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Changing World Sees Maps Playing Catch Up

Development and environmental change are now altering the physical aspect of the world so fast that maps are having to be regularly redrawn, say the publishers of an atlas reissued today with many changes since its last edition.

China in particular is growing so explosively that three quite different maps have had to be drawn, in 1992, 1997 and 2007, according to the publisher of The Times Atlas of The World.

They show, for example, the scarcely-believable mushrooming expansion of the port city of Shanghai -- an urban area which has more than tripled, and then more than tripled again, by each date. Shanghai's population has nearly doubled in the decade-and-a-half the maps represent, from just over eight million to nearly 15 million today.

Furthermore, the latest map shows the massive infrastructure developments accompanying the expansion, such as the thin red line in the sea to the south-east which represents the Donghai bridge -- at more than 20 miles long, the longest cross-sea bridge in the world.

"China is a phenomenal challenge for a cartographer," said Mick Ashworth, the editor-in-chief of the atlas. "It now has more than 100 cities with more than one million people."

The atlas also vividly illustrates environmental changes -- such as the dramatic shrinking of two of the world's biggest inland water bodies, the Aral Sea in central Asia and Lake Chad in Africa. The Aral Sea has shrunk by 75 per cent since 1967, largely because of large-scale water extraction to irrigate cotton growing, in a project of the former Soviet Union which proved disastrous. Lake Chad has shrunk by 95 per cent since 1963, because of water extraction for a growing population, overgrazing by cattle, and rainfall decline.

The Atlas also states that 40 per cent of known coral reefs have been destroyed or degraded, and more than one per cent of tropical rainforest is cleared each year -- potentially hastening climate change.

One the positive side, however, it notes 13 per cent of the world's land area is "protected."

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