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Featured Career: Cartographer

Man standing on ladder to draw on wall map of earth

Maps; They help to visually shape our planet and aid in answering geographical questions about life on Earth. Such as, where are we located? Where are we traveling? How do we get there? Without maps, we could quite literally- be lost. However, with the incorporation of GPS into the world, some wonder if maps are still necessary. Do people still use them? Are they still even made?

The short answer to both of those questions is ‘Yes’. Many people still use traditional maps and companies still produce them. Although maps today are mostly printed by machines and no longer drawn by hand, at a time, maps were considered works of art created by extremely talented artists. The first known map of the world was drawn by a Greek mapmaker named Anaximander, around 550 B.C.E. Today, we call these talented artists “Cartographers”.

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Even though times have changed from paper maps to the digital age, and drawing maps has become a lost art form of traditional cartography, the fundamentals remain the same. Cartographers must still maintain a keen eye for details, spatial awareness, creative color patterns, and legibility when creating their geographical diagrams.

Young woman hiking and reading a map

Today, cartography is a mixture of art, science, and technology. Cartographers use special survey equipment and remote sensing systems to measure, analyze, and create maps and charts for educational, cultural, and governmental purposes. The typical fieldwork of a cartographer includes:

  • Preparing thematic maps in digital or graphic form to be used for social, environmental, political, business, educational, and design purposes.

  • Collecting and analyzing geographical data, such as population density, demographic characteristics, and annual precipitation patterns.

  • Revise existing maps and charts to make corrections, adjustments, and updates.

  • Examine and compile data from ground surveys, reports, aerial photographs, and satellite images to prepare thematic maps.

Becoming a cartographer requires a Bachelor’s Degree in either Geography, Geomatics, Survey Engineering, Forestry, Computer Science, or Physical science. It is recommended for students to take courses in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, drafting, mechanical drawing, and computer science. Upon graduating, some companies require a candidate to take on the role of a surveyor or mapping technician for a minimum of 4 years, before acquiring the position of a cartographer.

Male hand drawing flat map of earth with marker

The average salary of a cartographer as of August 2020 is $66,000, with the highest salaries reaching $105,000. A study done by U.S. Labor Statistics found that the employment of cartographers is projected to grow an additional 4% from 2019 to 2029. This is about the average for all occupations. However, job prospects are likely to be excellent due to the increasing use of maps in government planning.

So, is there a future for cartographers? The answer remains ‘Yes’. Will it include drawing maps with brushes and parchment paper, ‘Probably not’. But, the ancient tradition of map-making is certainly still alive today. The way we access maps and how we create them may have changed, but the same questions still persist several millennia later. Where are we located? Where are we traveling? How do we get there? Maps are the answer and Cartographers are the solution.

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