Monday, April 20, 2009

Finding A Map

I’m intrigued by this problem: you find a book about someone travelling in Nepal, or about a certain forest in Poland, or about the highlands of Costa Rica, and you want a good map of the area.

You want, it turns out, a topographic map, usually at 1:50,000 or 1:100,000, a map you could use to follow a route. It has all the landmarks local people and travellers use: the rivers are labelled, the peaks are labelled, and towns and hamlets are labelled.

So where do you turn? Specifically, I’m interested in where you turn on-line, and this is for two reasons which more or less define this particular game I’m playing. First, it should be free. Second, it should be automatically generated.

In a sense, I’m posing a challenge here: who can make an automatic map-generator that works at any scale and is map-based, rather than imagery-based.

Within certain countries, excellent local solutions exist. For example, if your area of interest in in the US, WorldWind and the USGS topo-map server give you an awesome abilty to pan around on topo maps of various scales draped over a digital elevation model. In Canada you can use toporama, or EarthDetails, or you can download the CanMatrix images of scanned topo maps. In Norway you can visit a lovely site whose name I forget where you are panning over topo maps at many scales.

Note that I’m not looking for free data; images of maps is fine.

To the extent that the solutions are going to be provided on a country-by-country basis, what’s missing is a central clearinghouse of links to topo maps for various countries.