The Value of America’s Forests: A Prize-Winning Map

Each year the National Geographic Society sponsors a number of cartography awards to support up-and-coming student map-makers. Today, I’d like to introduce you to Sarah Graves, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who won first prize in the Association of American Geographers-National Geographic Award in Mapping with her map, The Value of America’s Forests. Her prize: $900 and a National Geographic 9th Edition Atlas of the World. Sarah shared her map and a few reflections on her background and interest in maps and visualizations.

Graves_NatGeoMap_CROPPED.jpgWhere are you from?
I was born and raised in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-Saint Paul) of Minnesota. For most of my life I’ve lived in the town of Minnetonka, a suburb of Minneapolis.

GravesPicture.JPGName one or more dream jobs.
A forest ecologist. My dream is to have a job researching forests and educating others on the value of preserving these ecosystems.

Who is your favorite geographer, map-maker, scientist, or adventurer?
I wish I could say that I have a favorite! I am marveled by the type of work people are doing across all disciplines to understand, protect, and teach others about preserving ecosystems. I am especially inspired by those who are taking science out of academic institutions and making information available to decision-makers and to the public.

Graves_NatGeoMap.jpgWhat inspired you to do this project?
I wanted to tell a story
that highlighted the contrast between the rapid loss of high-density
carbon tropical forests and the reduced loss or regrowth of lower
density temperate forests, and the resulting impact on global
environmental change. There are many reasons behind these changes, but I
wanted to incorporate the ecological value, as seen in carbon density,
and the economic value, since there is often a trade-off between these
two factors. While this could have been done by creating two separate
maps and allowing the viewer to draw conclusions about the relationship,
I wanted to directly combine the factors and offer a slightly different
metric for measuring forest value.

What class was it for?
created this map for my final project in an introductory Cartography
class. I took this class as part of a professional certificate degree in
Geographic Information Science (GIS) offered through the Department of
Geography (at the University of Wisconsin-Madison).

What were your biggest design decisions/challenges?

primary design challenge was incorporating many different elements into
one cohesive map. There are various elements that help explain forest
value and consequences of its loss, including the dynamic between
biomass and atmospheric carbon, the economic value of forest products,
and historic rates of afforestation and deforestation. From a design
perspective, I had to ensure that the elements built on each other in a
way that was not overwhelming, yet captured the full story. Primarily,
this was a challenge with the layout, and ensuring visual hierarchy and
flow for the entire map.

What was your undergraduate major?
Environmental Science, Policy, and Management with a minor in Biology.

plans to continue her studies in a graduate program studying biology,
where she will continue to use maps, graphs, and other tools to
communicate complex scientific information. She intends to use the prize
money to purchase the software tools–including Geographic Information
Systems (GIS) and design programs like Adobe Illustrator and
Photoshop–to aid in this work.

-Sean O’Connor, for National Geographic Education

The National Geographic Award in Mapping is administered by the
Cartography Specialty Group of the Association of American Geographers.
Find out more about this and other National Geographic student mapping
awards here.

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