Cartography

Cartography is the process of collecting spatial data and creating maps. Cartographers work in various industries to provide important spatial information that can inform decisions and help solve a range of environmental and social problems. Read this article to learn more about the field of cartography.

Is Cartography for Me?

Career Overview

Cartography is the scientific and artistic process of designing and creating maps. Cartographers produce a variety of maps that serve a wide array of purposes, from portraying distance, elevation and other spatial features to relaying climatic, demographic and economic information. Cartographers are also involved in the collection and analysis of spatial and non-spatial data as it relates to map production, such as average seasonal rainfall, population density and land use.

As an academic discipline, cartography is closely linked to geography and geospatial technology, including geographic information systems (GIS) and global positioning systems (GPS). Aspiring cartographers must have an understanding of geography and relations of scale, as well as competence with numbers and computers. Cartographic skills include data collection, spatial analysis, graphic representation and modeling.

Career Options

Geo-referenced data and maps are useful to a wide variety of industries, making employment opportunities diverse. As a cartographer, you could work in local, state or federal government agencies, non-governmental agencies or architectural, environmental and engineering firms. Businesses like public utilities, real estate, transportation and natural resource management companies often hire people with cartographic expertise. Some cartographers go into research and work alongside other scientists in various disciplines. Others may work in universities and other institutions as map librarians.

Employment Information

With new geospatial technologies and digital mapmaking tools available, it may be a good time to pursue a cartography career. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported an expected 20% job growth for cartographers, mapping technicians and related careers over the 2012-2022 decade, with interests in new applications of GIS driving much of this growth (www.bls.gov). The median annual wage as of May 2013 for cartographers and photogrammetrists was $58,840, with the top-paid ten percent earning over $94,780, per the BLS.

How Can I Become a Cartographer?

Undergraduate Education

A bachelor's degree is the most common level of education in the field. A few schools offer cartography as a major program of study; however, it is commonly offered as a concentration or minor within geography programs. Alternatively, aspiring cartographers may earn related degrees in spatial sciences, surveying, engineering, computer science or physical science, while developing an emphasis in cartography.

Topics in cartography degree programs include quantitative methods, Web-based cartography, remote sensing and laboratory courses in image-processing software. Students may learn traditional surveying and drafting techniques along with advanced spatial tools, such as GIS software, computer graphics and data from satellites, aerial photography and other remote sensing systems. Online cartography options exist for distance learners. Certificates in GIS and cartography are also available at the undergraduate and graduate levels, which students can pair with any degree.

Graduate Education

Graduate students can earn a master's degree in cartography. Yet, most schools offer geography degrees at the master's and doctoral levels. Cartography concentrations may be offered in combination with GIS and remote sensing, as well as in mapping science.

Licensing

In addition to a degree, some states require cartographers to be licensed as surveyors. Be sure to check whether your state is among those that require licensure. Licensing for surveyors typically requires passing a series of surveying exams administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (www.ncees.org), as well as an exam through the state's licensing board.

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