Introduction to Geography on the Web

Goal of this lab

In this lab, we go over how to properly use maps, and look at some interactive maps available on the web.  By the end of this lab, you will have:

Reviewed “units” for measurement, and why they are important

Practiced calculating distance using map scale

Practiced reading a legend, and interpreting maps

Explored some of the ways mapping is being used by scientists to protect endangered animals

For this lab, you will need: An atlas, preferably the one required by this course. If you do not yet have the atlas, you can go to any library to use their atlas, or find a map online to use.  You must cite any outside sources you use. Chrome for Google Earth. These are both free, but you will be expected to use them for this, and other labs in this course.  The labs are written expecting that you have access to a desktop or laptop computer. I cannot guarantee that everything will work properly on a phone or tablet.

To turn in:

The answers to questions 1-16, pasted into the textbox provided.

Please make sure that you only include the answers (not the lab instructions), and that it is easy for me to tell which question each answer belongs to.

Units and Scale

Let start with some basics!  Units are VERY important in science.  Don’t believe me?  In 1999, NASA lost at $125 million satellite because two different groups working on the satellite were using different units, but didn’t realize it.  You can see a short video about this here:

When NASA Lost a Spacecraft Because It Didn't Use Metric - It Happened in Space #21

Basically, one team was using Imperial units, and one was using the metric system.  Please look at this

quick guide for a review of the differences in these two systems.


Converting between units

A lot of my students have not had to convert between units for a while, and might need some review. This guide is truly excellent for using fractions to convert between units.  The good news is that this method is also essentially the same as how we are going to calculate scale!  Please review this method here:


Here are some conversion factors for you to use to help you answer questions 1-3

1 mile = 5280 feet

1 mile = 63,360 inches

1 foot = 12 inches

1 mile = 1.6 km

1 inch = 2.54 cm

1 km = 1000 m

1 m = 100 cm

1 km = 100,000 cm

Please calculate the following conversions using the conversion factors provided. You must show your calculations to get full credit.

1. How many inches is 57 miles?

2. How many kilometers is 27 meters?

3. How many miles is 4678 cm?

Using Map Scale

Maps are an essential tool for geographers. We use maps to locate phenomena, to show relationships, to prove ideas and to ask questions. You have probably looked at and used maps before, but the following is designed to help you look at maps with a geographer's eye. The following introduces the essential elements of scale, resolution, themes, and coordinate systems used to describe our world.

Map Scale

The ratio of distance on a map to distance on the ground

Map scale is generally expressed as a ratio, such as 1:100,000

This means that one unit on the map is equal to 100,000 units on the ground; one length of your index finger on the map is equal to 100,000 of your index fingers on the ground, or the map is

1/100,000th of the real world!

Map scale can also be expressed as a ratio of common measuring distances, such as 1 inch to 250 miles, meaning that 1 inch on the map is equal to 250 miles on the ground. However, for this class we will be using the unitless measure such as 1:250,000

One way that I find useful to visualize map scale is to think about it in terms of a map of the world. The length of the equator at different scales is a good way to think about the actual size of a map at that scale. The table below lists the distance on the map (if you were to lay a ruler along the map and measure the equator) for each map scale. As you can see, a 1:400,000,000 scale map would probably fit across two pages of an ordinary book, while a 1:10,000,000 scale map would take a wall of your classroom. At a 1:1,000 scale, a map of the would stretch across the county!

Map Scale

Length of the Earth's equator on

the Map (meters)

1:400,000,000                           0.10002

1:40,000,000                             1.0002

1:10,000,000                             4.0008

1:1,000,000                               40.008

1:100,000                                  400.078

1:10,000                                    4,000.78

1:1,000                                      40,007.8

Another way to describe map scale is to talk about 'large scale' or 'small scale' maps. This terminology can be very confusing, because it is the opposite of what our intuition says it should be. When geographers talk about a 'large scale map' they are speaking about a map of a small area, like the college campus or a small city (1:24,000 to 1:100,000). When geographers talk about a 'small scale map' they are speaking about maps of large areas such as all of California, Europe or the world (1:250,000 and up). This terminology makes the most sense if you consider that scale is a ratio, or a fraction. So if you had two (very large!) pies, one cut into 100 pieces and one cut into 500,000 pieces,

would you want the 1/100th of a pie (the larger piece) or the 1/500,000th of a pie (the smaller piece)? Thus, 1:100 is a large scale and 1:500,000 is a small scale.

Measuring distance using map scale

You can find the distance between two locations using a ruler and the scale of your map. You can do this through either one of two methods:

Method 1: Turn to a map of Europe in your atlas. Measure the distance between two cities, for example, from Paris, France to Warsaw, Poland. The distance is 3.25 inches. The map scale says that 1 inch equals 250 miles, so 3.25*250=812.5 miles. (you should round to one decimal place, or to one tenth)

Method 2: If your map does not list the relationship between inches and miles, you can still figure out distance using the ratio scale: For example, if your map had a scale of 1:500,000 and your two cities were 4 inches apart, just set up a simple equation:

1in/500,000in = 4in/Xin,

so 4*500,000 =1X, X=2,000,000inches.

You can convert this to miles by recalling: 12 inches = 1 foot, 5,280 feet = 1 mile, so 2,000,000 inches = 31.6 miles (you should round to one decimal place, or to one tenth)

When you make your measurements, be aware of the precision, or how exact your measurements are. Precision is a way of stating how sure you are of the exact value of your results. If you are really sure, you might have a very high precision, perhaps to the nearest hundredth or thousandth (0.01 or 0.001). It is important to be as precise as your measuring device allows. Round your work to the degree of precision specified. So if you are told to be precise to the nearest tenth, and you plug your values into a calculator and come up with 123.45678, your answer would be 123.5

Answer the following questions. Show your work.

4. Look in your atlas for a map of the western United States. What is the distance in miles between Sacramento CA and Las Vegas NV? (precision to nearest whole number) Note that this is the 'as the crow flies' (straight line) distance, NOT the driving distance as Google maps would calculate for you. Show your work.

5. Look in your atlas for a map of the Middle East. What is the distance in miles between Cairo, Egypt and Istanbul, Turkey? (precision to nearest whole number) Show your work.

6. You are given a map that is 1:500,000 scale. City A and City B on the map are 3 inches apart. How many miles apart are they in the real world? (precision to nearest tenth) Show your work.

7. You are given a map that is 1:100,000 scale. City R and City S on the map are 6.5 inches apart. How many miles apart are they in the real world? (precision to nearest tenth) Show your work.

Reading Maps

We are going to be looking at a lot of map data in this course, and I want to make sure everyone is feeling comfortable reading maps to try and understand global patterns.  Whenever you look at a map, I want you to ask the following questions:

What is this map showing me? What part of the world is it showing?  What kind of data is it

showing? Look at the map’s title, legend, and any other text on the map to try to get this information. What do the symbols on the map mean? Some symbols on maps are not explained, things like country boundaries, or water that is blue.  Other symbols are explained in the legend.  Always make sure to read the legend so that you know exactly what is being mapped.

Please keep in mind that not all maps are good. Many maps, especially maps you find online, are poorly made, or misleading (either intentionally or not).  Learning to look at maps critically to understand what they are showing you is a very important skill in this digital age.  This may not happen all at once, but

let’s look at some cool online maps as practice.

3-D Live Wind Map

Please go to the following link:    (

This is a 3-D map of real time conditions of the Earth, updated every three hours, generated by a supercomputer. Please do the following:

Click on the word “earth” on the bottom left corner of the page. This will open the legend, and some options for the data you can show.

Look at the very bottom of the legend, and click on “about”. Read through where the data from this map is coming from.

Please answer the following questions about this map.

8. Using the legend, look around the Earth. Where is the fastest wind you see on the Earth now (if there is more than one location, pick one)?  How fast is it?  What color is used to represent this speed?

9. Look for “Overlay” in the legend, and click on “Temp”. Where is the highest temperature you can see on Earth now (if there is more than one location, pick one)?  What temperature it is?  What color is used to represent it?

10. Where are the coldest temperatures on Earth now (if there is more than one location, pick one)?

What temperature is it? What color is used to represent it?

11. Finally, click on “RH” next to “Overlay”. This stands for “Relative humidity”, and tells us how full the

air is of water. Where is one of the driest places on earth now?  What is the relative humidity?  What color is used to represent this?

NASA Earth Observatory Maps

One of the best sources for information about our Earth is NASA.  They are the ones that put the stallites in the air for us to collect data.  They have a cool collection of global maps.

Please follow this like to find the Earth Observatory’s Global Map collection:     (

Please click on the “Land Surface Temperature” map.  Notice that you can look at the maps through time, going as far back as February 2000.  Below the map is a discussion of patterns , causes, and how they got the data.

Now go to the right, and click on “Show all maps”. Then select the “Fire” map.  Please answer the following questions.

12. As you slide the time from 2000 to today, what general patterns do you see in both maps?

13. Look at Africa specifically. Please compare the maps in June to the maps in December.  What do you notice?

Interactive Mapping with Google Earth

The last thing I want to do is look at a very powerful free online map, Google Earth.  To use this software, you will need to download Chrome.  This is free, and should work on all computers.  There are versions of this software for tablets and phones as well, but I can’t say if this assignment will work on those devices.

Launch Google Earth in Chrome.  If you haven’t used Google Earth, you essentially have a detailed map of the entire planet at you fingers for free.  You can type in an address, get coordinates of a location, and even measure distances and areas.  We are going to look at some of the capabilities of this tool while also looking at the way scientists are using mapping technology to study our world, and protect endangered animals.

Please click on “Voyager”. You can find this by looking for the symbol that looks like a ship steering wheel on the left.

Click on “Educational” and scroll down the find “Scientists at Work” Select “Lions in Mozambique”.

Look at the map, and then watch the YouTube video provided

Click on “2/3” to see the ranges of individual lions

Click on “3/3” to see a map of trail camera locations

Please use “Lions in Mozambique” to answer the following questions

14. How are scientists using GPS to protect lions?

15. Click on one of the camera locations on the map. What information is provided about each camera?

16. Scroll to the bottom of 3/3, and click on the link to the Citizen Science project, WILDCAM GORONGOSA     ( . Cameras have been set up on the trails in the park, and they take a picture every time an animal passes by.  You are going to help these

researchers! Click on “Get Started”.  Read the tutorial instructions, and please identify the animals in five images from the park.  Please list here what animals you saw in each of the five images (if they were difficult to identify, just do your best, or say so in your answer).

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