Besides a shift in the delineation of the International Date Line, the self-declaration of two semi-autonomous regions, and the discovery of a “phantom island” in the South Pacific, 2012 has proven to be quite an interesting year. Read on:

International Date Line – January 1st

At the start of 2012, two political entities—Samoa and Tokelau (a territory of New Zealand)—moved their official time zones west [to UTC/GMT +14] of the International Date Line. The line’s most recent realignment occurred in 1995 when Kiribati shifted the date line east of the 180th meridian.

The position of the date line is based on international acceptance, but it has no legal status. As the island nations of Kiribati and Samoa, along with Tokelau (New Zealand), advanced their time zones on New Year’s day, they have become the first to start a new day and the first to celebrate a new year.

Cyrenaica, Libya – March 6th   

On this date the Cyrenaica Transitional Council self-declared this region as being semi-autonomous from Tripoli. Only a declaration on the part of this council, its claim has yet to be recognized by the Libyan government or the international community.




World Atlas App. – April–December

In mid-April work begins on updating Version 2.2 of the National Geographic World Atlas iPhone, iPod, and iPad apps. The World Atlas contains seven different levels of National Geographic cartography, plus—through our unique partnership with Microsoft—seven bonus levels of Microsoft Bing maps enabling you to zoom in close enough to see your home!

Among the many features of the new version, scheduled to go live in early 2013, are updated cartography, and a redesigned and expanded World Flags and Facts database.


Azawad, Mali – April 6th

On this date, Azawad was declared an independent state by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA [French MNLA]). Encompassing some 300,000 square miles/775,000 square kilometers (60 percent) of Mali’s territory, this cessionist region remains a self-proclaimed state only by itself. It has yet to establish a central government or be recognized by any country or supranational bodies such as the African Union, Economic Community of Western African States, or the European Union.

New Reference Map of England and Wales (Cymru)  – June 6th

June 6th saw the completion of our new large format map of England and Wales (Cymru) map. As with the other maps in our new British Isles map series, we recognized the official variant names used in the countries and territories in this archipelago. This opted us to have the map show Welsh town having one of the world’s longest place-name.

New Reference Map of Japan – July 26th

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 undersea earthquake occurred in the Pacific some 40 miles/70 kilometers off the Japanese island of Honshu. The tsunami triggered from this earthquake—one of the world’s five most powerful in recorded history—damaged 62 municipalities and spurred a series of nuclear accidents. Of these, 7 municipalities that remained evacuated due to high radiation levels were identified as of the map’s completion date of July 26.

Geography Awareness Week – November 1117

As part of this year’s celebration, many of National Geographic’s cartographers participated in workshops or lectured about our varied careers. At one such presentation we took stock of all of the disciplines and fields of study needed to become a National Geographic cartographer.

Sandy Island (Île de Sables), Coral Sea – November 23rd

An Australian scientific expedition sailed past the location where Sandy Island (Île de Sables) in the Coral Sea should have been and found nothing but open water. Appearing on nautical charts and maps as far back as the early 19th century, this phantom island has erroneously been a “pick-up” by cartographers ever since.

Its existence, as portrayed below in National Geographic’s 1921 Sovereignty and Mandate Boundary Lines of the Islands of the Pacific map, or lack thereof, was made that much perplexing by the mere fact that the island appeared on some image based dynamic mapping applications.


World’s Longest High-Speed Railway Route, China – December 26th

China officially opened the world’s longest highspeed rail route (1,428 mi/2,298 km) linking the capital, Beijing, with the southern commercial city of Guangzhou.

The start of a cartographer’s New Year is a time for looking back to the events of the past, but more importantly, how those events will impact on the cartography of the future. Not so long ago, our charge was somewhat limited – revise all of our maps, atlases, and globes accordingly. Now, as our World Atlas app so clearly indicates, our charge has grown exponentially.

Happy New Year!

Juan José Valdés
The Geographer
Director of Editorial and Research
National Geographic Maps



Changing Planet

Meet the Author
Juan José Valdés is The Geographer and National Geographic Maps' Director of Editorial and Research. He guides and assists the Map Policy Committee in setting border representations, disputed territories, and naming conventions for National Geographic. As NG Map's Director of Editorial and Research, he is responsible for ensuring the accuracy and consistency of its maps and map products.