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Simplicity in Complexity

Cartography, or mapmaking, is the study and practice of making representations of the Earth on a flat surface.

Cartographers design maps based on the properties they want to preserve and the information they want to portray.

A map projection is a systematic means to portray shape, area, distance, and direction of the Earth on a two-

dimensional surface. Map projections are created by projecting landmasses and the graticule onto a flat surface. All map

projections contain distortions since no one projection preserves all four properties simultaneously. A globe is the only

accurate representation of shape, area, distance, and direction of the Earth’s surface.

There are three main properties of projections. Equal area projections maintain equal area relationships; conformal

projections maintain angular relationships in order to preserve shape; and equidistant projections maintain distances

between points.

The class of a map projection can be conic, cylindrical, or planar. Conic-class maps result from wrapping a flat surface of

a cone around a reference globe and are often used to project the midlatitudes. Wrapping a cylindrical surface (a


rectangle) around a globe creates a cylindrical-class map. Cylindrical-class maps are usually centered on the equator. A

planar-class map results from placing a flat surface next to the surface of a globe, so that the two only touch at a single

point, and is most often used to project the poles.