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A Fractal Perspective on Scale in Geography

Faculty of Engineering and Sustainable Development, Division of Geospatial Information Science, University of Gävle, 801 76 Gävle, Sweden
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Wolfgang Kainz
ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf. 2016, 5(6), 95;
Received: 2 March 2016 / Revised: 28 May 2016 / Accepted: 6 June 2016 / Published: 15 June 2016
Scale is a fundamental concept that has attracted persistent attention in geography literature over the past several decades. However, it creates enormous confusion and frustration, particularly in the context of geographic information science, because of scale-related issues such as image resolution and the modifiable areal unit problem (MAUP). This paper argues that the confusion and frustration arise from traditional Euclidean geometric thinking, in which locations, directions, and sizes are considered absolute, and it is now time to revise this conventional thinking. Hence, we review fractal geometry, together with its underlying way of thinking, and compare it to Euclidean geometry. Under the paradigm of Euclidean geometry, everything is measurable, no matter how big or small. However, most geographic features, due to their fractal nature, are essentially unmeasurable or their sizes depend on scale. For example, the length of a coastline, the area of a lake, and the slope of a topographic surface are all scale-dependent. Seen from the perspective of fractal geometry, many scale issues, such as the MAUP, are inevitable. They appear unsolvable, but can be dealt with. To effectively deal with scale-related issues, we present topological and scaling analyses illustrated by street-related concepts such as natural streets, street blocks, and natural cities. We further contend that one of the two spatial properties, spatial heterogeneity, is de facto the fractal nature of geographic features, and it should be considered the first effect among the two, because it is global and universal across all scales, which should receive more attention from practitioners of geography. View Full-Text
Keywords: scaling; spatial heterogeneity; conundrum of length; MAUP; topological analysis scaling; spatial heterogeneity; conundrum of length; MAUP; topological analysis
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MDPI and ACS Style

Jiang, B.; Brandt, S.A. A Fractal Perspective on Scale in Geography. ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf. 2016, 5, 95.

AMA Style

Jiang B, Brandt SA. A Fractal Perspective on Scale in Geography. ISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information. 2016; 5(6):95.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Jiang, Bin, and S. Anders Brandt. 2016. "A Fractal Perspective on Scale in Geography" ISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information 5, no. 6: 95.

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