Coastal cartography in context

May 15, 2008
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Writing for the May 15th edition of Nature, reviewer Deborah Jean Warner gives a nice summary of Mark Monmonier’s new book, Coast Lines: How Mapmakers Frame the World and Chart Environmental Change:

Mark Monmonier, professor of geography at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University in New York, seeks to inform the public about how cartography and society intersect. He wishes us to look closely at maps, to recognize which features are shown or missing, and understand why. In Coast Lines, he offers an assortment of eclectic and fascinating information about how coastlines have been defined, determined and depicted, focusing on the United States in the twentieth century.
Different maps and charts of the same coastal area show different cartographic coastlines. Monmonier calls our attention to four types, explaining that each is a human construct designed to serve a specific purpose, and the result of many observations and assumptions (the latter sometimes gaining the upper hand). One cartographic coastline is the high-water line visible from offshore. Another, introduced in the nineteenth century to aid safe navigation, is the low-water line. Two are more recent: storm surge lines are designed mainly for evacuation planning and flood insurance, and inundation lines describe the plausible effects of changing geological and meteorological conditions.

Read the rest of the review on the Nature website.

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