Saturday, May 23, 2015

Looking at a Map of Russia

Trying to draw a globe on a flat surface has challenged cartographers since they decided the world was round.  Mercator maps, where lines of longitude aka meridians, are drawn parallel, work pretty good between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn and not too bad between 45°N and 45°S.  But the closer to the poles you get the worse the distortion becomes.  Greenland looks bigger than South America. But most of us are used to Mercator and when we want to see where point A is relative to point B, we tend to think in straight lines.

This does not work for the Russian Federation.  If you have ever looked at a Mercator scale map of Russia, it looks ridiculous - long and skinny. So it is usually drawn using another kind of projection called Azimuthal. Here the North Pole is the centre and the parallels of latitude are drawn as concentric circles around it while the meridians radiate outwards in straight lines from the centre. So you have to think along the curve.

Relief map of Russian Federation
Russia is huge.  Most of it fits within 50°N Lat and 70°N Lat, and 30°E Long to 180° Long but the extremities stick out in all directions much further, for example from 20°E Long to 170°W Long.  It is 10,400 km from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok.  By comparison it is only 7,500 km from Victoria BC to St Johns Nfld.

I am always searching for the coordinates of some Russian city to see where its Canadian counterpart might be on the Parallels of Latitude, especially in Western Canada which also has a continental climate.  For example Kyiv, capital of Ukraine is on the exact same parallel as Regina Saskatchewan at 50°27'.  Moscow at 55°45' is slightly farther north than High River in Alberta's Peace River country at 55°26' and quite a ways north of Flin Flon Manitoba at 54°45'.  Abakan, where Tanya's family live in south central Siberia  at 53°43' is slightly farther north than Edmonton Alberta at 53°33'. Vladivostok is way south at 43° while Magadan, mining town and location of the former infamous Gulag camp Kolyma, is way north at 59°34, pretty much on par with Fort smith NWT or Watson Lake Yukon

Relief map of Canada
Not only is Russia NORTH, it is also much more oriented north than say Canada.  Canadians by and large are crowded into a 250 km strip along the USA border while Russians live all over their country. Canada drew a line on the 60th parallel to top the four western provinces and declared everything above it to be North.  so we don't think about it much.  In Russia, the administrative lines tend to run all the way north,  for example, Krasnoyarsk Krai runs from the Sayan Mountains in the south all the way to the Arctic Ocean.

Something to keep in mind about Russia, though, is that for all its size it has no year round easy access defensible ports with easy access to open ocean..  There is the Baltic, with lots of bottle necks before you hit the North Sea, the Black Sea with the world's best choke point through the Bosporus and Dardanelles and then Gibralter before you see the Atlantic. Vladivostok is 10,000 km away and Murmansk/Arkhangelsk is iced over much of the year.

Compare that with the American sea coasts and  you can understand how locked in Russia is when it comes to ocean access.

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