Another version of this story is available on Terra magazine at Oregon State.
CORVALLIS, Ore. — The Columbia River Basin comes to life in a new digital atlas produced by Oregon State University cartography students. Starting with ArcMap, they created an iBook — accessible via Apple’s iPad — which combines the look and feel of a traditional paper book with the touch-screen features of a tablet computer.
Through colorful maps, animations, photos and video, the new atlas allows users to explore the basin’s geology, climate, social history and land use. It shows the location and extent of historical and current tribal lands — Kootenai, Nez Perce, Umatilla and others — the region’s population centers and a time-lapse display of dam construction from 1900 to the present. Maps also show the location of salmon runs, recreation sites and public lands.
Under the guidance of Bernhard Jenny, cartographer and assistant professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, 17 graduate and undergraduate students published the Atlas of the Columbia River Basin. It can be downloaded free as a PDF or iBook from the cartography and visualization group at Oregon State. Jenny has submitted it to Apple’s iTunes library.
Creating the interactive and static maps required the use of three different software packages, says Jenny. Students used ArcMap to merge geospatial data from different sources and design the maps. They reprojected the maps to a local coordinate system that was optimized for the portrayal of the transboundary Columbia Basin. After exporting the maps from ArcMap into Adobe Illustrator, they fine-tuned symbolization, labeling and layout. The last step consisted of placing the maps in iBooks Author, the authoring software for creating eBooks for the iPad. The maps were combined with interactive features, text, diagrams and other elements and laid out in this authoring software.
Unlike most atlases that are restricted by national and state borders, this atlas crosses the boundary between Canada and the United States, says Kimberly Ogren, an Oregon State Ph.D. student. Ogren helped to develop the 33-page document as a student in Jenny’s course on computer-assisted cartography.
“If you apply cartography concepts in the right way,” she says, “you will create a map that draws people to the information and conveys it effectively. People will want to learn more. That’s our hope for this atlas.”
Not Just Another Digital Map
More than a useful resource about the Columbia basin, the new atlas is also a milestone in cartography. “Cartographers haven’t used these new formats with all their features,” says Jenny. He notes that the first digital map (The Electronic Atlas of Canada) was created in 1981, but it and its successors have been more useful for specialists than for the general public.
“Those atlases don’t have individual page layouts or elements like diagrams and pictures,” he says. “They’re more standardized in their appearance and functionality.” In essence, most digital atlases provide a visual interface for viewing and analyzing data rather than an educational resource for the public.
In contrast, the Atlas of the Columbia River Basin presents information in a format that is accessible. It includes a table of contents and chapters. It integrates digital data with other book-like features and touch-screen functions that are familiar to any smart phone or tablet computer user.
The advantage for mapmakers, says Jenny, lies in the ease with which such atlases can be created. The downside is that creativity in terms of interactivity is limited to what the authoring software allows. In addition, e-books cannot be exported to multiple brands of devices. Apple’s iBook authoring software, for example, creates e-books only for Apple devices.
The evolution of atlases to tablet computers follows the growth in sales of iPads, Amazon’s Kindle and other tablets in the last few years. In 2014, says Jenny, sales of tablet computers are expected to outpace sales of desktop and notebook PCs combined. E-books have grown in popularity as well and accounted for about 20 percent of publishers’ revenues in 2012. In 2011, sales of e-books outpaced sales of hardcover adult fiction.
Jenny plans to continue incorporating iBook publishing in his cartography classes. Both he and Ogren say that students in the cartography class benefited by creating a product that they could show to future employers as well as family and friends.