Cartography & maps
Maps are the traditional medium used to present and visualize geospatial data and analysis. They are the primary means to convey geographic information to users, whether in a paper format, digital, or shared through webservices and applications.
When the United Nations was established in 1945, cartographic materials were reproduced using maps prepared by Member States or were taken from professional publications to which the Secretariat added additional mark-ups, labels and annotations to reflect specific items, discussions or considerations for the proceedings of various meetings.
In the 1950s United Nations maps were prepared using traditional cartographic scribing techniques. Experienced cartographers drew with a pen to prepare reliable and easily readable maps. The freehand drawing of letters for place names was time-consuming. Over time, tools were added to support the hand-drawing of maps with special air pens, brushes, rulers, and lettering guides for improved rendering.
In early 1990s, desktop computers and graphic design software were brought into use in the production of maps Later in the 2000s, cartographic production transitioned to database-driven cartography. Given the inherent advantages over static graphics, the connection between the map and the underlying intelligent geospatial database allows maps to be more easily and efficiently created, updated, repurposed, and overlain with other thematic content.
With the advent of the Internet, cartography has moved online, giving users the ability to interact with and query authoritative, crafted web-maps using mainstreamed geo-web-services and technologies. The web-services can be cross-referenced and used in a single web-interface, enabling users and developers to further customize web-map interfaces and applications with their own information. As the Internet now provides a collective digital canvas, crowd-mapping is on the rise in many organizations to leverage an ever-increasing amount of data generated by volunteers around the world. Maps with dashboards are also increasingly in use as visualization supports crisis monitoring around the world and in country.
Surveys and positioning systems
Land surveying is the science to determine the exact geographic coordinates on the Earth. The measurement of geographic location uses angles and distances from known points of baselines. In the past, surveyors had to make measurement of angle and distance separately by transit using theodolite and metal tapes. Later, the instrument used to make accurate measurements, called a total station, enables measurement of both distance and angle to determine position. Data storage and microcomputer of total station allow surveyors to record the results and conduct basic processing in the field improving the efficiency of surveying and mitigating human error.
Advances in satellite positioning systems have contributed to more efficient, accurate surveying. The Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) enables high positional accuracy for a variety of devices, including mobile phones, in-vehicle navigation, digital cameras, and professional-grade surveying devices. Several countries have rolled-out GNSS such as GPS (USA), GLONASS (Russia), GALILEO (EU), and BEIDO (China).
Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) GNSS enables real-time positioning. RTK positioning is widely used in United Nations peacekeeping missions and in boundary demarcation activities. In the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon or during the Iraq-Kuwait Boundary Maintenance Project, RTK helped to accurately delineate the limits of withdrawal or international boundaries and to record and recorded boundary sites and markers. Nowadays, network RTK, using the Continuously Operating Reference Station, enables positioning with only one GNSS receiver within the reference station network. With Virtual Reference Stations and the use of ICT networks via cell phones, surveyors can now conduct GNSS positioning by a single observation at a mobile receiver. These technological advancements of ICT and satellite positioning systems have dramatically improved the efficiency and quality of land surveying, as well as the use of location-based technologies in daily life.
In the late 2010s, a series of micro- and nanosatellites were launched by the private sector to the lower part of earth’s orbit to enhance detailed and continuous earth observation. The ability to capture earth data further increased with the popularization of un-manned aerial systems, or “drones,” which allow countries to affordably develop this capacity, without the difficulties associated with cloud cover. This growth of available earth observation data associated with the exponential increase in digital computing power, machine learning, and artificial intelligence provides opportunities for the peaceful use of geospatial information for the benefit of people and the planet.