Scientists Strive to Improve Quality of Climate Change Maps

Friday, January 30 2009

Jan. 30, 2009 Written by Sue McMurray MOSCOW, Idaho – Though the Internet provides immediate access to an abundance of earth systems monitoring technology, scientists still rely heavily on maps to convey complex information to the public. Climate change maps, in particular, portray important data used to analyze policy decisions and develop mitigation plans. Jean McKendry and Gary Machlis, scientists in the University of Idaho’s College of Natural Resources, say it’s critically important that climate change maps be well-designed, given the importance of policy decisions related to climate change. They tested their ideas on one of the most topical efforts, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and found that an example from the panel’s mapping rated poor to satisfactory. In their article, “Cartographic Design and the Quality of Climate Change Maps,” published online Nov. 21, 2008, in Climatic Change, McKendry and Machlis point out several consequences of poor quality map design and the lack of specialized training required of today’s mapmakers. They noted quality refers not to the accuracy or reliability of the underlying data, but how data are cartographically displayed. “Given the urgent challenges created by climate change and the importance of maps in climate change research and policy making, the role of map design deserves attention,” said McKendry. In 2007, she presented an earlier version of their work at the 23rd International Cartographic Conference in Moscow, Russian Federation. Their article made a case for engaging cartographers with climate change scientists to improve mapping activities. They also recommended using several fundamental cartographic design principles to guide decisions and improve clarity in climate change maps. Systematic evaluation of the quality of climate change maps could provide an important inventory of the state of climate change map design, the authors said. Further research to illuminate the role and impact of climate change maps could help identify key traits of effective maps, improve research, policy analysis and public information related to climate change, McKendry added. “Climate change is the most pervasive environmental challenge facing contemporary societies,” said McKendry. “Successful application of good map design is a necessary step in the development of the climate change sciences.” # # # About the University of Idaho Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 150 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. For information, visit Media Contact: Sue McMurray, College of Natural Resources Marketing and Communications, (208) 885-6673,; or Jean McKendry, Department of Forest Resources, (202) 326-6631,

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit