What is a Cartographer?

Also known as: Geographic Information Specialist, Geographic Information Systems Specialist, Digital Cartographer, GIS Analyst, Map Maker, Mapmaker.

A cartographer is someone who will measure, analyze, and interpret geographical information to create maps and charts for political, cultural and educational purposes. The first maps were manually constructed with brushes and parchment, dating back many centuries. From the 15th to the 17th century, during the Age of Exploration, cartographers used maps that had been passed down for centuries, to create new ones based on new surveying techniques and explorers' observations. Of course, the invention of the telescope, sextant and compass enabled increasing accuracy.

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What does a Cartographer do?

Cartographers spend most of their time using computers while working in offices. They typically do fieldwork to collect and verify data used in creating maps.

A cartographer will also:

  • Collect and analyze geographical data, such as population density, demographic characteristics, and annual precipitation patterns
  • Examine and compile data from ground surveys, reports, aerial photographs, and satellite images to prepare thematic maps
  • Prepare thematic maps in digital or graphic form to be used for social, environmental, political, business, educational, and design purposes
  • Revise existing maps and charts to make corrections, adjustments, and updates

Cartographers use information from geodetic surveys and remote sensing systems, including aerial cameras, satellites, and technologies such as light-imaging detection and ranging (LIDAR). LIDAR uses lasers attached to planes and other equipment to digitally map the topography of the earth. LIDAR is often more accurate than traditional surveying methods and also can be used to collect other forms of data, such as the location and density of forest canopies. Data from LIDAR is used to provide spatial information to specialists in water resource engineering, geology, seismology, forestry, construction, and other fields.

A cartographic professional who creates maps using geographic information system (GIS) technology is known as a geographic information specialist. A GIS is typically used to assemble, integrate, analyze, and display spatial information in a digital format. Maps created with GIS technology link spatial graphic features with non-graphic information. These maps are useful for providing support for decisions involving environmental studies, geology, engineering, land-use planning, and business marketing.

A cartographer will also work from existing maps, surveys, and other records. To do so, they must be able to determine thematic and positional accuracy of each feature being mapped. They must make decisions about the accuracy and reliability of the final map. In addition, they must decide what further information they need to meet the client's needs. They must focus on details when including features needed on a final map, and must be able to identify and resolve issues with the tools available to them.

What is the workplace of a Cartographer like?

Cartographers spend much of their time in offices using computers with large monitors, so they can easily study and extract information from aerial photographs and other sources. However, certain jobs require extensive fieldwork to acquire data and verify results. They typically do fieldwork to collect and verify data used in creating maps.



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Further Reading

  • The Aesthetician And The Cartographer

    Sometime around 2006, when everyone and their grandma started cranking out terrible Google Maps mashups, the Cartography world soiled its collective underpants as it looked like the once specialized profession was about to become obsolete.

  • How Do I Become A Cartographer?

    To become a cartographer, one may want to focus on some type of formal study, additional specialized training and obtaining licensure.

  • Point To Point

    Tony Killilea's career in mapmaking has encompassed great change since the days of plumb lines and draughtsmanship.

  • Interview With Cartographer Doug Crews-Nelson

    Meet Doug Crews-Nelson, a Cartographer/Artist from Madison, Wisconsin, who is just beginning to promote his ingenious maps for sale.

  • New Cartographers: How Citizen Mapmakers Are Changing The Story Of Our Lives

    We see them every day, popping up on our Twitter feeds, filtered through blogs, or even scattered throughout the New York Times: maps portraying not the usual locations or destinations, but data.

  • Cartographer Job Description

    Many cartographers have moved from the drafting table to the computer, using special software to gather data and create their maps.

  • The New Cartographers

    As maps have changed, so have mapmakers. No longer static images, maps have become active interfaces for information exchange.

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