Ulrike Tappeiner, Axel Borsdorf, Erich Tasser (eds.): Alpenatlas / Atlas des Alpes / Atlante delle Alpi / Atlas Alp / Mapping the Alps: Society, Economy, Environment. Heidelberg Verlag 2008. 279 S.
"Give me a map and I'm magic" is the motto of orienteers and many a geographer, and "Mapping the Alps" shares this enthusiasm for maps with the reader. This atlas of 102 thematic maps covers the entire Alpine arc within the political boundaries defined by CIPRA, the International Commission for the Protection of the Alps.
Thus, census data from six Alpine countries had to be compiled, homogenised and aggregated to indicator values that provide a concise and informative statistical insight into socio-economic and environmental disparities and similarities found in the Alps. The maps selected for this atlas are grouped in five chapters: background, society, economy, environment, and aggregated features. Statistical data are resolved at the municipal level. For clarity, data are displayed in five classes with a colour scale that is specific for each chapter. Each of the five classes of each map encompasses 20 % of the empirical statistical distribution of the indicator under consideration. At first sight, some maps look like Magic Eye pictures where the true picture only evolves when studying the map for a long time - or by reading the short but elucidating interpretation text presented in five languages: English, German, French, Italian and Slovenian. Other maps are crisp and clearly showing a north-south or east-west disparity of the indicator on display. Great care was taken to homogenise available data and make national census information comparable among countries. This was not always possible. For example, Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU, has a very different political system and thus participation in elections is not directly comparable to other countries. Some data from Slovenia (which only became an EU member in 2004) deviate from other countries, and demographic data from Austria and France needed special treatment to become comparable to other countries. Where direct comparison was not achievable, the map presents the statistical data of the respective country with five classes of grayshade coloring, which clearly distinguishes these special cases in the maps. But most limiting in many essential maps is the lack of data from Germany, where the last national census did not cover all relevant aspects. Moreover, in some economic aspects a different definition was used than in all other countries. The introductory chapter on methods clearly elaborates on these limitations. The maps selected under the chapter heading "aggregated features" go beyond the traditional indicator values that are displayed in map format. Using modern multivariate statistics the authors extracted 23 factors out of 81 indicator variables via factorial analysis. These 23 factors explain 76 % of the overall variance, which by itself already expresses the high complexity of socio-economic and environmental diversity found in the Alpine arc as a whole. A second approach used cluster analysis to group individual municipalities into regions with similar economic or social structure or environmental situation. In this way, eight clusters of regions with similar developments were found, and 21 indicators were identified with highest loadings with respect to what should be considered sustainable development. "Mapping the Alps" is a geographic milestone. Roughly a century after the first mapping of the Alps with topographic maps has been accomplished, this atlas now for the first time provides a balanced and harmonised statistical overview over the population living and working in all countries of the Alps. It also allows to geographically locate actual problems and successes with respect to current development. This atlas is essential reading for anyone interested in the Alps and the sustainable development of this unique geographical living space.
Autor: Werner Eugster