Peter Van Driel maps

Friday, November 24, 2000

After studying Earth Sciences for three years at the University of Waterloo, I am finding that creating and understanding maps is a very important skill. Detailed maps can be used to show many features of interest to an Earth scientist, including the shape of the landscape; topography, geology, hydrology, locations and nature of terrestrial environments. Maps display massive amounts of information at once. The challenge is that it is impossible to display all the information about the landscape on a single map sheet because it would become too difficult to read. In my opinion, the secret to producing an effective map is to limit the amount of information and emphasize the important features.

Although I have taken this concept to the extreme, each person can create a different map of the same area, so that the viewer may understand clearly what is being presented. It is for this reason that I began drawing my own maps to bring out the features of the landscape I am interested in studying.

I have been fascinated with maps for a very long time.This personal interest grew from family trips. I enjoyed seeing the landscape change on these road trips, but was disappointed that little information about the landscape was shown on highway maps used for navigation. Highway maps did not show forests, mountains and only crudely the hydrologic features. Drawing on the artistic inspiration from my mother, a talented Mississauga landscape artist, I made a start drawing maps. I was inspired by the National Geographic Atlas of the World, which had "physical" maps of continents simulating the landscape as viewed from the space shuttle. Later the book "Satellite Images of Canada" did just that.

My method of production was at first crude, but I grew to enjoy this interest and refined it over the years. I started by tracing or copying coastlines from a map and experimented with different techniques to colour it so as to show the topography and landscape. In my teen years I applied my mapping techniques to my immediate surroundings, the city of Mississauga. I could explore this area using a road map to sketch the street and drainage network, basing the bulk of the map on my own observations. I emphasized the topography and land use. I produced several maps on different scales and perspectives. Given my strong artistic background, I prefer hand drawing maps, a more ancient art, rather than computer production of maps which is common today.

By my later teen years, I finally found a method I was satisfied with, using coloured pencils, rulers and felt tipped pens. I was able to use this technique to show topography, road networks, land use and hydrology at a defined scale. I applied this technique to my surroundings in Mississauga, Ontario and produced maps at two scales 1:20 000 and 1:200 000. I later started a third at 1:1 600 000 to explore the whole of southern Ontario. For the first two, information from street maps was plotted to the desired scale and other features were plotted on the maps. The road network made an effective grid of the city. I used NTS topographic maps and my own observations to plot both topography, land use and drainage features. I also used satellite and air photographs. Most important, I could fill in missing information by travelling to the site by car or applying my developing hobby of competitive running and cycling.

Exploring my natural surroundings helped me develop an understanding of Earth sciences and physical geography - Maybe it created this interest. I could explore the relationship between surface topography, vegetation, urban land use and geologic features. I wanted to see if developers thought about the nature of the landscape before carving it up into monotonous subdivisions.

The major features I explored close to home through mapping included the Lake Iroquois shoreline, a pre-cursor to Lake Ontario. I also observed drainage pattern and floodplain developments by mapping the numerous ravines that gouge into the Ordovician shales. Broadening my explorations I learned about knob and kettle topography on the nearby Oak Ridges Moraine and bedrock landforms on the Niagara Escarpment. I further observed how the Lake Iroquois shoreline could be traced all around Lake Ontario describing remnant beaches and bluffs from a lake that drained away 7,000 years ago. The Credit Valley (and other small ravines), the South Slope, Oak Ridges Moraine and the Niagara Escarpment were also mappable features. The Lake Iroquois Shore terrace fascinated me most because of its continuity all along the shoreline of Lake Ontario. The Lake Iroquois shoreline is also the most prominent hill in Mississauga and a historic landmark because of its origin as a former lake shoreline. I found it fascinating to realise how much higher the level of Lake Ontario was relative to the surrounding landscape only 7,000 years ago. I tried to emphasize this topographic feature even where it was highly subdued.

Coming to Waterloo not only gave me the opportunity to learn more about Earth sciences, it also allowed me to learn a new landscape and start a new map of the confusing morainic landscape this city is known for. Waterloo, lies atop the Waterloo Moraine which is hummocky and irregular. I still cannot find rhyme or reason to the shapes of the hills. The drumlin field near Guelph also intrigued me, given their more organised and streamlined nature. Geologists still struggle to explain the processes which produce drumlins.

The work I am most proud of is the 1:1 600 000 map of southern Ontario accompanying this article. This map shows a broader range of geological formations including bedrock-controlled landforms, glacial, fluvial land forms and shorelines.

Also noteworthy is how the Canadian Shield contrasts with the sedimentary lowlands to the south and east. The Shield has an irregular, bedrock controlled landscape, which does not permit agriculture and is full of countless lakes. The location of cities, agricultural land and forest also reflect the underlying geology and surficial hydrology. Regions of poor soil and shallow bedrock are often left in a natural natural state.

My intention through this article is to show how maps can use any form of spatial data and multiple data elements to help understand how one relates to another. In the smaller scheme of things, this mapping hobby has helped the geology of southern Ontario come to life for me. Wherever you are there are interesting places to visit. I hope you enjoy viewing my work.

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