A brief geography of time

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Sometimes referred to as the fourth dimension, time has a highly geographical relevance. For human geography, population sizes can have as much impact on the ‘tempo of places’ as culture or even climate. In physical geography, the concept of time is indispensable for an understanding of how the natural environment has changed and keeps changing.
In the 21st century, time has been described as being a commodity itself, affecting everything from manufacturing and trade, to financial flows and global transport links.
The general geographic distribution of time zones is based on the general concept of dividing the world into zones of equal time following a 24-hour day around the world. In theory, this means that there are 12 time zones of 15° width in which each differs by one hour’s time difference.
The necessity of time zones was closely linked to growing needs of transport and communication links during industrialisation. British railway companies began adopting Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) which helped to coordinate timetables. In 1880, GMT became standard across Britain and time differences of tens of minutes between cities in the country started vanishing. At a global level, time zones became established in the first decades of the 20th century.

Population Cartogram of Time Zones
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The lighter side: A changing Earth at night

NASA’s recent release of a new Earth at night composite image is the first release of a new global map of night light distribution since 2012. Since their previous release, NASA has worked on an improvement of the underlying algorithms that provide clearer and more accurate imagery from the raw satellite data.
The latest version (shown as a small inset map in this cartogram feature) is not only the most accurate picture of light intensity around the globe, but the underlying data also allows a direct comparison of the changes that occurred between 2012 and 2016. For achieving this, the datasets of the two years were corrected for the changing light effects caused by the moon as well as “seasonal vegetation, clouds, aerosols, snow and ice cover, and even faint atmospheric emissions (such as airglow and auroras)” which “change the way light is observed in different parts of the world”. Both datasets also cover the period of a full year to take seasonal changes into account.

Cartogram of Changes in the Earth at Night imagery
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In Focus: Brexit and the UK General Election

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Political InsightThe introductory words by Prime Minister Theresa May in the Conservative manifesto 2017 outlined the main focus for the government’s General Election campaign: ‘Brexit will define us: our place in the world, our economic security and our future prosperity’. But when it came to Brexit, the campaign itself featured little of political substance from either of the two main parties. The impact of the EU-debate on the (quite unexpected) election outcome is very complex, with the anticipated Conservative gains in Leave-voting Labour seats failing to materialise.
In a contribution for the “In Focus” feature of Political Insight (September 2017, Volume 8, Issue 2) I looked at the outcome of the general election from the perspective of Brexit:

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Species at Risk

Trying to get a picture of where and how many species globally are endangered or even at risk of extinction is a difficult undertaking. For 50 years the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) publishes the red list of threatened species. The list is a “comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of animal, fungi and plant species and their links to livelihoods”. It contains over 77,000 species of which according to the most recent report more than 22,000 are at risk of extinction. IUCN considers species at risk when they are “critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable.
Mapped here is data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of threatened species including endangered and vulnerable species. The main cartogram shows countries resized according to all animal and plant species assessed as being at risk of local extinction. The two smaller cartograms highlight that conservation efforts have very different spatial degrees of severity, which also partly reflects the different geographical distribution of species.

Cartogram of Species at Risk
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Trainspotting: Europe’s railway lines

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Passenger transport in Europe is largely dominated by cars. In the past decade, cars kept a consistent share of around 83 per cent of the modal split within the European Union, followed by buses and coaches (around nine per cent in most recent statistics) and trains (between seven and eight per cent). The modal split describes these modes of transport as ‘transport kilometres travelled by all inland passengers’. In the debate about sustainable development, this is an important measure to monitor the environmental and social impacts of the specific modes of transport.
Cars are generating the most emissions and pollution per passenger kilometre and also have significantly higher accident rates. Mass transit and public transport, including buses and coaches as well as trains, are therefore regarded as the more sustainable alternatives and have regained importance in urban and regional planning.
Buses rely on the same transport infrastructure as cars, while trains require railway tracks in order to maintain or improve the existing transport capabilities. Recent trends showing a slow but steady revival of passenger transport by train in Europe therefore have to be seen in the context of its existing transport infrastructure. New railway infrastructure is costly and requires time-consuming planning procedures.
A look at the railway infrastructure in Europe (beyond the EU) shows that across the continent there are approximately 250,000 km of tracks, just slightly lower than the length of tracks in the USA, where train travel plays a subordinate role in passenger transport but serves mostly freight transport.

Cartogram: Statistical map of European Railway Lines
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Unequal Elite: World University Rankings 2016/17

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Education and money undoubtedly go hand in hand. A closer look at the metrics that go into the creation of higher education rankings such as the Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings (THE WUR) proofs just the point that without adequate resources and funding global success can hardly be achieved. The following map which was created by analysing data of the 2016/17 World University Ranking data with regards to its spatial distribution of the most successful universities in this ranking. The map is a gridded cartogram which is reshaped to show national wealth, measured by gross domestic product. The land area in each country has been resized to reflect economic output. North America and Western Europe bugle to dominate this world map, while the entire continent of Africa virtually disappears. On this new world map, all the universities in the THE World University Rankings are plotted, with the larger, red dots representing world’s top 50 universities and the smaller circles representing the lower ranks:

Gridded cartogram projection of the THE World University Rankings 2016/17 showing GDP
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