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CONVENTIONAL AND MODERN TOOLS OF GEOGRAPHY
Despite their variety, all maps have similar components, or parts. These include a title; a legend or key; a direction indicator; and a scale.
The title of a map. It identifies what the map is about and what parts of the earth it shows. The title of some maps includes a date. Dates are useful on maps showing features that change over time. A map with the title “Distribution of Population in France: 1920”, for example, should not be used when looking for figures on the present population of France.
A legend. A legend or key explains the meaning of colors and symbols used on a map. A map with areas shown in green, red, and blue might be misunderstood unless the user knows what the green, red, and blue represent. The legend also explains the meaning of symbols used on a map, such as stars for capital cities.
A direction indicator. Every map should have a direction indicator. One such indicator is an arrow that points north. A different way to find directions on a map is to study the parallels and meridians. East and west directions follow parallels, or lines of latitude. North and south directions follow meridians, or lines of longitude. Parallels and meridians cross each other to form an imaginary grid over the earth. Because each degree can be broken into 60 minutes (ʹ) and each minute can be broken into 60 seconds (ʺ), this grid can be used to fix the precise location of any point on the earth’s surface.
The most important longitude is called the Greenwich Meridian, because it passes through a place called Greenwich in London where there is a famous observatory. The longitude of the Greenwich Meridian is 0 degrees. At Greenwich local time is called Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). All places on the same meridian have the same local time. When it is noon at a given meridian, it is after noon or post meridiem (p.m.) at places which lie to the east of it. This is because the earth rotates from west to east. At the same time the sun will be before noon or ante meridiem (a.m.) at places lying to the west.
Map scales and projections. A map scale provides statistical information used to measure distances on a map. While maps have similar components, they do not always show areas of the world in exactly the same way. The size and shape of North America, for example, may look somewhat different on two different maps. The differences occur because the two maps use different map projections, or methods by which the features of the earth’s curved surface are transferred onto a flat map.
No matter which projection is used, every map has some distortions
No matter which projection is used, every map has some distortions that are inevitable in the process of illustrating the earth’s spherical surface on a flat map. Certain distortions, however, are worse on some projections than on others. Mapmakers choose which projection to use depending on what undistorted features, or map properties, are most important to be illustrated. The four most useful map properties are correct shape, correct size, correct distance, and correct direction. No world map can have all four map properties. Maps of smaller areas, however, may have less distortion than maps of larger areas.