Cartograms are generally a unique type of map that distorts the actual geographical space into a different quantitative illustration. It defies the physical boundaries and tends to represent the sizes of countries using values other than land area. Map reading with cartograms is not an easy skill for it requires keen observation and advanced pattern recognition. But with its complexity, it presents the data in a form which provides a different perspective, thus revealing new trends in geographical analysis.

The map above is a collection of cartograms developed by Steph Abegg, an engineering graduate from the University of Washington, for a project in Disaster Risk Management. She explains that this form of mapping shall revolutionize and present a new way of illustrating geographic data and understanding the distribution of such phenomenon. She has presented 6 natural hazards over the context of 48 states in the United States of America. She used the elements: size, color, and tone in order to depict variations in the frequency of occurrence of the natural hazards. This portrays that the greater the area size and the darker the color tone shall then mean a higher incidence ratio. Subsequently, she also mapped other climatic factors like rainfall and temperature.


The design of the whole map poses a problem for the reader for cartograms poses asymmetry. The challenge by far is how to organize the data and the maps, by not making it too congested and space consuming. I think that the use of symmetry in arranging the maps and data has been equally good. Nonetheless, Steph has essentially failed to present it in a portrait orientation. It could be better presented in a landscape for the USA is a wide-oriented country and it would be pleasing to the eyes if the other descriptions were on the sides.

The inlet map in the lower right portion of the illustration may serve its insignificant purpose. It is given that in a cartogram the actual space is being distorted to represent a different variable. Given the thought, before we can be able to visualize a distortion of a reality, we must then have a concept of the reality. The inlet map of the actual shape profile of the country is very important in order to have effective message transfer to the reader. It should be located somewhere that can be immediately seen and not at the lower edge.

There are four other maps included, wherein the writer sees it as questionable. The use of variables has raised questions of relevance in coordination with the others. The inlet maps of highest and lowest temperatures do not actually fully support the major maps. In addition to the inlet map of the USA, it would be better if Steph also added the summarized illustration of the country’s topographical relief and the water bodies surrounding. It would be more effective if the reader may actually understand which processes and factors may cause the occurrence of the said phenomenon.

With the over use of cartograms in presenting, the entirety of map has indeed failed to visually stimulate the viewer. It has become too congested and so many things are happening that the focal attention would shift towards one point to another. Other elements should have been modified in order to preserve harmony and balance.

The use of distortion and color in representing a similar attribute may pose confusion with the redundancy of the process in representing and reading. One might think that the distortion of a state maybe defined by some other factor that cannot be read immediately in the legend. Though the cartographer has written a note regarding the redundancy, she was not able to present it in a organized fashion. The limitations of the variables were written in the lower right part, where in it cannot be visually seen immediately.

Cartograms, for the writer, are one the most difficult to work on. It does not only distort reality, but nonetheless it conjures up all necessary skills in design in order to make it as effective as possible. As geographers and cartographers, the development in the use of other methods in making up relevant representations has always been our challenge. We of all others should be committed to exploring innovative ways of depicting spatial information for the public’s indulgence.



  1. In relation to the author’s opinion about the orientation of the map (refer to first paragraph of the author’s commentaries), I tend to disagree with this point – bear in mind that this map was used for a paper, and presenting it in landscape would result in using up to 2 pages which in a way wouldn’t help Steph’s cause in comparing the natural hazards occurrence. Viewers would have to go back and forth in order to compare the maps.

    I also find the inset map useful to viewers who are not really familiar with the geography of the USA. Having the 50 states’ initial also helps a lot in my opinion. if the author finds it insignificant, then he should have explained why and in what way.

    Regarding the temperature inlet maps, my response is: yes, it supports the major maps. Temperature plays a role in natural hazards. In these supplementary maps, the state of California is determined as having the highest recorded temperature, resulting in the highest wildfire occurrence.

    In my opinion, cartograms appeal to everyone, especially to viewers who are not really experts when it comes to interpreting maps. You really don’t have to look at numbers, tables; statistics to determine which states has the highest or lowest occurrence of particular Natural hazards. It’s relatively something new to be used on papers etc. but it isn’t boring.

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