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Map Monday - Bad Maps

  • Jan 26, 2014
  • 604 words
  • 3 minutes
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Nothing will get you in trouble quicker than a bad map. For instance, scandal brewed in Romania when it was reported that officials had doctored geological maps in order to appease a Canadian company looking to create what may be Europe’s biggest open-cast mine project in Transylvania.

The mining company Rosia Montana planned to create an artificial lake for liquid run-off in a safe area due to the highly toxic chemicals it contained. Geologists produced a map that showed an ideal site for the run-off, but it was later revealed that they erased dangerous fault lines; the geologist who made the original (accurate) map was fired in an effort to clear the way for the mining company.

Here are a few examples of other bad maps and their disastrous effects.

The Northwest Passage
Since nobody made it through the Northwest Passage until Norwegian Roald Amundsen in 1906, mapping was sparse at best for much of Canada’s Arctic before then. Historians believe that bad maps added to the problems faced by Englishman Henry Hudson during his four unsuccessful journeys to the north of Canada. During the fourth expedition in 1610, Hudson’s men mutinied and left him stranded in a lifeboat with his son, a musket and several crew members afflicted with scurvy. He hasn’t been seen since.

Benedict Arnold’s Invasion of Quebec
Benedict Arnold led an expeditionary force to attack British forces at Quebec City during the American Revolutionary War. The problem was, inaccurate maps led to bad planning and many of the small wooden boats his men built for the trip north through the rivers of Maine didn’t hold up over uncharted rapids and waterfalls. Arnold’s forces were greatly reduced through disease and desertion by the time he got to Quebec and by the time they finally attacked, most of their water-logged muskets wouldn’t fire anymore. His small army was defeated, though Arnold himself managed to escape with injuries.

Friendly Fire in Pakistan
NATO blamed bad maps after conducting a friendly fire strike which killed 24 Pakistani troops in 2011. Instead of apologizing, NATO said the Pakistanis provided bad maps but Pakistan blamed NATO for asking for logistics information about the wrong area. The resulting diplomatic row led to Pakistan shutting down their borders and disrupting NATO’s supply route to Afghanistan.

Hobbema, Alta.
News reports from Alberta in 2011 described how police attempting to respond to crime reports in Hobbema, Alta. were baffled by bad maps. Roads lacked street names or numbers, rendering GPS systems useless. The best map that officers had was a rough, maze-like map that listed things like the names of certain residents and seemingly randomly assigned numbers. The effort to make sense of the directions delayed RCMP response time during critical moments in a small community that suffers from a per capita crime rate significantly higher than nearby Edmonton.

Apple Maps in Fairbanks, Alaska
Both Apple and Google Maps have been known to lead people astray on numerous occasions, but this came to a head recently in Alaska when the application instructed drivers to cross the Fairbanks International Airport runway in order to get to a terminal. At least two cars made their way onto the runway over the course of several weeks before the airport was forced to barricade an entry ramp to put an end to the problem.

Have a story about how a bad map affected your life? Tell us about it. Leave a comment below or tweet @CanGeo.


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