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Atlases, Ordnance Survey

As part of your GCSE geography studies, you are expected to be able to use a variety of different maps, including those found in atlases and maps produced by the Ordnance Survey. You are also expected to have learnt how to draw simple maps. Your knowledge of maps and mapping is one of the assessment criteria for the exams.

Maps are not a realistic representation of the world, map makers use a system of symbols to convey their information. They can take many forms, depending on its intended use. A road map, road atlas or Ordnance Survey map is intended to be used for navigation whereas the maps in a geographical atlas are intended to convey information. They have limited use for navigation as they are drawn on too small a scale.

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This information provides geographers with details such as land use, population density, country boundaries, regional boundaries and political boundaries. The first known maps were made on clay tablets by the Babylonian civilisation over 4000 years ago. The ancient Greeks and the Romans also had maps. In the Middle Ages, maps were generally religious and were often centred on the town of Jerusalem.

Before the invention of printing techniques, maps were all hand-drawn and extremely rare. The great age of exploration by Europeans began in the sixteenth century and the first world maps were created. It was quickly realised that representing the curved surface of the Earth on a flat two-dimensional piece of paper was difficult. In the mid-sixteenth century, the leading cartographer (a person who drew maps) Gerardus Mercator of Belgium developed a system that is still widely used today.

The accuracy of maps increased during the following centuries as more scientific surveying methods were developed. In 1747, the Ministry of Defence was called the Board of Ordnance and they began to create maps to help with more efficient troop movements. This first mapping survey took about 7 years to complete and covered only Scotland. Following this, the leader of the mapping team persuaded the Board of Ordnance to extend the mapping to cover the whole of Britain and in 1791, the Ordnance Survey was born.

A map showing the whole world in detail would need to be very large so when you see a poster-sized map, it will only show the main features of the different countries like the main rivers, mountain ranges and capital cities. In order to show each country in more detail, maps showing the individual countries and regions are published together in an atlas. An atlas is more than just a book of maps, it includes a lot of other data too.

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  1. Ordnance Survey maps were first created for ...
    When the Ordnance Survey was started, there was a serious threat that Britain could have been invaded by the French forces of Napoleon I, so the Board of Ordnance (the equivalent of today's Ministry of Defence) needed better maps so that troops and equipment could be moved to invasion sites as efficiently as possible
  2. One sort of Ordnance Survey map used by hikers for navigation has a scale of 1:50,000. This means:
    The scale of a map is the mathematical ratio showing how much smaller it is when compared with the area it represents. In this case, 1 centimetre on the map represents 50,000 centimetres (0.5 kilometres) on the ground
  3. What is 'Mercator's Projection'?
    Countries that are further from the equator appear proportionally larger than the equatorial countries
  4. Which of the following statements most accurately describes an atlas?
    Each map will have a title, scale and key
  5. Which of the following could be found in an atlas
    An atlas is a very good source of geographical information
  6. Ordnance Survey maps cover ...
    The Ordnance Survey produce several different series of maps at different scales
  7. Which of the following most accurately describes a map?
    Map-makers use a system of symbols to represent the features on the ground
  8. Which of the following is not a reason for using an atlas?
    The scale of the maps in an atlas is too small for navigation, a tiny error in working out the direction from a small scale map would create an error of many kilometres on the mountainous terrain. Only the largest features are shown so you would not know if there was a cliff or ravine etc. that might be blocking your way
  9. On which of the following pages in an atlas might you find a hot desert marked?
    North Africa has the Sahara and the Middle East has the Arabian desert
  10. Which is the correct word to describe a person who is involved in preparing maps?
    The word probably originates from the Latin word for 'chart'

Author: Kev Woodward

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