Decades of once-secret maps are now freely available online
As much as James Bond is defined by his outlandish gadgets, one of the most important tools for real-life spies is actually much less flashy: maps.
Whether used to gather information or plan an attack, good maps are an integral part of the tradecraft of espionage.
Now, to celebrate 75 years of serious cartography, the Central Intelligence Agency has declassified and put decades of once-secret maps online.
1956 Antarctica claims
These days, the C.I.A. and other
intelligence agencies rely more on digital mapping technologies and
satellite images to make its maps, but for decades it relied on
geographers and cartographers for planning and executing operations
around the world.
Because these maps could literally mean the difference
between life and death for spies and soldiers alike, making them as
accurate as possible was paramount, Greg Miller reports for National Geographic.
“During [the 1940s], in support of the military’s efforts in
World War II...cartographers pioneered many map production and thematic
design techniques, including the construction of 3D map models,” the
C.I.A. writes in a statement.
1958 Chinas Offshore Islands
At the time, cartographers and mapmakers had to rely on existing
maps, carefully replicating information about enemy terrain in pen on
large translucent sheets of acetate.
The final maps were made by
stacking these sheets on top of one another according to what
information was needed, then photographed and reproduced at a smaller
size, Miller reports.
All of this was done under the watchful eye of the
then-26-year-old Arthur H. Robinson, the Cartography Center’s founder.
Though World War II-era intelligence services like the Office of
the Coordinator of Information and the Office of Strategic Services
eventually morphed into the C.I.A. as we know it today, the Cartography
Center was a constant element of the United States’ influence abroad.
Looking through the collection of declassified maps is like looking into
a series of windows through which government officials and intelligence
agents viewed the world for decades, Allison Meier reports for Hyperallergic.
From the early focus on Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire, the maps
show shifting attention towards the Soviet Union, Vietnam and the Middle
East, to name just a few examples.
President Kennedy 1961 map
As interesting as these maps are to look at, it’s sobering to
remember that they played a major role in shaping global politics of the
These were the documents that U.S. government officials
relied on for decades, whether it was predicting global trade in the
1950s or preparing for the Invasion of the Bay of Pigs in Cuba in the
1963 Cuba Soviet forces
Intelligence briefings may more often be done digitally these
days, but whatever medium a map is made in, knowing where you are going
remains critical to understanding—and influencing—world affairs.
Autonomous gliders, cameras and sensors trawl the oceans looking for signs of environmental changes
In 2015, a weak monsoon season left parts of India with 40 per cent
below average rainfall, its farmlands littered with withered crops.
prepare farmers against future unpredictability, experts are now turning
to a team of robots, adrift in the sea.
Researchers from the University
of East Anglia and the Indian Institute of Science have joined up to
deploy seven robots, called gliders, along India's coastline, for the £8
million Bay of Bengal Boundary Layer Experiment (BoBBLE).
three hours these winged machines autonomously sink to 1,000 metres and
rise again, using sensors to detect mixing between currents in the
ocean that bring heat to the surface and drive monsoons.
forward movement using their wings; they can direct their path to
wherever you tell them to," says Ben Webber, a University of East Anglia oceanographer working on BoBBLE, and piloting the gliders from the UK.
In 2017, BoBBLE researchers will begin analysing the results:
combined with atmospheric data, the robots' readings will provide closer
predictions on the extent of monsoon rainfall and when it will hit
Fed back to farmers via weather stations and phone alerts, it
could suggest best times for planting crops.
The BoBBLE gliders aren't
alone: they join a 400-strong army of bots in the sea that are gathering
varied data from around the world.
"The range of autonomous platforms
that are becoming available is seen as the future of oceanography,"
Where we used to rely on costly ship missions to
gather data from the ocean, we're turning to gliders, autonomous
underwater vehicles and sensors - embedded on the sea floor, sunk into
the water column or set adrift on the waves - to feed information back
By exploiting the ocean as a vast information source, these
instruments are providing unprecedented detail on everything from
climate change to underwater volcanism and fisheries.
In 2017, as the
technology makes its mark on the waves, we can expect to see an uptick
in the data, bringing us new depths of understanding about the planet.
Operations engineer Chris Wahl deploys MBARI’s Wave Glider, Tiny from the
R/V Paragon for another mission.
Tiny is an autonomous surface vehicle
(ASV) that has a surfboard-like float with a tethered glider below,
equipped with spring-loaded paddles that use wave energy for motion.
Solar panels on its surface power the scientific instruments and
satellite communications as it travels.
We are beginning to use ASVs
instead of ships for certain well-defined, repetitive oceanographic
We are also developing ways to use them as communication gateways
and navigation aids for autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs).
have been deployed everywhere: from the Arctic (to measure the pace of
melting ice) to the US East Coast (to watch for incoming hurricanes).
Elsewhere, other instruments are measuring short-term changes - such as
sudden blooms of toxic algae that threaten human and ecological health.
Off the coast of Washington State, pods called Environmental Sample
Processors, developed by California's Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute,
are sensing toxic blooms produced by Pseudo-nitzschia algae that
threaten to infest edible shellfish onshore. "
[The Research Institute]
had the vision of miniaturising a lab and leaving it out in the ocean,"
says Stephanie Moore, a scientist with the US National Oceanographic and
Atmospheric Administration's Northwest Fisheries Science Center, who's
working with University of Washington researchers to carry out the
Using a robotic arm, the pod takes a water sample, then withdraws it
into the main body where it's screened for algal toxins using filters
Within four hours, the pod's results can be transmitted
via satellite as a warning if there's a threat.
With the incidence of
harmful algal blooms rising globally - marked by coastal closures and
mass strandings of animals that succumb to its toxins - the relevance of
these algae-detecting units will grow.
In terms of scale, the
most impressive data gathering is coming out of the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), a huge venture launched in 2016 after ten years of
construction on the sea floor.
It's made up of seven data-transmitting
arrays that flank North and South America.
Each is surrounded by
moorings that act as centre-points for over 830 instruments situated
throughout the water column and on the sea floor.
These instruments -
gliders, autonomous vehicles, cameras and seismic sensors - will feed a
stream of information back to the arrays.
"To have it in one cohesive
package with such a geographic range is absolutely unprecedented," says
Richard Murray, director for the Division of Ocean Science at the US
National Science Foundation, the organisation funding the $386 million
OOI's research remit is broad.
will track changes in sea-floor geology that could trigger earthquakes;
detect minute shifts in temperature, salinity and ocean mixing to map
long-term climate-change trends; and identify nutrient flows to pinpoint
Already, it's having real-world impacts. OOI's
autonomous underwater vehicles are sensing nutrient upwellings along the
eastern US coastline, and predicting how they'll drive fisheries, says
Glen Gawarkiewicz, an oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic
"I have been using some of the data to
communicate with commercial fishermen about recent changes in the
region," he says.
The platform isn't just for researchers,
Throughout their existence the arrays will be streaming data
via cable and satellite in near-real-time to whoever wants to tune in.
"Anybody can use it, any state, any country, anybody, anywhere," Murray
"That's the way science should be."
He sees OOI's potential as an
undersea laboratory where future technologies may be tested, furthering
"The. science will enable people to answer questions we
haven't even asked yet," he says.
With the spread of seafaring
instruments in 2017 and beyond, our ocean-based intelligence is
projected to rise.
Temperatures at the North Pole could
be up to 20 degrees higher than average this Christmas Eve, in what
scientists say is a record-breaking heatwave.
say these unseasonably warm weather patterns in the Arctic region are
directly linked to man-made climate change.
Temperatures throughout November and December were 5C higher than average.
It follows a summer during which Arctic sea ice reached the second-lowest extent ever recorded by satellites.
Arctic sea ice extent is monitored and measured by satellite imaging
Dr Friederike Otto, a senior researcher at Oxford's Environmental Change Institute
told BBC News that in pre-industrial times "a heatwave like this would
have been extremely rare - we would expect it to occur about every 1,000
Dr Otto added that scientists are "very confident" that the weather patterns were linked to anthropogenic climate change.
"We have used several different climate modelling approaches and observations," she told BBC News.
"And in all our methods, we find the same thing; we cannot model a heatwave like this without the anthropogenic signal."
Temperatures are forecast to peak on Christmas Eve around the North Pole - at near-freezing.
warm air from the North Atlantic is forecast to flow all the way to the
North Pole via Spitsbergen, giving rise to clouds that prevent heat
And, as Dr Otto explained to BBC News, the reduction in sea ice is contributing to this "feedback loop".
"If the globe is warming, then the sea ice and ice on land [shrinks] then the darker water and land is exposed," she said.
"Then the sunlight is absorbed rather than reflected as it would be by the ice."
Forecasting models show that there is about a 2% chance of a heatwave event occurring every year.
if temperatures continue to increase further as they are now," said Dr
Otto, "we would expect a heatwave like this to occur every other year
and that will be a huge stress on the ecosystem."
Dr Thorsten Markus, chief of NASA's Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory, said the heatwave was "very, very unusual".
eerie thing is that we saw something quite similar (temperatures at the
North Pole of about 0C in December) almost exactly a year ago," he told
The freeze and thaw conditions are already making it
difficult for reindeer to find food - as the moss they feed on is
covered by hard ice, rather than soft, penetrable snow.
the conditions on Christmas Eve were likely to affect Santa's
all-important journey, Dr Markus said he was confident that his sled
would cope with the conditions.
He added: "Santa is most likely overdressed though. Maybe in the future we'll see him in a light jacket or plastic mac."
Cartographers/developers/designers/shipping enthusiasts: Scott Farley, Starr Moss, and Meghan Kelly.
morganherlocker.com/post/Ship-Logs/ Morgan Herlocker has also used the Climatological Database for the World's Oceans to create an interactive map of international ship traffic between 1750 and 1850.
These historical ship logbooks contain a wealth of data both about the routes taken by ships and the weather conditions encountered by the ships during their voyages. Morgan took the location data from these 100 years of ship logs and plotted them on a Mapbox map. One thing that clearly emerges from mapping all this data is the routes of the major shipping lanes from 1750-1850.
It’s interesting to note that fewer people have sailed around the world
alone, nonstop in a trimaran than have walked on the moon – just Ellen
Macarthur, Francis Joyon, and Coville, and each of them now have owned
that all-important trophy.
Coville, along with his sponsor –
convenience-store-sandwich-maker Sodebo – deserve massive accolades, and
not just for the second-most important ocean sailing record in the
world: Their perseverence and tenacity has been nothing short of
This is Thomas’ 6th attempt at
the same record, and to come back and do it again after just the sheer
heartbreak of missing it by just hours in 2014 – that’s the stuff of
With barely two weeks remaining before 'The Big Turn Right' on Boxing Day, a number of the grand prix performers – including Black Jack, CQS, Wild Oats XI and Ichi Ban - were to be seen offshore in training and work-up mode today, enjoying perfect sailing conditions.
The Bow Caddy team sent their aerial camera out to capture the last yacht to return through the Heads as she headed into the harbour in the late afternoon sun.