|NRCan, 1990 "North Circumpolar Region" MCR 198|
|NRCan, 2008 "North Circumpolar Region" MCR 0001|
But, which would I rather have hanging on my wall? Hands down it's the older version. It looks better. So what can we learn here?
According to the article by the authors (Mapping The North, R. Eric Kramers and Andrew Murray, Cartographica, vol 45, No. 3, p.201), the new shaded relief was generated from a DEM using GIS software. However, it didn't look right until it was "tempered with the less-detailed, manually-drawn, 1990 relief." The two were blended in Photoshop to give the right balance of the high-resolution (computer generated) and low-resolution (hand-painted) components.
It's not the first time I've read this: computer-generated shaded relief is too accurate for the big view: although each peak and ridge is there, the overall impression of a mountain chain is lacking something. Tom Patterson (DEM Manipulation and 3-D Terrain Visualization, Catographica vol. 38, # 1&2 Spring/Summer 2001, p.92) wrote that high-resolution DEMs give the wrong effect at small scales.
Especially problematic are glaciated northern mountains comprising tightly packed ridges and valleys...which often appear as an irregular texture rather than a recognizable topography.And here are Anna Leonowicz, Bernhard Jenny and Lorenz Hurni (Automated Reduction of Visual Complexity In Small-Scale Relief Shading, Cartographica vol. 45, No. 1, Spring 2010, p.73) pointing out that, at present, hand-painted relief is simply better:
Cartographers currently lack advanced methods for using [DEMs] to produce relief visualizations at a level of quality comparable to traditional, manually-executed relief representations.Patterson recommended that you could at least get closer to a hand-painted result by manufacturing a low-resolution DEM (i.e., down-sampling the original), and merging a shaded relief version of that with the shaded relief from the high-resolution data. In a sense this is just what the authors of the 2008 map did.
Nonetheless the hand-painted relief, for my money, on the original 1990 map still looks better. A circumpolar map is a very grand overview. No one is going to refer to it for details, and it is designed to hang on a wall or adorn a floor. It gives an overall impression of planetary scale; so here I prefer the old style of shaded relief, where the mountain ranges stand out so strongly.
|Western Canada, 2008-style|
|Western Canada, 1990-style|
However, something was thrown away! Kamchatka, the Sakhalin Islands and the Aleutian Islands, which the artist gave shaded relief to in 1990 throughout their full extents, now have it cut off! Russia needs the full extent of Kamchatka, to emphasize Siberia's size and the way it overhangs the Pacific Ocean. Rendered this way, it just looks silly.
I don't want to go on ranting here, because I'm not that great a map designer myself. But for GIS people designing maps, the 2008 map is a good lesson. Sometimes it's harder to achieve the effect you want using the latest tools.