Waldo R. Tobler

Waldo Tobler

Dr. Waldo Tobler has made unique and seminal contributions to the development of geographic information science. He graduated PhD from the University of Washington in 1961, rose from Assistant Professor to Professor at the University of Michigan, and was Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, until his retirement in 1994. He was elected Member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1982, one of the first geographers to receive this honor, and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Zürich in 1988.

Waldo Tobler trained as a mathematical cartographer, and is best known for his contributions to that field. He coined the term analytical cartography to reflect the combination of mapping and analysis. He was also responsible for the statement known as Tobler’s First Law of Geography, “all things are related but nearby things are more related than distant things”, a somewhat offhand comment in an early paper that has proven to be enormously important in the development of geographic information science.

Among his most significant research contributions are original work on map projections, including a 1973 paper defining what has become known as the Tobler hyperelliptical projection; an original method of spatial interpolation, which he termed pycnophylactic for its property of preserving the densities of population in reporting zones, published in 1979; a 1971 Nature paper with Wineberg that estimated the locations of long-lost historic sites in Cappadocia through a novel application of spatial interaction models; a 1997 database expressing the spatial distribution of the world’s population on a regular latitude/longitude grid; a model of asymmetry in interactions using the analogy of wind vectors, applied to migration, commuting, and flows of US currency; and technique of bilinear interpolation, applied to the distortions in early Portolan charts. The rich diversity of these contributions and their fundamental nature make a compelling case for this award.

Waldo Tobler has made one of the strongest contributions to cartography and geography in recent decades. By publishing in interdisciplinary outlets and speaking to interdisciplinary audiences he has done much to raise awareness and respect for cartography and geography, to place it on a sound mathematical and scientific footing, and to lay the early groundwork for the growth and maturation of GIScience.

For his groundbreaking contributions to geographic information science over more than five decades, the consortium is honored to add Waldo Tobler to its roster of UCGIS Fellows.

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