Map Scale in the Zoomable, Digital World

Just because you can see it at excruciating, never-before detail doesn't mean you have to map it in excruciating, never-before-mapped detail. To do so will result in an excruciating experience for the map-user.

You have a personal detail threshold already. Look at one of your maps and decide what it is and what it is based upon. Is it based upon a tangible and replicable measure? Yes? Hey, good for you. Now, change that threshold in a way that makes your map more legible at a meaningful scale. 

Are you thrilled that your complex volcanic unit that is riddled with facies and faults can be mapped in excruciating detail on excruciatingly detailed imagery? Do you care that no one else will be able to make sense of it but you? Lump some of your facies, show important faults, and then write a paper with a figure, or two, or three showing the excruciating detail and explaining what it means.

Can you not get over the fact that you can see individual boulders on your alluvial fan in high-res imagery? That you can see a perfectly resolved plexus of active channels that will be modified by the next flow event? Have you decided to map all the channels? Why? Are you creating an update-able archive of channel change on that fan? No? Then map the domain of active channels as a group or swath and note that you have not resolved the complexity on the map because it is a dynamic setting and that the channels shift frequently. Decide if time slices potentially thinner than one year are what you need to map, have time to map, or have a reason to map.


Types of Geologic Maps

  • Surficial geologic map: Map of all the stuff you live on and deal with daily
  • Bedrock geologic map: Map of all the stuff beneath that stuff
  • Surf and Turf: Map showing surficial geology and bedrock geology
  • Geologic Map: Traditionally more turf than surf, but ideally both
  • Geophysical Map: Map of what could be...maybe
  • Soil Map: Surficial map of a surficial geologic map
  • Geologic Hazard Map: Map of what will go wrong and where
  • Finished / Printed Map: Instantly out-of-date, but useful nonetheless
  • Unfinished Map: The only kind