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The Job

Cartographers use manual and computerized drafting instruments, standard mathematical formulas, photogrammetric techniques, and precision stereoplotting apparatuses throughout the mapmaking process. They work with other mapping scientists to plan and draft maps and charts. For example, cartographers may work with land surveyors to interpret geographic information and transfer that information into a series of symbols that are plotted onto a map. They must also be able to plot the names and exact locations of places onto overlays from which a final map is made. Cartographers often work with old maps, using updated information to keep the maps current. Research may also be a part of their job.

Several specializations exist within the field of cartography. Cartography supervisors design maps and coordinate and oversee the activities of all those involved in the mapmaking process. Supervisors are most often employed in larger mapmaking operations.

Mosaicists lay out photographic prints on tables, according to the sequence in which the photographs were taken, to form a visual composite of the geographic area. These mosaics are subsequently used in photogrammetric activities such as topographic mapping. Mosaicists examine aerial photographs in order to verify the location of established landmarks.

Stereoplotter operators also prepare maps from aerial photographs, using instruments that produce simultaneous projections of two photographs taken of the same area.

Photogrammetrists are specialized mapmakers who use aerial photographs, satellite images, and light-imaging detection and ranging (LIDAR) technology to construct models of the Earth’s surface and its features for the purpose of creating maps.

New technology has made cartography and photogrammetry work much more accurate and efficient. Cartographers now use Geographic Information Systems (GIS), which are computer systems that can store, manipulate, and display geographically referenced information. Data is organized by location, stored in map form, and analyzed as a map rather than as a list of numbers. Cartographers use another advanced technology called Global Positioning Systems (GPS) that utilize aerial cameras and satellites to gather the spatial data used by GIS.

Some cartographers and photogrammetrists also use light-imaging detection and ranging (LIDAR) technology. LIDAR systems use lasers attached to planes or cars to digitally map the topography of the earth. Because LIDAR frequently is considered more accurate than conventional surveying methods, it can also be used to collect other forms of data, such as the location and density of forest canopies.