How Geographic's New Atlas Reflects a Changed World

Chelsea Lane-Miller
for National Geographic News
November 19, 2004

Some 17,000 changes have been made since the previous edition of the National Geographic Atlas of the World. With the new edition now on sale, Chief Cartographer Allen Carroll tells what's involved in tracking a world where the only constant is change.

How do you stay on top of all the changes in the world?

We have a hardworking research staff that keeps careful track of a rapidly changing world in many ways. They're in touch with sources at the United Nations, the U.S. State Department, embassies here in Washington, and many other organizations.

We use multiple sources within academia, government, and the international community. We meet regularly with a group of geographers called the Board of Geographic Names. But we make the final decisions ourselves, weighing these many sources in an effort to be as accurate, authoritative, and objective as possible.

Why are there so many changes, and what kinds of changes are they?

There are all kinds of changes.

Many have to do with a growing and shifting population. For instance, cities are growing rapidly in many parts of the world. As they grow we often need to adjust the size of the "town spot" and the place-name label to reflect a larger population.

Sometimes a country using a non-Western alphabet will change its Romanization policy. Remember when Peking became Beijing? That sort of thing recently happened in South Korea, leading to changes for scores of towns and cities.

For the most part, natural and physical features haven't changed nearly as much as the human ones. But the Aral Sea in Central Asia has shrunk dramatically. That change is caused in part by human activities, though—namely diversion of river water for agriculture.

How can people keep their atlases updated?

Our eighth edition is the only world atlas with a fully integrated Web site. Atlas buyers receive a user name and password and have access to a rich Web site on which they can browse every one of the atlas's political maps, add their own place-names, e-mail maps to friends, order large-format prints, and view dramatic animations that fly you from space into world landmarks.

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