Mapping for emergencies: An update from Haiti

I’m now back in Britain having spent the last few months in Haiti working for MapAction, supporting the earthquake reconstruction work. I left with change in the air. Clouds have now moved into what was a clear sky, rain is getting increasingly frequent, almost every night, and there’s a breeze that can almost be described as cool (although unfortunately, it didn’t penetrate the canvas of our tents).

Chris working in Haiti for MapAction

Working in Haiti for MapAction

In light of the imminent rainy season and the hurricane season that will follow shortly afterward, efforts at recovery have almost been put on a back burner in favour of risk management and avoidance, as preparations (call it a battening down of hatches) are made to get through the next 4 or 5 months. Read More


Time to rethink the design process: colour blindness and maps

There is a genetic disorder that affects up to 10% of men and about 0.5% of women. It impacts on their daily lives, often making the simple everyday tasks difficult and crushes the dreams of budding pilots and wannabe coast guards everywhere. Yes, it’s colour blindness. But for something that is experienced by a sizable minority of the population, colour blindness seems to play a relatively small role in the design process. Think weather forecasts, snooker and, yes, maps. The traditional rainbow of cartographic colours – greens for vegetation, reds for main roads and footpaths, and blue for motorways and rivers – can become indistinguishable, therefore making map reading really difficult Read More


OS OpenData goes live!

Today is a big day in our history with the launch of OS OpenData, giving more access to free, unrestricted Ordnance Survey mapping than ever before. You can read more about the service and the products available in our news release.

Today’s launch is the result of a huge amount of work by a great number of people both here at Ordnance Survey, in government and elsewhere, including Professor Nigel Shadbolt at the University of Southampton and Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web. To understand a little more about the project and how OS OpenData fits into the wider work of the ‘Making Public Data Public’ initiative, Nigel and Sir Tim made a film whilst here in Southampton for our recent Terra Future conference.

Keen to know what everyone thinks of the service, although please be patient with it!

Update – May will see OS VectorMap District added to OS OpenData. There are sample tiles and data available now on our website.


What’s the difference between raster and vector mapping?

People ‘in the know’ when it comes to geography often talk about ‘raster’ and ‘vector’ mapping, but sometimes they forget that to ordinary people, these terms are pretty mysterious. So, I thought it would be useful, as part of our posts around GI explained, to try and describe the difference.

Raster mapping

OK, this is the easier of the two to explain. A raster map is basically a ‘dumb’ electronic map image made up of a set number of pixels. You can’t manipulate the information, move a place name around for example, and when you zoom into the map, it quickly becomes pixellated and unreadable, just like a photo taken on a digital camera. This extract from an OS Landranger Map is an example of raster mapping – full of detail and great if all you want to do is navigate or perhaps overlay some other information, like a walking route or flood plain.

This extract from a OS Landranger Map is an example of raster mapping

This extract from a OS Landranger Map is an example of raster mapping

Vector mapping

Right, now things get a little more complicated so bear with me. A vector map, like OS MasterMap, is basically a database of points, lines and polygons which collectively make up all the features on the map. It’s possible to assign each of these features extra information – perhaps demographic data and the age of the buildings for example. Using a Geographic Information System, or GIS, it’s then possible to do all kinds of analysis. For instance, you could ask the GIS to highlight only the buildings older than 50 years, with inhabitants aged between 30 and 40 living within 10 miles of a certain point. It’s the ability to do this kind of analysis that makes vector mapping such a powerful decision making tool.

I hope that makes sense. If you’ve got any questions, or can think of better explanations, please let me know!