I’ve got a thing for maps, even this one

June 14 Larimer County Sheriff’s fire map. Click for the full size map (PDF)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been intrigued by maps. Long before satellite imagery evolved, they provided overhead views of the world. I look at maps and imagine being there, standing on that mountaintop, hiking that trail, sailing up that coastline, riding across that prairie.

To me the best maps, the most detailed and interesting, have always been topo (topographic) maps like that above. Through them I see the terrain in my mind’s eye. There was a time when I had half a dozen of them stuffed in my pack whenever I was in the mountains. When I was away from the mountains, they took me back. Mounted on the wall, they were photos of my favorite places.

The map above, showing the area of Colorado’s High Park Fire, is both amazing and distressing. It’s a normal topo map, but overlays have been added to show and name every road in the area, every address and driveway, areas that have burned, and areas that still have heat of various intensities (as indicated from nighttime infrared aerial surveys). Pingree Park Road and the tangle of roads running north to south along the west side of the map is where the forest service is hoping to stop the fire. They are working east from there, trying to burn out areas between those roads and the advancing fire. Note the ruggedness of the terrain, the steepness of the slopes; this is no prairie fire. Aircraft are using ping pong ball technology to start the burnouts. The balls, filled with potassium permanganate, are injected with ethanol as they are dropped. The combined chemicals generate heat, melt the balls by the time they hit the ground, and ignite small fires in grass, pine needles, etc.

Click on the map to bring up the much larger PDF and see every detail, the kind of detail essential to firefighters. The fire itself is devastating and ongoing, but the technology and techniques being used to fight it are fascinating.

12 thoughts on “I’ve got a thing for maps, even this one

  1. Wow, the potassium permanganate and ethanol ping pong ball trick is amazing. I’ve never heard of firefighters using that one before. I’ve always been fascinated with maps too, though it’s the ones indicating artificial sociopolitical boundaries that I’m most interested in. You know, I’ve found time-lapse animations depicting tectonic plate movements over that last 600 million years or so, but I’ve yet to find one showing the changes in “national” boundaries were even the last couple of thousand!

    Anyway, I thought you might be interested in this one: http://www.flashearth.com/ 😀

    1. Flashearth is a neat site all right. There seems to be an abundance of such information now, including Google Earth and a Maps program that came with my iPad – basically a complete atlas with options to view as political or geographical. Maps have been revolutionized by satellites, computers and the GPS system.

      1. I need to spend some time exploring the PC based maps options. However, one that I know of, Google’s MapsGL, keeps telling me that my PC doesn’t meet it’s requirements – even though it does when compared to their written specs. I’m gonna check to see if my graphics drivers are out of date…

    2. The ping pong balls were new to me, too. Sure beats having to get men in on the ground to start backfires. Especially in terrain like this.

      Flashearth is fun! I just went out to satellite distance, then zoomed in on my house like an incoming missile. Cool, in a sobering sort of way.

  2. This is interesting, PT. Thanks.

    I too like maps. In the Navy we call them charts. A nautical chart also provides a wealth of information, things such as:

    Water depth
    Lighthouses, with light characteristics
    Prominent landmarks
    Electronic transmission stations
    Ocean currents (surprisingly predictable)
    Commercial sea lanes
    Submerged cables and other structures
    Approved anchorage areas
    Territorial boundaries

    In my day, nautical charts occupied a great deal of stowage space on a ship and required a specialized contingent of at least a few men (“quartermasters”) to keep them up to date and otherwise assist in navigation. It was a large and continuing job to enter endless changes by pen and by pasting replacement sections for charts that might conceivably be needed within a large section of the world. A change of ocean assignment for a ship would entail drawing and bring up to date a whole different catalog of charts. I would be interested to see how this has changed in the era of GPS navigation. Surely charts can now be accessed electronically from CD-ROMs and, I expect, used in electronic form.

    1. I didn’t realize there was that much information on a nautical chart, although it all makes sense. I’ll bet my brother has stories about whatever charts or maps he carried as a B-47 pilot in the 1950s. Not only his navigation charts, flight plan, etc., but also what he had to carry as part of his survival gear (and fortunately never needed). I’m sure you’re right, that it’s all electronic now, and probably does amazing things I can’t even imagine. I’m still spellbound by what my little 5-yr-old GPS unit can tell me.

  3. We have mountain maps – as well as nautical charts framed.
    Google earth and sat views still intrigue me – imagine being a bird of prey with their vision.
    Thanks for this one – grimly it’s looking like a long fire. (cousin nervously in TX for Father’s Day)

    1. I can remember when those sat views of cities first became available (assuming your city was available). Businesses who could afford them put them up in conference rooms or reception areas for the commoners to admire and enjoy. “Hey, there’s my house! Wow!”

      They are predicting weeks, at a minimum, to extinguish this fire.

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