal-area or equiareal or equivalent or authalic)

Distance Preserving (equidistant), or

Shortest Route Preserving (gnomonic)

Often, the choice of which one to use depends on what the maps will be used for. Mercator first drew his map to be used by mariners, so it was designed to preserve bearing (direction) at the cost of shape and area (hence, an overly large Greenland).

Sometimes, a projection can be chosen so that it minimises several distortions at one time, a sort of compromise that has been used on many New Zealand maps (we’ll look at this more closely later on).

This section from “Map Projections Part 2: The Allegory of the Cave”, GIS Blog

Learning Standards

Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework

4-ESS2-2. Analyze and interpret maps of Earth’s mountain ranges, deep ocean trenches,
volcanoes, and earthquake epicenters to describe patterns of these features and their
locations relative to boundaries between continents and oceans.

Science and Engineering Practices – 4. Analyzing and Interpreting Data – Use graphical displays (e.g., maps, charts, graphs, and/or tables) of large data sets to identify temporal and spatial relationships.

College Board Standards for College Success: Science

Standard SP.3 – Data Analysis – Searching for regularities and patterns in observations and measurements (i.e., data analysis)
Objective SP.3.1 – Analyzing Data for Patterns

Objective SP.4.2 – Models and Representations –  Students construct, use, re-express and revise models and representations of natural and designed objects, systems, phenomena and scientific ideas in the appropriate context and in formulating their explanation.

ELA Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy

English Language Arts Standards » Science & Technical Subjects » Grade 9-10

Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 9-10 texts and topics.

Translate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text into visual form (e.g., a table or chart) and translate information expressed visually or mathematically (e.g., in an equation) into words.

Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., quantitative data, video, multimedia) in order to address a question or solve a problem.


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