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New Atlas Shows Fast Pace of Changing World

New Atlas Shows Fast Pace of Changing World
WASHINGTON - From new place names, shrinking seas and terror attacks to soaring Internet usage, the world is changing at a more rapid pace than in previous decades, says National Geographic's chief cartographer.

The National Geographic Society is launching the eighth edition of its "Atlas of the World" this month and has made a record 17,000 updates and editorial changes from its edition five years ago.

"This pace of change mainly has to do with two factors, a still rapidly growing population and an ever-more international economy," said Allen Carroll, the society's chief map-maker.

The new atlas uses the latest digital mapping techniques and satellite imagery and for the first time, each page has an Internet address where readers can find more information.

"The goal is to get people excited about the world and to increase people's understanding. There is too much local focus but not enough understanding of how what happens in the world affects our lives," said Carroll.

The 416-page, 7-pound (3.2-kg) book includes maps and graphics that reflect global challenges, such as "Conflict and Terror," which shows the site of terror attacks. Others portray migration and refugee flows and health and literacy rates.

When mapping out terror attacks, Carroll said they purposefully did not indicate where Al Qaeda -- blamed by the United States for many attacks including those on Sept. 11, 2001 -- or other groups were based as this was a shifting target.


Carroll says more than ever, the political and economic maps reflect a growing gap between the developing and the developed world.

For example, a map of undersea fiber-optic cables shows a jumbled mass of cables between Europe and the United States but a lone one snaking around the west coast of Africa and skipping much of east Africa. A map on Internet hosts paints a similar picture, with Europe, parts of Asia and North America dominating the scene.

"This shows us that Africa is still relatively isolated both economically and technologically," said Carroll in an interview from his office in Washington D.C.. Surrounded by different sized globes and with piles of maps spread out on his table, Carroll said there was a lot of internal debate about what to include and what not to in the political and economic maps section.

"We have bent over very far backward to make sure we are objective and fair and as nonpartisan as we can be here," he said. "We are very careful to use as many sources as we can and not follow the policies of any one organization."


East Timor -- the first new nation this century -- is mapped for the first time in the latest atlas and the recently defined border between Yemen and Saudi Arabia is also shown as are the administrative divisions in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Other notable changes include the fact that Mount Everest, Earth's highest point, is recorded 7 feet (2.1 m) higher at 29,035 feet (8,850-m) -- not because it has grown but because measurement data is more accurate. Earth's lowest point, the Dead Sea, has dropped 26 feet (7.9 m), down to minus 1,365 feet (416 m) because of increased water consumption in that area, said Carroll.

The atlas also shows environmental degradation. For example, Lake Chad has shrunk due to an ongoing drought and the Aral Sea has been affected by the siphoning of water.

But Carroll says most environmental changes are subtle and unnoticeable to the human eye. "Thank goodness, otherwise thousands of people would be fleeing as seas encroached and things like that," he said.

Some of the more impressive satellite imagery in the atlas is a compilation of nighttime shots taken over several months and pieced together to show human settlements according to the number of bright lights.

Predictably, North America's East and West coasts, Western Europe, parts of India and Japan, have the biggest number of lights, while parts of Australia are engulfed in fires.

When it comes to naming towns and cities, Carroll says they use the name people would identify if traveling to that area. For example, Italy's capital is identified as "Roma" with the English translation "Rome" next to it.

National Geographic printed its first atlas in 1963. At $165 a copy, the first print run this time round will be 165,000. A single map plate contains up to 8,000 labels and the 136-page index has 140,000 place names.

Story by Sue Pleming

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