Volcanoes and Human Population

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The Calbuco volcano in southern Chile erupted for the first time in more than five decades, which in the global media was covered more for its visual spectacle rather than its perception as a major catastrophe. This can be partly explained with the low threat that Calbuco poses to larger numbers of people. As reported by the BBC, “authorities have declared a red alert and evacuated more than 4,000 people within a 20km (12 mile) radius”. This is a relatively low number as the volcano is situated in a sparsely populated, mountainous area. Natural events usually turn into natural disasters when they happen in more densely populated areas. The following map shows how human settlement patterns and the global distribution of volcanoes correlate by drawing a 100km radius around each of the world’s volcanoes and then projecting this data onto a gridded population cartogram. This equal-population projection results in some of these 100km risk zones around the volcanoes to become hugely visible, because there are large populations living in this area, while other volcanoes and their risk-radius become almost invisible due to the low number of people living there. Very often, these are the decisive differences between a volcanic eruption being a natural event (or even spectacle) and a natural disaster, which these events can become in the red-shaded areas of this map:

Map of volcanic risk zones on an equal-population projection
(click for larger version)

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Healthy Soils for a Healthy Life

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International Year of SoilsHealthy Soils for a Healthy Life is the motto of the UN International Year of Soils which aims to “increase awareness and understanding of the importance of soil for food security and essential ecosystem functions.” As explained on the campaign’s website, “soil is the thin layer of material on the Earth’s surface. It is a natural resource consisting of weathered and organic materials, air and water. As it is the medium in which plants establish themselves and grow, the most widely recognized function of soil is its support for food production. Soil provides nutrients and water that are absorbed through plant roots and contribute to the regulation of water and atmospheric gases and therefore play an important role in climate regulation.”
Soil therefore matters most where is is near human population, which at the same time puts soils under extreme pressure in these areas. Soil types not least determine where humans used to settle when they gave up their nomadic lifestyles and started becoming more stationary as farmers. Nowadays, some of the most fertile soils are found in the most densely populated spaces on the planet, which is shown in the following map. The map shows the major soil types classified in the FAO/UNESCO Soil Map of the World reprojected on a gridded population cartogram where a grid is resized to give every person living within a grid cell an equal amount of space (reducing the map in those spaces most where there are fewest people):

Map of major soil groups
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Death Penalty

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Amnesty International has launched its most recent report on Death sentences and executions in 2014. In their annual report they publish the minimum figures of recorded death sentences and executions that they are able to verify. For producing a Worldmapper-style cartogram, absolute numbers are essential of course, which requires some decisions to be made which numbers go into the map transformation. For the following two maps, showing the death penalty executions and sentences in 2014, the minimum figures of validated cases provided in the report were used, or, where these were not stated, the estimated figures as stated in the report were used instead (China was set to 1000 to not dominate the cartogram entirely, even if the number is believed to be much higher than that). The maps therefore need to be seen as a general picture of the state of death penalty in the world, rather than the exact reality. As stated by Amnesty, “the real number of people executed is much higher. There are no figures for China, for example, which is believed to execute more people than the rest of the world put together. Other countries like Belarus also execute prisoners in secret, often without informing the detainees’ relatives or lawyers.”

Map of death penalty executions in 2014
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The Evolution of Life Expectancy in the World

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Life expectancy equals the average number of years a person born in a given country would live if mortality rates at each age were to remain constant in the future.” (Wikipedia)
Depending on the exact sources, global life expectancy currently lies at approximately 71 years although a global estimate tells very little about the differences between the countries. What applies to every country is the fact that women, on average, live longer than men.
The following map shows the distribution of life expectancies based on national-level data as documented in the 2014 revision of the Human Development Report displayed on a gridded population cartogram in which every human gets an equal amount of space:

Gridded Population Cartogram showing Global Life Expectancy in 2013
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Visualising your UK constituency

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The UK general election is fast approaching. Following the first almost-debate of the would-like-to-be Prime Ministers the battle for the ‘correct’ interpretation of the state of the nation has come into its final stage. Statistics are easy to twist, and there is never an absolute truth in them. In a collaboration with the Office for National Statistics I was involved in the creation of a little interactive visualisation feature that sheds light on some key statistics that show life in the constituencies around the country. Using a conventional map and a hexagon cartogram of the United Kingdom we looked at house prices, income, public sector employment, education, age, migration, and health which can be interactively explored and compared in both map views. The following map is one example from that feature, showing the share of people not born in the United Kingdom:

Cartogram and map showing the share of the population born abroad in the United Kingdom
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In Focus: Regions between Recentralisation and Independence

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Political Insight2014 will be remembered as a year in which two nation-states faced the debate around city-regional configuration within their borders in very different ways. The United Kingdom witnessed a closely fought pro-union outcome in its Scottish independence referendum while, in Catalonia, despite a consultation process showing a huge majority declare their desire for independence, this outcome was not recognised by the Spanish government.
In an article for the “In Focus” section of Political Insight (April 2015, Volume 6, Issue 1) Igor Calzada and I looked at the rapidly changing balance of power between states and their regions.

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Women in Parliament

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#makeithappen - International Women's Day 2015Make it happen is this year’s theme of International Women’s Day. The day is Internationally the day is celebrated every year on March 8th since 1911 and in 1917 demonstrations in the context of the Women’s Day lead to the outbreak of the Russian Revolution. What had started as a socialist event to recognize women’s economic, political, and social struggles and achievements has now lost this ideological connotation. Today it is rather regarded as an opportunity to raise awareness for the inequality women still experience in all societies.
In some countries the day is still an official holiday, such as in Russia and other former socialist republics, but also in Afghanistan, Angola and Eritrea. In China, Madagascar, Macedonia and Nepal it is a holiday solely for women.
Gender inequality remains a pressing challenge globally and is seen as a major barrier to human development which is why the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI) has a specific indicator to take these problems into account. The Gender Inequality Index (GII) measures gender (in)equity in health, education, work and politics.
The following map shows one indicator from the current GII that highlights the political representation of women in parliaments worldwide measured by the share of seats in parliament (with data for 2013). The map uses an equal-population projection which gives every person on the planet an equal amount of space:

Map of women in Parliament
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Water worlds: Ocean Chlorophyll levels

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The ocean is the last frontier that has not been discovered by cartogram techniques before. As such, it was an inevitable step in my PhD research some years ago to test the creation of a gridded ocean cartogram, a cartogram that is limited to the extent of the world’s oceans (also linking nicely to my past research on coastal ecosystems).
Chlorophyll concentrations in the world’s oceans are important indicators for the presence of algae and other plant-like organisms that carry out photosynthesis. As such, phytoplankton (which contains the chlorophyll) is an essential element of the food chain in the seas as it provides the food for numerous animals. Variations and changes in the chlorophyll levels are also relevant for the study of the ecology of the sea. Changing chlorophyll levels can indicate changing sea temperatures and other conditions in the oceans that cover about 72 percent of the planet’s surface.

Gridded cartogram visualisation of Ocean Chlorophyll concentrations
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Geographic visualization in social sciences: Draw more maps!

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Wordle Data Visualisation
Geographic visualization in social sciences – or draw more maps! Continue reading

Global tree cover

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There is a long tradition in the emotional relationship between people and forests. We can get an understanding of the extent of the global tree cover from satellite sensors such as NASA’s MODIS
Calculating the average tree cover in an area allows us to estimate the extent of the world’s forests. Forest landscapes can be mapped in various ways and is often done in conventional maps. However, much of the land area is not covered by forest and the few remaining untouched forest landscapes keep shrinking while deforestation continues.

Gridded cartogram visualisation of global tree cover
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Visualising wilderness

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(click for larger version – high resolution PDF)

Following an article on IFL Science (which itself followed a recent online and print article in Popular Science) here comes some further background and material from my work on visualising travel times to the nearest large cities Continue reading

In Focus: Wealth on the British Isles

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Political InsightThe debate about the relevance and impact of the super-rich on society has gained greater currency as evidence continues to grow that the widening gap between the poor and the rich has a negative impact on societies as a whole. In otherwise affluent countries where the richest one per cent owns the most, child poverty is common, school attainment is lower and medium household incomes are depressed. Along with reduced average living standards, housing is of poorer quality, and health suffers as anxiety rises.
In an article for the “In Focus” section of Political Insight (December 2014, Volume 5, Issue 3) Danny Dorling and I looked beyond the economic, social, educational and medical implications, focussing on the geographical lessons to learn when wealth concentrates. Where the richest of the rich live, work and where they keep their assets is even more imbalanced than the wider and growing underlying inequalities between rich and poor. In societies where the rich have less they tend to be more spread out across a country, but when the wealth of those at the top rises greatly there is a tendency to congregate – with London a prime example.

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Migrants at Sea

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Lampedusa has become a tragic symbol for a crisis and controversy that is discussed across the European Union. The Italian island in the Mediterranean Sea has become a prime transit point for immigrants from Africa and related to an ongoing tragedy in the waters between the European and African continent where people die on an almost daily basis while hoping for a better life in Europe. The debate has turned as far as the UK opposing future migrant rescues in Mediterranean. In a recent feature the Guardian newspaper published a range of statistics related to the topic, amongst them some figures that highlight the countries where refugees make it across the perilous waters into the EU from which I created the following cartogram that shows, which countries have to deal with which numbers of migrants arriving via the sea:

Map of migrants reaching the European Union via the Mediterranean Sea between 2006-2014
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Have you ever seen the rain?

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The 20th session of the Conference of the Parties and the 10th session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol is held from 1 to 12 December. For COP 20 / CPM 10 delegates from around the world increased their carbon footprint by heading to Lima, Peru, to hopefully produce more than just hot air. So again it is time to speak about the weather…or climate.

Animation of a gridded cartogram projection of global annual precipitation patterns
(click for larger version)

This animation is a visualisation which I originally produced for my PhD research and which was published in my book Rediscovering the World. Continue reading

Growing old: European Population Pyramids

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“A population pyramid, also called an age pyramid or age picture diagram, is a graphical illustration that shows the distribution of various age groups in a population (typically that of a country or region of the world), which forms the shape of a pyramid when the population is growing.” (Wikipedia)

Population Pyramids of Europe

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Demographies of China

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This week I joined the Department of Asian Studies at Palacký University Olomouc (Czech Republic) as a visiting lecturer by invitation of the CHINET project. In my lecture about New Geographies of China I built on the work I have presented earlier this year at the Conference on the Socio-Economic Transition of China at the same place, teaching the students not only how China’s position is in the global context of demographic, social and economic change, but also how we can visualise this in novel ways. The following three maps are an extract from my presentation that gave an overview of this lecture.
The maps show the distribution of the different age groups in the country divided into children (age 0 to 14), working age (age 15 to 64) and elderly (above age 64) as they are counted in the official Chinese Census released by the National Bureau of Statistics. As the most recent Census figures have not been released at the same level of detail, the following three maps show the state of 2000. Here is an animated version of the three maps showing all three groups one after another (the individual maps are displayed below):

Animation of demographic groups in China projected on a gridded population cartogram
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In Focus: The real size of Offshore Financial Centres

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Political InsightIn an article for the “In Focus” section of Political Insight (December 2013, Volume 4, Issue 3) Jan Fichtner of the University of Frankfurt a.M. and I analysed the size of the foreign assets in the world’s largest offshore financial centres. All ‘offshore financial centres’ (OFCs) have one characteristic feature in common; they offer very low tax rates and lax regulations to non-residents with the aim to attract foreign financial assets. OFCs essentially undercut ‘onshore’ jurisdictions at their expense. The main beneficiaries are high-net-worth individuals and large multinational corporations that have the capital and expertise required to utilise OFCs. Beyond its geographical connotation the phenomenon of ‘offshore’ represents a withdrawal of public regulation and control, primarily over finance. Some important OFCs are in fact located ‘onshore’, e.g. Delaware in the USA and the City of London in the UK. However, historically many OFCs have literally developed ‘off-shore’, mostly on small islands.
OFCs as defined by Zoromé (2007) are jurisdictions that provide financial services to non-residents on a scale that is excessive compared to the size and the financing of their domestic economies. The graphic shows combined data on securities (Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey by the IMF) and on deposits/loans (Locational Banking Statistics by the BIS) at the end of 2011. Capturing the two by far most important components of financial centres allows a reasonable approximation of the real size of OFCs while avoiding double counting. The larger the size of the circles on the map, the more foreign financial assets have been attracted to the particular jurisdiction. The vast majority of the almost US$70 trillion foreign financial assets are concentrated in North America, Europe and Japan. Areas with assets below $US50bn are not shown for their relative insignificance in the global context.

Offshore Financial Centres

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The Human Planet: A modern Mappa Mundi

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A mappa mundi […] is any medieval European map of the world. […] To modern eyes, mappae mundi can look superficially primitive and inaccurate. However, mappae mundi were never meant to be used as navigational charts and they make no pretence of showing the relative areas of land and water. Rather, mappae mundi were schematic and were meant to illustrate different principles. The simplest mappae mundi were diagrams meant to preserve and illustrate classical learning easily. The zonal maps should be viewed as a kind of teaching aid—easily reproduced and designed to reinforce the idea of the Earth’s sphericity and climate zones” (cited from Wikipedia).
What would a mappa mundi of our times look like? A modern equivalent of such a map would have to focus on those spaces of our planet that we have a less vivid imagination of than the physical shape of the world that in medieval times was a much less familiar view than it is today. The following gridded population cartogram generated over the whole surface of Earth could be such a contemporary depiction of the world. It divides the world into equal spaces of population realigning the map view to show the human planet in a similar way as mappae mundi showed the world centuries ago:

Equal population projection map of the Earth's land and water surface
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The Space of Climate Change

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Earth Day 2013In the face of unprecendented occurences of extreme weather, loss of species, and pollution, it is clear that climate change is affecting our planet. We cannot afford to wait any longer to act. This quote from the Earth Day 2013 website outlines the theme for this year’s Earth Day campaign which runs under the motto Climate change has many faces.
As the Earth Day campaign points out, the stories of the impact of climate change are extremely diverse: “A man in the Maldives worried about relocating his family as sea levels rise, a farmer in Kansas struggling to make ends meet as prolonged drought ravages the crops, a fisherman on the Niger River whose nets often come up empty, a child in New Jersey who lost her home to a super-storm, a woman in Bangladesh who can’t get fresh water due to more frequent flooding and cyclones.
All these tales have one thing in common: They are a story of our impact on planet Earth, but equally of the impact of a changing planet on human’s lives. Our species has become one that is not just living in the natural environment, but is one factor that changes the environment to a level that no other species did before. This is happening to an extent that geologists discuss whether this can be seen as a new geologic era. Nobel Prize laureate Paul Crutzen started promoting the idea of the so-called Anthropocene, a concept that has now left the scientific world and is increasingly entering the public debate regarding issues of global sustainability and humanity’s impact. Anthropocene.info is a project initiated by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) that aims to “to help visualize and better understand humanity’s geographic imprint in recent time.” Not only is it important to find better ways of understanding the complex interrelations of humans and their natural environment, to which visualisation can contribute, but also is it important to create a public understanding of issues relating to the challenges connected to global change.
Here is one example of a more challenging view existing knowledge that demonstrates how changing the view can make us rethink the way our natural environment is shaped. According to research by the US National Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, “[t]he strongest hurricanes in the present climate may be upstaged by even more intense hurricanes over the next century as the earth’s climate is warmed by increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Most hurricanes do not reach their maximum potential intensity before weakening over land or cooler ocean regions. However, those storms that do approach their upper-limit intensity are expected to be slightly stronger in the warmer climate due to the higher sea surface temperatures.”
This is relevant due to the impact of more frequent flooding and cyclones on humans mentioned earlier. So where are these spaces where this is relevant. We know from historic records where there are tropical storm tracks, and the emerging pattern on a normal world map may be familiar to some of us (see here). But what if we change the perspective and focus on the actual areas that have the highest density of tropical storm occurrences. Using the records from 1945 to 2008, this intensity can be turned into quantities which are suitable for visualisation using the gridded cartogram technique. The following map shows a gridded cartogram of tropical storm intensity visualised over land based on a 0.25 degree grid. The larger a grid cell, the more tropical storm activity has there been over the past >60 years, indicating where the most affected areas of tropical cyclones (with a sustained wind speed of ver 40 mp/h) has been and how the climate patterns shape the world in a highly relevant issue of the Anthropocene:

Gridded Cartogram / Map of Tropical Storm Intensity
(click for larger version)

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Earth at Night

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Earth HourIn 2007 nature conservation organisation WWF initiated a campaign “encouraging households and businesses to turn off their non-essential lights for one hour to raise awareness about the need to take action on climate change” (Wikipedia). The campaign is called Earth Hour and always takes place at the end of March – this year on Saturday, the 23rd.
The Earth Hour campaign has motto of “uniting the world to protect the planet”, although certainly not everyone will join in switching off their lights at 8.30 pm to unite each time zone with a dark night sky (and there is criticism of campaigns like this). But the wealthier parts of the world will be the main focus, as large parts of the poor world live in relative darkness at night anyway. NASA’s composite satellite image of the world at night (as featured on this website before) that gives us an indication of where light pollution affects most of the night skies has just received an update recently. Earth at Night 2012 was published by the NASA Earth Observatory last December, promising nothing less that “It’s the end of the night as you know it; you’ll see fine.” The resolution and level of detail revealed in the data is stunning, so that I reworked my version of the Earth at Night in an equal population projection using a gridded cartogram transformation. The new gridded population cartogram of the Earth at Night gives an equally stunning insight into how human activity relates to the distribution of light at night, showing the already highlighted inequalities that became apparent in the old version of the map in even greater detail where large parts of the populations in Africa and also in some parts of Asia live in the shadows of the wasteful brightness of the wealthy world. The Earth at Night as seen by humanity – an image of an unequal world:

Equal population projection map of the Earth at Night
(click for larger version)

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Global Spaces of Food Production

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Global Spaces of Food Production
In the year 2000 there were approximately 15 million square km of cropland and 28 million square km of pasture which are represented in the two main maps. These are equal to 12% respectively 22% of the ice-free land surface. This is according to estimates of a study on the geographic distribution of global agricultural lands by Ramankutty et al (published in Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 2008) who used a methodology of combining agricultural inventory data and satellite-derived land cover data to come to these figures (data can be accessed via Columbia University’s SEDAC). Continue reading

Rediscovering the World

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Wor(l)d Map by Benjamin D Hennig Continue reading

One world, many faces: A brief look at map projections

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Map projections are a crucial issue for the worldmapper project because the maps (respectively cartograms) are basically some sort of reprojection of the world, although in a different way than the usual projections used in cartography. Rather than trying to solve the conflicts of distortion when drawing a three dimensional surface on to a two dimensional area (be it a screen or a paper map), the worldmapper cartograms distort our image of the world on purpose and show each country in proportion to a specific topic.

Worldmapper map using different projections

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