Multilingual gazetteer of undersea features and seas

A special application of GIS


 (Mátyás  M á r t o n, Ph. D., associate professor

Eötvös Loránd University, Faculty of Science,

Department of Cartography, Budapest)


1993. június 10-én a  GIS/LIS ’93 Hungary konferencián

(BME, Budapest) tartott előadás szövege





The word geography may be defined in terms of its constituent parts: geo and graphy. Geo refers to the Earth, and graphy indicates a process of writing; so geography means writing about the Earth. Very often the „language” of this „writing” is a map.

            An information system is a chain of operations that takes us from planning the observation and collection of data through the storage and analysis of data to the use of the derived information.

            Cartographers make maps. A map is a collection of stored and analyzed data (so a map is a kind of information systems). Information derived from this collection (to the special kind of view-point of cartographers) is used making new maps. Earlier only these manual (or analogue) information systems (topographic and other kinds of maps, aerial photographs, statistical reports etc.) were used, but nowadays automated (computer-aided) information systems can be used making new maps as well. However, we can say that manual GISs play an extremely important role in constructing such systems, based on digital computers.

            Hearing the word GIS, everybody thinks of a system in a computer containing maps, data and different kinds of information about the Earth. (In most cases they mean lands only, and nobody thiks of seas and oceans, although everybody knows that 2/3 of the Earth's surface is covered by sea water).

Geographical names, gazetteers
and undersea features as spatial objects


Geographical names are those names that we use for the indentification of natural features or man-made objects on the surface of the Earth (or any other celestial body).

            Gazetteer (by the Oxford Dictionary): index of geographical names, e. g. at the end of an atlas. We can continue this definition: gazetteers first of all play important role in the use of official geographical names and sometimes in the identification of the places as well where those objects can be found on the Earth's surface (e.g. using a pair of coordinates for the localization such as the „Gazetteer of undersea features” does, or using a map enclosed as we can find in the „Gazetteer of Hungary I”, which includes the major topographic and hydrographic names). We can say that a gazetteer is a manual database. We also use geographical names for the identification of different undersea features as they are natural features of the solid Earth's surface though they are coverred by sea water.

            An undersea feature is a delimited geographic area with different kinds of associated attributes or characteristics (first of all its name, its morphological character, vertical and horizontal dimensions: relative height to its surroundigs, absolute depth of its highest point from the sea level etc.) Though submarine objects are delimited areas, in most cases it is not enough for their localization to give a pair of coordinates.

            Undersea features (spatial objects of the Earth's solid surface) such as other morphological features on lands can be divided into the following main groups from the point of view of a GIS (according to Star, J. and J. Estes, 1990): points, lines, nodes, polygons and chains.

            A point is a spatial object with „no area”. Seamounts or tablemounts, for example are undersea features, which can be localized by a pair of coordinates.

            A line is a spatial object made of a connected sequence of points. Lines have „no width”. Such object can be a submarine canyon, a shelf valley or a trench.

            Nodes are special kinds of points usually indicating the junction between lines or the ends of line segments. (E. g. a connecting point of a shelf valley to a canyon.)

            A polygon is a closed area. Simple polygons are undivided areas, while complex polygons are divided into areas of different characteristics. The Eurasia Basin in the Arctic Ocean is a complex polygon, because it is divided into three large parts: the Fram Basin, the Nansen Cordillera and the Nansen Basin, which are also separately complex poligons containing different areas of different characteristics such as subbasins, abyssal plains etc.

            Chains are special kinds of line segments, which correspond to a portion of the bounding edge of a polygon. (For example a trench can be a part of the „contour line” of a deep-sea basin.)

            It is evident that lines, polygons and chains cannot be localized by a pair of coordinates.


Relief representation of the sea floor and
the Multilingual gazetteer of the Arctic Ocean


At Cartographia (the Hungarian Company for Surveying and Mapping) from the middle of the 80's we studied the relief representation of the sea floor on different scale maps determining the connection between the scale of maps and the number and values of isobaths represented. (We called this approach as the „generalization in vertical sense”.) The results are as follows:


Scale                                       Number of isobaths

1:25.000.000 and smaller                     16

1:25.000.000—1:10.000.000                28

1:10.000.000—1: 7.500.000                 31

1: 7.500.000—1  5.000.000                  46

1: 5 000.000—1: 2.500.000                  68

1: 2.500.000 and larger                       111


We role here as an example only the 28 possible contour values for maps of 1:25.000.000—1:10.000.000. These are: 200, 1000, 2000, 3000, 3500, 3750, 4000, 4200, 4400, 4600, 4800, 5000, 5250, 5500, 5750 and 6000 m.

            We derived the rules of the „generalization in horizontal sense” as well (which gave us how to draw the lines, which forms have to be emphasized).

            On the other hand, we looked for the method of the construction of correct Hungarian names for undersea features corresponding to the decisions and recommendations of the U. N. Conferences on the Standardization on Geographical Names. There is no place here to summarise the results, and it is not necessary either, because it is important only for Hungarian cartographers. The only thing we have to mention here is that it is very useful studying geographical names of undersea features in different languages for constructing correct Hungarian (or any

other) names, and this leads us to the problems of multilingual gazetteers. At the end of 1991 we completed the „Multilingual gazetteer of the Arctic Ocean”. It consists of

four maps and ten chapters as follows:



            Map 1: Boundaries of the seas from different sources

            Map 2: Boundary of the Arctic Ocean based on structural-morphological lines

   I. The names of the seas

  II. Index (Latin)

III. Index (Cyrillic)

IV. The origin of names



            Map 3: Relief map of the Arctic Ocean

            Map 4: Boundaries and codes of undersea features

     V. The names of the undersea features

    VI. Index (Latin)

  VII. Index (Cyrillic)

VIII. The origin of names

   IX. Generic terms in geographical names and definitions of undersea features

            (in English, French, German, Czech, Russian, Hungarian)

    X. Sources, literature


This gazetteer contains Hungarian, English, German, Czech and Russian names using the original forms of the names (no transliteration or transcription). The database is on PC computer. We used DBASE software to store the names and connecting data (code numbers for the identification of the objects on the maps, coordinates of the objects, code of sources etc.). Maps were made by traditional cartographic methods.

            We were continuing this work for the North Atlantic and the North Pacific Oceans with the help of students at the Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest. These works has been completed. But in this case the maps also are on PC. We shall create a GIS for the Oceans using MapInfo software.


Conclusions (A conception)


As we saw earlier one of the basic material to construct a GIS is a well chosen map or maps (the map itself is an analogue information system). On the other hand, we know that map compilation is a chain of operations that takes us from planning the collection of data, through the storage, analysis and selection of data, to the use of the derived information for making new maps (for constructing a new analogue information system).

            If we look through the content of the „Multilingual gazetteer of the Arctic Ocean” we can see that it is a good database for an information system based, for example, on using „MapInfo”. It contains all the maps needed for a medium level representation of the relief of the sea floor; it contains all the maps needed for a high level representation of the boundaries of the seas and of the main undersea features; it contains all the needed information for the official English and Hungarian names and (French), German, Russian and Czech name variants for both the seas and the undersea features, and we can find in it too, where the names came from (tell us their origin as well). We think to supplement this completed system with a new code number which would be useful at the selection of the objects represented, depending on the scale of the map compiled.

            That is why we think it very important to complete the above mentioned work for the whole World Ocean. When we finish this work, we shall have a good database for the compilation of all small scale maps of the oceans and seas from the scale of 1:2.500.000 to the scale of 1:80.000.000; for all kinds of general geographic maps, world map series, wall maps, atlases and globes.





Márton, M.:

Certain problems of relief representation by contours on small-scale maps

in: Hungarian Cartographical Studies (Editor: Csáti,E.)

Hungarian National Committee, International Cartographic Association,

Budapest, 1989


Márton, M.:

Tengervízzel fedett felszínek ábrázolása kisméretarányú térképeken

(Kandidátusi értekezés)

(Small-scale representation of the Earth's surface covered by sea water

(Ph.D. thesis)

Budapest, 1991


Star, J. and J. Estes:

Geographic information systems

An introduction

Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 1990