The Willamette River by Daniel E. Coe

Cartographers are tasked with making the physical world understandable through graphical display. Abstract spatial data is given context and translated through elements such as north arrows, scale bars, and legends. The very reason this imagery works is because it ignores those cartographic principles and retains the element of the abstract. It allows the viewer to be intrigued by something that is at once familiar as well as mysterious.

The image is a digital elevation model of the Willamette River and its environs that displays a 50-foot elevation range, from low elevations (displayed in white) fading to higher elevations(displayed in dark blue). It was created using high-resolution LiDAR data. To the scientist, this shows the meander scars that define the massive movements the river has made over thousands of years. To the non-scientist, this image may appear as a wisp of smoke, an electrical storm, or something equally as imaginative. It is this tension between known scientific data and abstract artistic perception that intrigues and inspires.