Saturday, August 25, 2018

Global weather June 2018

A movie of weather across the globe during June of 2018. 
Our series of monthly weather videos shows a combination of infrared imagery from the geostationary and polar-orbiting satellites of EUMETSAT, NOAA, the CMA and the JMA which, together, continuously observe the Earth's surface 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. 
This data is used to help forecasters predict weather patterns and warn citizens of adverse weather conditions, hours and sometimes days in advance. 
Our colleagues at Meteofrance combine imagery from the satellite data into half-hourly segments, which EUMETSAT processes to produce this animation. 
To see a full view of the Earth from the last hours, as seen by Meteosat-10, check out our web page at:

Friday, August 24, 2018

France & misc. (SHOM) update in the GeoGarage platform

225 nautical charts updated & 2 charts added

New ocean layer discovered

A Nekton submarine descends into the Abyss

From Geographical by Katie Burton

A deep-sea mission in the ocean around Bermuda confirms the existence of a new oceanic zone

‘You almost pinch yourself and think you’re on some distant planet,’ explains Professor Alex Rogers as he reminisces about his dives into the deep ocean around Bermuda.
For him, every trip in the Triton submarine, whose clear dome provides an unprecedented view of the ocean’s inhabitants, is magical.
‘There’s always something novel to see and the landscapes are fantastical.
It’s a very humbling experience,’ he adds.

Rogers is a co-founder of Nekton, an organisation exploring the depths of the ocean for the benefit of humankind.
In July 2016, Rogers and a team of marine scientists launched Nekton’s ‘Mission I’ to investigate the ocean around Bermuda, the Sargasso Sea and the northwest Atlantic.
During the mission, dive teams, manned submarines and remote-controlled vehicles collected thousands of samples from the ocean’s surface down to 1,500 metres.
Now, nearly two years later, the results of the mission have been processed and the team has announced some striking finds.

 As work begins to pull together the scientific data from Nekton's inaugural mission to be released as part of the XL Catlin Deep Ocean Survey, the team and supporters take a moment to reflect on some of the highlights and achievements of their first venture into the deep ocean.

There was a great deal beneath the waves to excite the Nekton team, but the most important discovery of all was the existence of a new zone in the ocean, dubbed the ‘rariphotic’ (or ‘rare light’) zone.
First mentioned by Dr Carole Baldwin from the Smithsonian Institute in March 2018, and now confirmed by the Nekton mission, the rariphotic zone extends from 130m to 300m and is the fourth zone confirmed in the top 3,000m of the ocean.

The rariphotic zone was identified by examining the unique biological communities that congregate at those depths.
Each of the four ocean zones – altiphotic (0m to 40m), mesophotic (40m to 130m), rariphotic (130m to 300m) and bathyal (300m to 3,000m) – are characterised by these distinct groups of sea-life.
For the Nekton researchers, understanding the zones and their different inhabitants is vital for improving understanding of ocean biodiversity and patterns of life.

Nekton Mission I - Discovering the Rariphotic Zone

At the moment, that understanding is limited.
One impact of the mission’s results was to reveal just how much we still don’t know.
Rogers and his team were amazed to discover over 100 new species around Bermuda, mostly in the rariphotic zone, including more than 40 new species of algae, a new black coral and at least 13 new crustaceans.

‘Given that Bermuda is such a well-studied area in general terms, we really weren’t expecting to find as many new species,’ says Rogers.
‘We found a new species of black coral.
They looked like big forests of coiled bed springs.
Discovering an animal that large and learning that it makes up a community that was not known to be around the islands of Bermuda was a really nice thing to find.’

Each discovery made bears its own wider significance and Nekton is currently preparing policy recommendations for the Bermudan government in light of the research.
One of the most significant finds was a number of lionfish, an invasive species, as far down as 300 metres, the deepest recorded evidence of their troubling presence.
Lionfish are capable of reducing populations of smaller fish on a reef by nearly 90 per cent in just five weeks.
While policies to control them in shallow waters have had some success, their discovery in deeper water requires further action.

Lionfish are an invasive species in Bermuda and can have devastating effects on the reef

Also important was the team’s exploration of the Plantagenet Seamount (locally known as Argus).
There are more than 100,000 seamounts – or underwater mountains – globally, but less than 50 have been biologically sampled.
Argus sits 15 miles off the coast of Bermuda and researchers noticed a different community of plants and animals there, compared to other areas around the island.
The slopes of the seamount played host to gardens of wire corals and sea fans, communities of sea urchins, green moray eels, yellow hermit crabs, fish and other mobile fauna feeding off zooplankton and algae drifting off the summit and settling on the seabed.
‘We think there is a reason to consider specific management measures for that seamount,’ says Rogers.
‘Whether that’s a marine protected area is up to the government, but it would seem to require some special management measures.’

Wire corals and sea fan (Image: Nekton and XL Catlin Deep Ocean Survey)

More generally, Rogers believes the rariphotic zone probably extends throughout the Caribbean and he is particularly excited about taking the research forward into the Indian Ocean.
Nekton’s next mission is planned for 2018-2021 and will focus on six distinct regions of the Indian Ocean, from the Mozambique Channel in the west to Sumatra in the east.

‘There’s still a huge amount of work to be done on the mesophotic zone and we’ve only just discovered the rariphotic zone,’ says Rogers.
‘We are very keen to see if there’s a similarly distinct community at those depths in the Indian Ocean because that will mean that the rariphotic zone goes through the Indopacific.’

The team is also aware of the importance of analysing human impact on the ocean.
In Bermuda, where there is no trawling of the ocean floor, it found relatively little human debris, but it knows this will not be the case everywhere it goes.

Mission I was just the beginning for Nekton.
By embracing new technology, artificial intelligence and improved camera technology it hopes to spread the word about its findings and continue to explore the ocean’s depths.
For Rogers it means more trips into the unknown and more memories he’ll never forget.

Links :

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Superyacht cybercrime: the next big thing?

From CNN by Motez Bishara

He was in St Tropez to install an internet router onto a superyacht owned by a wealthy European businessman when a thought occurred to him.
"How vulnerable is this device to a hack?" wondered the German IT specialist, Stephan Gerling, before running a number of tests that uncovered the boat's exposure to potential assaults "over the rudder, radar systems, GPS, or anything else."
"When I found these vulnerable routers, my first thought was, 'What could happen with these big yachts and the celebrities on them?'" Gerling told CNN Sport
"What if they store private pictures on the media server of the yacht?
"Someone could be sitting at a café with a Wi-Fi connection and targeting them, and they don't know."
That was the moment when Gerling, a former navigation systems expert with the German military, became obsessed with defending yachts from malicious hacking.

With steady superyacht orders leading up to the busy summer season, Gerling and the few other marine cybercrime specialists who operate from Monaco to Miami are increasingly in demand, according to yacht industry insiders.
Gerling will be in Croatia this summer to rent a 20-foot yacht -- miniscule relative to those he normally works on -- as a tester for his hacking research
He will take apart everything is that able to transmit a signal on the boat, including satellite receivers and radio transmitters, to find potential vulnerabilities, because today's yachts are exposed to hacks like never before

One billionaire had more than $150,000 stolen when yacht hackers pilfered his bank account, according to The Guardian, while yacht owners have been blackmailed after private photos were stolen
Navigation systems have also been locked and held for ransom.

Risk for ransomware'

A number of superyachts even feature financial dealing rooms with data-rich Bloomberg terminals, necessitating stronger firewalls than usual
Previously, superyacht owners were nervous about pirate attacks in risky areas like the Caribbean and Gulf of Aden
However, the current crop of owners should be just as concerned when moored in crowded tourist traps in the Mediterranean, says Ben Lind, a senior yacht underwriter at AIG
"We feel there is a lot more risk for ransomware type of attack," he says, explaining that "a massive desire by yacht owners to have Wi-Fi available all over the boat" leads to greater risk.
"To do that they push up the broadcast tower and put in more wireless access points, and now you can sit in a café at a marina and watch 10 or 20 yacht Wi-Fis come up," he says

Crew members or guests active on social media could create further risk, Lind says
"That's the type of thing that might not be a direct cyber-loss, but you don't want your staff to broadcast to the world that your VIP is going to St Tropez next week," he says

"A lot of these yacht crew are in their early 20s and they grew up with Facebook and Instagram
If they haven't had their training, it's second nature to post (their whereabouts)."
Superyachts have never been an easier target for malicious hackers or paparazzi looking to capture valuable private photos of celebrities, says Gerling.
Luxury cruisers like Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich's Eclipse -- which was reportedly purchased for nearly half a billion dollars in 2009 -- can be tracked easily via websites like, which publicly provide the names and exact locations of vessels, along with their cruising speeds

Locked down networks'

Despite the value of superyachts ranging from tens of millions to hundreds of millions of dollars, their systems can be potentially infiltrated for months without detection, Gerling says
"The first thing is they have to figure out if they are hacked," he explains

Signs include unusually high bills for satellite communications systems, or a mobile network's data plan that is "always locked out or exceeded."
"If someone is taking care of the IT system on board, then they should easily see that, just like in a normal company," he notes
"But mostly you have only a captain and a crew on board, and they mostly don't know what to look for that can raise alarms."

Cybercrime is at times dismissed as a non-issue in the yachting community, but should be taken seriously, says Robert Raymond, CEO of London-based Superyacht Insurance Brokers.
"I think it has been overlooked," says the 40-year industry veteran, adding that prevention begins with having an IT specialist dividing the yacht's communication system into "a minimum of four separate and locked down networks."
Raymond clarifies that the ship's captain and other key personnel need one network to run the ship which is "not just firewalled, but completely separate from other things on board."
Another network should cater to the yacht's owner to guard business operations, along with one for guests and another for junior staff at risk of accessing suspect websites.
Though employing a full-time IT expert on board is still a rarity on superyachts, the very top-tier of owners would be wise to do so, says Lind
"With the very big boats, such as a $200 million yacht, you would expect a chief technical officer," he says
"On those very modern boats, because they are so interconnected, there is a risk of cross contamination .. into the operational technology side, where the engine management and the electronic charting and the GPS are all connected."

On more thing, suggests Lind: Change default passwords for every gadget on the boat and reset guest Wi-Fi passwords after every charter.
Prevention is key because cybercrime is currently excluded in nearly all marine insurance policies, says Lind, whose private clients' division at AIG insures 100,000 yachts.
Any physical damage as a result of a hack -- a crash into rocks, for instance -- would be covered, Lind says, "though not ransomware, extortion, leaking of data and all the ancillaries that go around dealing with that event."
That, along with the sensitivity of high net-worth individuals, is why most cybercrimes on yachts go unreported, Lind says

'Secret gun lockers'

In the event that a boat is rerouted and held for ransom, backup plans are often in place, says London-based yacht architect Evan Marshall.
"We do get involved occasionally with preventative measures to keep yachts from being hijacked, including installing secret gun lockers, or adding secret operational rooms where the crew can retreat to and still control the vessel in the event it is hijacked," he says.
Even old-fashion pirating of ships has been made easier by IT hacking

Last year, cybercrime expert Campbell Murrary of BlackBerry took just 30 minutes to demonstrate how he could hijack a superyacht's satellite communications system and sail a boat into the hands of pirates, according to The Guardian.
Murray was even able to control a ship's CCTV system -- because its factory password was still intact -- wiping out any coverage of would-be thieves or hijackers.
"Normally, well-trained crew members should see manipulation in navigation systems by a cyber-attack," Gerling says
"That's the theory. In practice, what happens when a ship is on autopilot at 1 a.m.? Hmm."

Links :

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Enhanced maritime situational awareness with Satellite AIS

From GeoSpatialWorld by Guy Thomas

GPS is the only other system that even comes close to the impact of S-AIS in last 150 plus years, but while GPS allowed for mariners to navigate with more surety, it left the maritime world opaque.
S-AIS is quickly making it much more transparent.

Satellite AIS (S-AIS) has created the largest paradigm shift in the maritime world since the steam engine and the screw propeller. (Yes, even larger than GPS!)
The first six satellite constellation was launched by ORBCOMM for the US Coast Guard in 2008 to allow the United States to understand who was approaching its coasts and ports but has since become an ubiquitous tool for an ever-increasing array of maritime applications.

It is also routinely paired with imaging space systems such as electro-optical satellites and, especially synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites which can image the Earth day and night, rain or shine.
There are not enough SARsats yet to do this 24/7 but with the increasing number of imaging satellites of all types, SAR, EO and video, it is only a matter of a very few years before nearly every place on Earth will be under near continuous observation/surveillance.
With all three types of imaging satellites there is a natural synergism in the maritime world.
S-AIS gives them the added ability to identify the ships imaged, and if they are not identifiable, the very lack of an identity, or the attempt to hide their identity via spoofing, which is actually counterproductive for the spoofers as they are actually calling attention to themselves by the very act of sending out false information, can lead to further examination by other terrestrial assets such as aircraft and military or law enforcement vessels.

Highlighting the various applications of exactEarth's vessel data services

Many have the mistaken impression that S-AIS is easy to spoof undetected.
Since the very first ORBCOMM satellites with S-AIS as a secondary payload were launched in 2008 there has existed the capability to geo-locate all AIS emitters collected.
That geo-location is compared with the reported position contained in the transmission itself and if it is more than a certain number of miles away the report is flagged and that emitter is collected at every opportunity.
Normally once a position is verified to be “true” all subsequent collection of that emitter by that satellite during that collection opportunity, is discarded.
(A collection opportunity is defined by the time the AIS sensor on the satellite comes into view of the terrestrial transmitter, until it leaves that field of view.)

Also, there are now a number of software tools that process AIS data for a number of uses.
This data includes the Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI The MMSI is a unique 9 digit number that is assigned to each AIS unit.
Some of these software tools contain data bases that strive to record the MMSI of every AIS signal detected anywhere, stretching back to early 2001.
It is very easy for theses software tools to sort through the history of almost every MMSI ever broadcast in milliseconds and detect whether there is something amiss.
Those transmitters are also flagged for special attention.
False locations and false MMSI generates very special attention in some circles.

While GPS allowed for mariners to navigate with more surety, it left the maritime world opaque.
S-AIS is quickly making it much more transparent.
Like GPS, which was created to improve the accuracy of the US’s submarine launched ballistic missiles, S-AIS is rapidly becoming ever more present in the marine world as more and more applications for its data are being discovered and developed.
However, while GPS is now found in many applications for all three environments, sea, air and land, S-AIS’s impact is focused on the marine world where it is causing a major change in its global operations.
It is interesting to note that both satellite navigation and S-AIS were invented at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab.

While S-AIS was created as a maritime security system its usage has expanded into a number of fields.

AIS fishing vessels in the UK
courtesy of Alasdair Rae


The tracking of all the world’s commodities location and the estimate of their time of arrival at destination is now down to a very few hours.
This detailed information, derived from S-AIS and brokers’ records, has allowed commodities traders to be dramatically more accurate in predicting daily prices in many ports of the world, thereby allowing the first few who developed and employed the analysis based on this information to reap huge rewards.

Marine maintenance

Determining when hull and machinery maintenance needs to be scheduled for maximum return on investment because S-AIS allows for very accurate record-keeping of hours of operation – at what loading/speed and in what type of marine environment at what average speed.
These factors are critical to hull maintenance.

Illegal fishing

Determining when a ship which is bound for an area might pose a threat, such as illegal fishing, or having traversed an area known to contaminated with a sea life threatening biological problem such as a diseases.
This allows for the concerned authorities to demand the diversion of the threat bearing vessel.
Also, the pattern of the courses used by fishing boats while fishing are very distinct in many instances.
Several software tools now automatically recognize these patterns.


Using synthetic aperture radar satellites detecting illegal bilge dumping in controlled waters is now much more effective because the exact identification of the offending vessel and its next port of call can often be determined via S-AIS.
When the offending vessel docks, the local authorities can demand to see both its bilges and its log.
If the bilges are clean but there is no log entry as to when they were last pumped clean then a citation, often worth many thousands of dollars, is issued.
The Italian Navy reports this has caused a dramatic reduction in the illegal dumping of bilge waste in the Mediterranean.

Search and rescue

S-AIS has also dramatically improved safety of life at sea by allowing for the location of all ships in an area to be known by all interested parties thereby permitting the speedy reaction to maritime disasters, large and small.
Indeed, AIS transmitters are now being installed on life jackets to assist in recovery of crew in the water.
S-AIS allows for the closest vessels to a maritime problem to be identified and vectored to the site as needed.

Disaster support

It is also a major tool in disaster recovery operations.
In Hatti, S-AIS provided the knowledge of when needed supplies would arrive at ports which were severely damaged and thus had very limited offload capabilities.
S-AIS allowed for the accurate planning of the landing of the most needed supplies in priority order.
It has been used in a similar fashion in many disasters since, in several countries such as the Philippines, which has been hit several times recently with hurricanes, and in the Indian Ocean, Japan and Chile, where tsunamis have severally damaged ports and seacoasts.

Security and Surveillance

Finally, S-AIS is being used worldwide as a primary adjunct to maritime security operations by allowing for the study of normal “pattern of life” operations to determine when anomalous activity is happening.
Thus, surveillance and intercept units can be dispatched with much improved chances of apprehending wrong doers, be smugglers of all types, or illegal fishers, or whatever.
This saves wear and tear on equipment and personnel, as well as money by limiting operating time of scarce assets.
It also raises crew moral because it knows they have a better chance for a productive operation.
And more

The list just keeps getting longer, but clearly, S-AIS is making a huge impact on the maritime world.

Links :

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

It’s ‘the last frontier on Earth that’s truly not well understood,’ and scientists are about to explore it

Left to right (top to bottom): Enypniastes eximia, Doliolid Dolioletta gegenbauri, Anglerfish, Polychaetes and Squid Histioteuthis sp. 

From Boston Globe by David Abel

In the briny deep, far from shore, the vast darkness is home to tiny, glowing fish, massive jellies that may be the largest animals on the planet, and an untold number of other creatures.
What inhabits this realm of the ocean — from about 600 feet to about 3,000 feet — is so shrouded in mystery that scientists call it the “twilight zone.”

At the end of the week, a team of marine biologists, engineers, and other specialists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution will embark on the first long-term study of this netherworld, a nearly lightless region believed to be teeming with life — perhaps more than the rest of the ocean combined.
“It’s the last frontier on Earth that’s truly not well understood,” said Andone Lavery, a senior scientist who will oversee the first expedition.
“We have many questions.”

Chief among them: What animals live there, and how many?
Do they play a role in helping regulate the planet’s climate, and if so, how?
Could these species provide a sustainable source of protein for the world’s growing population?
That last question may be the most controversial.

The scientists, who this year won a $35 million grant from a coalition of philanthropy groups called the Audacious Project, say they plan to spend the next six years mapping the biodiversity of the twilight zone before it’s exploited by the fishing industry.
But some environmental advocates have raised concerns about whether the research could have the opposite effect, opening something of a Pandora’s box by revealing to the industry what bounty lies below.
“There is a clear risk with shining a bright light on these unexploited fish that live in the darker parts of the ocean,” said Gib Brogan, a fisheries policy analyst for Oceana, a Washington-based advocacy group.
“Gold-rush fisheries don’t benefit anyone in the long term.”

Peter Auster, a marine sciences professor at the University of Connecticut who serves as a senior research scientist at the Mystic Aquarium, urged officials to prevent the findings from being put to commercial use without thoughtful regulations.
“New knowledge can lead to unforeseen consequences,” he said.
“Policymakers and management agencies need to get in front of potential problems and keep new fisheries from developing until they can assess impacts and insure sustainable use.”

At Woods Hole, the scientists leading the research acknowledged the dilemma, but they contend that the potential for new knowledge outweighs the risks.
“If large-scale harvesting starts before we understand it, that’s a recipe for disaster,” said Heidi Sosik, a Woods Hole biologist and the lead investigator of the project.

Her hope, she said, is that learning more about the region will ultimately help preserve it.
“At this point, we don’t even know basic information, such as how long the fish there live,” she said.
“Without knowing that, we can’t possibly make informed decisions about how to interact with this ecosystem in a sustainable way.”

 DEEP-SEE testing at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Yet with many fisheries around the world severely depleted, new fishing grounds would be a welcome development, so long as scientists can ensure it’s done sustainably, she said.

In some cases, fishermen are already harvesting organisms that inhabit the twilight zone.
Large trawlers in recent years have been scooping up increasing quantities of crustaceans that migrate from surface waters to the deep sea, grinding their catch into fishmeal for aquaculture or pet food.

Many of those trawlers, however, are operating in international waters, beyond the reach of US law.
Sosik said she hopes the team’s findings will eventually help forge international agreements that would prevent overfishing of the twilight zone.
“If we can sustainably harvest this part of the ocean, without massively disrupting larger ocean structures, I’m all for that,” she said.
“We need high quality sources of protein, but it needs to be effective exploitation, not overexploitation.”

On a recent morning, Sosik’s team tested some of the new technology designed to peer into the great abyss.

A crane lowered one of the new instruments — a $1.2 million, 2,500-pound, specially designed system of sonars and cameras called DEEP-SEE — into a test well.
Using strobe lights, the 16-foot-longsystem has the capacity to detect microbes and other organisms as small as the width of human hair.

Being able to see such small organisms, and determine their numbers and habits with sophisticated sonar systems, should allow the researchers to better understand where the organisms migrate and what triggers their movement.
Many species in the twilight zone — everything from plankton to squid — are believed to participate every night in what the scientists call the largest migration on the planet, rising from the deep to feed near the surface before returning by daybreak to the safety of the darker, deeper sea.

That migration is believed to help regulate the planet’s climate.
As fish and other species migrate, they carry large amounts of carbon dioxide from surface waters into the deep ocean.
They do so through the cycle of small creatures ingesting phytoplankton, tiny plants that absorb carbon near the surface, and then transferring that to the larger species that eat them.

Nearly all the carbon that makes it to the deeper sea — through dead plankton, shells, and fecal matter, among other things — remains there, locking it away from being released as a heat-trapping gas into the atmosphere.

The members of the research team, which include robotocists, ecologists, chemists, and economists, also plan to study how ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream affect the twilight zone and why many of the animals there are bioluminescent, emitting colorful lights that allow them to attract mates and ward off predators.

Over the coming years, the researchers will be introducing a range of sophisticated new sensors, autonomous robots, advanced cameras, and other new tools.

For now, their immediate goal is to ensure that the new equipment works.

On Friday, they will start a 10-day expedition on a research vessel on loan from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The ship will travel about 150 miles south of Woods Hole to the closest deep waters, a section of the North Atlantic that’s about 6,000 feet deep.
“It’s kind of surreal that this is happening,” Sosik said.
“A year ago, it was just a dream.”
She added: “We’re hoping to learn amazing things.”

Links :

Monday, August 20, 2018

Denmark Faroë islands & Greenland (DGA) layer update in the GeoGarage platform

119 nautical raster charts & insets updated

The travel guides that charted our world

A devout Jesuit, Scherer’s maps usually contain religious overtones. Here, in its north polar projection of the world, Magellan’s circumnavigation is tracked and dated.
The myth of California as an island continues.
On the left is an engraving of Victoria, the only remaining ship from Magellan’s armada.
On the right, the few survivors of the voyage are shown making their way to the Santa María de la Victoria church in Seville, where they go to give thanks for their safe return.
The date, from the cartouche above the scene, is September 7, 1522; the number of men is 18 out of the original 237.

From BBC by Rossi Thomson

Essentially travel guides, these old books and maps were used by sailors, academics and travellers in the 15th and the 16th Centuries to navigate and explore the world.

Checking a navigation mobile app to quickly establish how to get from point A to point B has become second nature to us.
Measured in megabytes, the world now fits in our pockets.
It is quite astonishing, then, to see first-hand that only a few centuries ago geographical knowledge was yet to be fully charted, and how religious beliefs and fear of the unknown co-existed with burgeoning scientific know-how.

“Look here,” said Mattea Gazzola as her gloved hand pointed to the 570-year-old planisfero (a planisphere, or spherical world map) in front of us.
“To the east is the Biblical Paradise depicted as a walled town dotted with towers. To the south is an unbearably hot impassable desert, and to the north lies another desert uninhabited due to extreme cold. In the centre of the world is Jerusalem.”

Giovanni Leardo’s planisphere is based on Ptolemy’s geocentric model (Credit: Rossi Thomson, by permission of the Biblioteca Civica Bertoliana – Vicenza)

This world map, which dates to 1448 and was authored on parchment by Venetian cartographer Giovanni Leardo, is both beautiful and intriguing.
Combining Ptolemy’s geocentric model (the idea that the Earth is at the centre of the Solar System), Christian beliefs, pagan symbols, Arabic geographical theories and scientific formulas, it represents the continents as they were then-known by Europeans, surrounded by a big ocean.
Six concentric circles drawn around the world and filled in with tiny, neat numbers and letters allow the user to calculate when Easter takes place, the months of the year and the phases of the moon.

The Italian word ‘planisfero’ comes from the Latin planus (flat) and sphaera (sphere), and there are only three known of these world maps hand drawn and signed by Leardo.
The oldest one (1442) is held at the Biblioteca Comunale in Verona; the newest (1452) is kept by the American Geographical Society Library; and the middle one (1448) takes pride of place in the collection of the Biblioteca Civica Bertoliana in Vicenza, a smaller Italian city sandwiched between Venice and Verona.

Housed in a former Somascan monastery, the archive of Biblioteca Civica Bertoliana contains thousands of rare books and manuscripts.
If placed in a line, they would stretch more than 19km.
Over the centuries, these tomes were donated to the library by the rich noble families of Vicenza, a city known for its architectural heritage, historical silk and jewellery trades, as well as its allegiance to the Republic of Venice during its maritime heyday.

Now, some of the most precious and intriguing of these books and manuscripts lay on a wide, old-fashioned desk in front of me in the dusky room of the library's archive.
Essentially travel guides, these books and maps were used by sailors, academics and travellers in the 15th and the 16th Centuries to navigate and explore the world.

Leafing through them, Gazzola – the library's archivist – told a story.

A new era of mapping the world

Between the invention of the printing press in c.
1440 and the Age of Exploration reaching one of its pinnacles in the late 15th and early 16th Centuries, a revolution took place in the art of mapping and describing the world.
First-hand knowledge gained through seafaring, commerce, geographical discoveries, complex mathematical calculations and even religious pilgrimages to the Holy Land came flooding in and changing the outlines of the maps of the times.

Within 150 years, the geographical model of Leardo's planisfero was left behind, and the world more or less as we know it today emerged.

An important step along the way was the publication (in 1475 in Vicenza) of the first printed edition of Ptolemy's Geography in Latin.
Claudius Ptolemy, a 2nd-Century Greco-Roman mathematician, astronomer and geographer, had described the world known to the Roman Empire at the time and assigned geographical coordinates to all places.
As such, Earth was a strip of flat land about 70 degrees wide with Cadiz to the west and India or Cathay (China) to the east.

Maps based on Ptolemy’s Geography facilitated the exploratory travels during the 15th Century (Credit: Rossi Thomson, by permission of the Biblioteca Civica Bertoliana – Vicenza)

Ptolemy's work was re-discovered by Byzantine scholar Maximus Planudes in the 13th Century, and for hundreds of years Ptolemy was held as the supreme authority on all things cartographic and geographical.
Unfortunately, his original maps had been lost, and Planudes recreated them on the basis of the written text and coordinates.

After Ptolemy's Geography had been translated from Greek into Latin in 1406 by hand, more maps were drawn by many different cartographers based on Ptolemy’s text, coordinates and mathematical calculations.
These maps facilitated the exploratory travels during the 15th Century and led to a renaissance in cartography.

The 1475 Vicenza edition of Ptolemy's Geography didn't include the maps (only his original text and coordinates).
Instead, Gazzola showed me a later edition of the seminal work published in Rome on 4 November 1490.
The large and heavy tome is interspersed with 31 detailed printed maps which had been coloured by hand in yellow and ochre tones for the lands and blue shades for the seas.

Typically for an incunabulum (the term used to designate the earliest printed books, especially ones before 1501), the book doesn't have a frontispiece.
Just like a manuscript, this early edition of Ptolemy's Geography starts directly with the text without any preface.
“Frontispieces giving the name of the author, the work and the printing date only really started being used after 1500,” Gazzola explained.
This is when the Venetian humanist scholar and publisher Aldus Manutius revolutionised the printing world.
“The modern book starts with him.”
In the era of the Venetian dominance over the Adriatic and the Mediterranean seas, Manutius established the printing office Aldine Press (in Venice), was the first to introduce italics fonts, and published more than 130 books in Greek and Latin.

A harbinger of modern-day travel guides

The next travel book Gazzola showed me had a detailed, beautifully printed frontispiece.
And a very long title: Quae intus continentur Syria, Palestina, Arabia, Aegyptus, Schondia, Holmiae, Regionum Superiorum Singuale Tabulae Geographicae.

Jacobus Ziegler’s work includes descriptions aimed to help travellers to the Biblical lands (Credit: Rossi Thomson, by permission of the Biblioteca Civica Bertoliana – Vicenza)

Written by the Bavarian humanist and theologian Jacobus Ziegler and published in 1532 in Strasbourg, this is a harbinger of modern-day travel guides.
The book includes a detailed description of the Biblical lands and aims to help pilgrims on their travels through them.
It contains information about the different cities there and the local traditions, thus setting the tone for the millions of travel guides to be published around the world from then onwards.

Gazzola picked up a small leather-bound book that she described as ‘molto geniale’, or ‘very clever’ in English.
This is Cosmographia (also known as Cosmographicus Liber) by the German humanist and print-shop owner Petrus Apianus.

Known for his works in the fields of mathematics, cartography and astronomy, Apianus published Cosmographia in 1524.
It was one of the first works to base geography on mathematics and measurements.
Such was its success that it was reprinted 30 times in 14 languages.
The one I was looking at was a first edition in Latin printed in 1540 in Antwerp (one of the three leading centres of early European printing, along with Venice and Paris).

Exploring astronomy and navigation, Cosmographia is notable for its use of volvelles, wheel charts with rotating parts.
Made by layering several pieces of printed paper, the volvelle forms a complicated instrument – an early example of a calculator or an analogue computer – that allows the user to determine the position of the stars, lunar phases and the zodiacal signs, as well as other important factors for sea travel.

“Preparing the wooden plates to print the different parts of the intricate volvelles would take weeks,” Gazzola said while gently flipping the top layer of one of these devices to show me that the paper used for its construction was printed with music notes on the reverse.
Print shops at the time would recycle even the smallest scraps due to the high price of paper.

Apart from four volvelles, Cosmographia is also famous for containing a world map, which is one of the earliest to show in detail the entire east coast of North America.

Geographic knowledge was constantly expanding at the time.
One of the contributing factors for this was the technical travel literature – a body of abacus books, port tariffs, multilingual glossaries, maps and pilot books – helping the Italian Maritime Republics explore and control the merchant and military naval routes in the Mediterranean.

Hand-drawn parchment maps called ‘portolanos’ were created by ships’ cartographers (Credit: Rossi Thomson, by permission of the Biblioteca Civica Bertoliana – Vicenza)

Cartographers working on ships produced detailed nautical charts.
Gazzola picked up a portolano, a hand-drawn parchment map outlining all known Mediterranean ports, coastal cities, naval routes, docking areas and compass roses.

Little icons indicated the character of each place.
For example, there were drawings of a camel, a lion and an ostrich on the African coast.
Colourful flags flapped above turreted city icons, and countless place names neatly traced the coastlines.

The portolano dates to the second half of the 16th Century.
As it was a work tool, it was not signed by its author and changes could be freely made to it in accordance with the navigational needs of the ship on which it was used.

The first coffee table book?

Unlike the portolano, the next book Gazzola showed me was devised as a splendid forerunner of coffee table books.
Called Theatre of the World (in Latin, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum), it is the first true modern atlas.
Written by the Flemish scholar and geographer Abraham Ortelius, it was originally printed in 1570 in Antwerp.
For the first time, one book contained the whole of Western European geographic knowledge in both text and maps.
The maps, based on the work of the best cartographers, were uniformly scaled and printed using copper plates and then hand-coloured with paints that still look incredibly bright and fresh.

Such was the Renaissance hunger for geographic and scientific knowledge of the rich middle classes – who valued books as a symbol of knowledge – that the atlas was repeatedly reprinted in Latin, French, German and Dutch among other languages.

Abraham Ortelius’ Theatre of the World is considered the zenith of 16th-Century cartography (Credit: Rossi Thomson, by permission of the Biblioteca Civica Bertoliana – Vicenza)

At the time of its many publications between 1570 and 1612, Theatre of the World was a highly valued and rather expensive book that the rich merchants and noblemen of Europe liked to add to their prized collections.
Nowadays, it is considered the zenith of 16th-Century cartography.

Many of the maps contained in it are based on sources that no longer exist or are extremely rare.
The names of the geographers and cartographers both used as sources by and known to Ortelius were provided in an extensive list called Catalogus auctorum tabularum geographicarum (Catalogue of the Authors of the Geographical Maps) in the Theatre of the World.

In 1570, the list in the first edition included 87 names; in just over three decades it had grown to 183 names.
Among them, for example, is the naturalist Charles de l'Écluse (better known by his Latin name Carolus Clusius) who published one of the earliest books on Spanish flora and whose work inspired the map of Spain in Ortelius’ Theatre of the World.

Theatre of the World features a small drawing of Ferdinand Magellan’s ship, Victoria (Credit: Rossi Thomson, by permission of the Biblioteca Civica Bertoliana – Vicenza)

The atlas is astonishing to look at.
Apart from depicting strictly geographical features, each map is also adorned with detailed drawings of local customs as well as phantasmagorical creatures.
The edition kept at the Biblioteca Civica Bertoliana is from 1592 and it contains 108 maps.
It represents the world much as we know it today.

Curiously enough, a map of South America features a small drawing of Victoria, one of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan's five ships and the first to successfully circumnavigate the world.
Coincidentally, a notable passenger on Victoria was one Antonio Pigafetta, Magellan's diarist and one of only 18 people to return from the daring expedition.
Born in Vicenza, Pigafetta's name is still very much known and respected in the city.

The first voyage around the world

“Here it is,” Gazzola said and pulled out one last book.
“The First Voyage Round the World.”

This is Pigafetta's account of Magellan's circumnavigation.
Between 1524 and 1525, Pigafetta wrote his memoirs on the historic journey, drawn up from the meticulous diaries that he’d kept over the three years of travel.
The original diary of the first voyage around the world was given as a gift to Emperor Charles V, who ruled over the Spanish Empire and the Holy Roman Empire, and subsequently vanished, the Spanish court likely wanting to obliterate the merits of the Portuguese Magellan.

Antonio Pigafetta was an inconvenient witness to what happened during the expedition, and was hastily dismissed by the Spanish emperor.
However, on 5 August 1524, the Senate of the Republic of Venice granted Pigafetta the privilege of printing his diary.

Antonio Pigafetta details Magellan’s travels in The First Voyage Round the World (Credit: Rossi Thomson, by permission of the Biblioteca Civica Bertoliana – Vicenza)

The Biblioteca Civica Bertoliana keeps a later 18th-Century edition of Pigafetta’s diary with colour illustrations.
Reading this extraordinary book gives us a first-hand understanding of Magellan’s achievement and the incredible hardship his crew suffered.
From Magellan discovering the Pacific Ocean for Europe and giving it a name in line with its mild and gentle character (pacifico means ‘peaceful’ in Spanish and Portuguese) to important observations made by Pigafetta about the flora, fauna and the anthropology of the new lands, the text is peppered with geographic facts that propelled Europe’s scientific knowledge forward.

Of course, the most important finding made was that Earth is indeed round, and Magellan’s crew (according to Pigafetta’s calculations) covered 14,460 leagues (43,400 miles) to prove this.

Centuries after these seminal travel books and maps were first drawn and printed, it is quite incredible to think about the jumps in human knowledge our world has experienced since then.
Like bright lights in a deep fog, they led the world’s navigators, explorers, travellers and scientists step by step forward, charting the world and allowing us to have it at our fingertips today.

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