Scale (ratio)

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The scale ratio of some sort of model which represents an original proportionally is the ratio of a linear dimension of the model to the same dimension of the original. Examples include a 3-dimensional scale model of a building or the scale drawings of the elevations or plans of a building. In such cases the scale is dimensionless and exact throughout the model or drawing. The scale can be expressed in four ways: in words (a lexical scale), as a ratio, as a fraction and as a graphical (bar) scale. Thus on an architect's drawing we might read

and a bar scale would also normally appear on the drawing.

In general a representation may involve more than one scale at the same time. For example a drawing showing a new road in elevation might use different horizontal and vertical scales. An elevation of a bridge might be annotated with arrows with a length proportional to a force loading, as in 1 cm to 1000 newtons: this is an example of a dimensional scale. A weather map at some scale may be annotated with wind arrows at a dimensional scale of 1 cm to 20 mph.

Map scales require careful discussion. A town plan may be constructed as an exact scale drawing but for larger areas a map projection is necessary and no projection can represent the Earth's surface at a uniform scale: in general the scale of a projection depends on position and direction. The variation of scale may be considerable in small scale maps which may cover the globe. In large scale maps of small areas the variation of scale may be insignificant for most purposes but it is always present. The scale of a map projection must be interpreted as a nominal scale. (The usage large and small in relation to map scales relates to their expressions as fractions. The fraction 1/10,000 used for a local map is much larger than 1/100,000,000 used for a global map. There is no hard and fixed dividing line between small and large scales.)

Mathematical note

In the general case of a differentiable bijection, the concept of scale can, to some extent, still be used, but it may depend on location and direction. It can be described by the Jacobian matrix. The modulus of the matrix times a unit vector is the scale in that direction. The non-linear case applies for example if a curved surface like part of the Earth's surface is mapped to a plane, see scale (map).

In the case of an affine transformation the scale does not depend on location but it depends in general on direction. If the affine transformation can be decomposed into isometries and a transformation given by a diagonal matrix, we have directionally differential scaling and the diagonal elements (the eigenvalues) are the scale factors in two or three perpendicular directions.

See also

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