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For the Love of Maps

2012 June 25

By Nancy Grundahl, EPA Region 3

Every time I see a map I get a warm, fuzzy feeling. It brings back memories of my childhood. When I was young, my mother thumb-tacked a map of the United States to the wall next to my bed. I often stood on my bed in my jammies staring at it. I wondered what “outside” looked like in faraway states like Arizona and Mississippi and Oregon. Were their trees and flowers the same as in my yard? Was their dirt the same as mine?

Little did my mother know that the map would help prepare me for a career in environmental science. Knowing how to read a map is important in many of the jobs we do at EPA. Maps give us information about the slope of the land, the location of streams and lakes, land use and municipal boundaries. Maps are typically included in permit applications, environmental impact statements, and grant proposals. Here’s an example.

My favorite maps are the U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps. They cover the entire U.S. in great detail. On-the-ground surveys, aerial photographs and satellite data have improved the maps over the years. These maps, now called U.S. Topo maps, are available on the web. While it is always fun to put a paper map on the floor and get down on my hands and knees to look at it, today’s on-line versions allow users to turn data layers on and off, to zoom in and out, and to print the maps, all free of charge while sitting comfortably in a chair.

If you’ve never looked at a topographic map, give it a go. You’ll be able to figure out where that stream that runs near your home starts and where it ends. You’ll be able to see about how many feet you are above sea level. You’ll also be able to figure out your latitude (your north or south location in relation to the equator) and your longitude (your location east or west of Greenwich, England). Philadelphia, Pa., where my office is located, is at about 39° N and 75° W.

Maps can open up a whole new way of learning about your environment! It did for me.

About the author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created. Nancy also writes for the “Healthy Waters for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region” blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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8 Responses leave one →
  1. June 25, 2012

    I am a topographer in Brazil and I liked their placements a lot in the matter on maps… everything has to do… congratulations for the journalistic matter

  2. Jerri permalink
    June 25, 2012

    I love maps, too–the information you can discover by comparing a previous map to a new one is AMAZING–settlement patterns, genealogy, etc., etc. WOW! Some of the old maps are truly works of art—I have them framed and hanging in my home and office. The Texas General Land office has an incredible collection that is searchable (and purchasable!).

  3. Arman.- permalink
    June 25, 2012

    Maps : Spectacular, just need distances and angles !!!

  4. June 25, 2012

    I liked maps always. The maps contain secrets of unknown places and the memory about places, where you was already. The maps reminiscent of childhood dreams. It is wonderful.

  5. June 26, 2012

    The Good Force be with you!

    Good job, Nancy! Maps are helpful to Me when I want to find a place. It is a handy material that is important for explorers like Me. Many thanks for map makers!

    Live forever and prosper!

  6. Anonymous permalink
    June 26, 2012

    39, -75 is in the mouth of the delaware Bay, about 66 miles south of the office, which is at 39.954646°, -75.167667°

  7. Nancy Grundahl permalink
    June 29, 2012

    Thanks, Anonymous for giving us the more precise location of my office. Glad you love maps too.

  8. permalink
    September 5, 2013

    I think this is very good to say.

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