Wilderness and remote areas are a diverse element in the patchwork of spaces that form the land surface of our planet. Only very small amounts of people are living in sparsely populated areas, which is an expression of the strong organisation of human societies to maximise those living in close relative proximity. More than half of the world’s population now lives in areas categorised as cities, and although more than 95% of the world’s population live in approximately only 10% of the land area, the remaining 90% of space on land are far from being uniform remote or even wild areas.
There are very different ways of how the un-built area that still makes the largest share of land can be understood in terms of being under influence and in reach of human civilization. Only 15% of people in rich countries live more than an hour of travel time from a city (of at least 50,000 people), while the same applies to 65% of people living in the poor countries of the world. This paper demonstrates a different approach to visualising and understanding these loneliest places on the planet by using a technique called a gridded cartogram transformation. The following map shows a gridded cartogram visualising the relative distance of areas to the majority of people. The maps derived from the distorted grid show the physical space transformed according to the absolute travel time that is needed to reach the nearest major city by land transport averaged over the area of a grid cell, resulting in a map that gives the remotest places most space and provides a unique new perspective on the spatial dimension of remoteness:
For the WILD 10 conference in Salamanca (Spain) I produced a series of continental, regional and national-level maps visualising these spaces of wilderness on varying scales. The map feature shows the main poster outlining the key technique and showing the global view of the topic alongside a conventional world map depicting the underlying data from a study by Uchida & Nelson (read more about the world map on this page: A Lonely Planet). Compared to the global perspective as shown in the poster above, larger scale visualisations of a selected area have the advantage of highlighting further detail and thus reveal much more variation in the area if interest. Therefore the huge impact of Greenland and the Himalayas are evened out when looking at selected much less-remote areas, such as much of Western Europe, allowing these wild spaces to be interpreted in relation to their regional context. The full series of maps (as shown in the panoramic shot further up on this page) will be made available on this website in the near future.
If you are in Salamanca and happen to read this before Tuesday (Oct, 8th), you may want to join the Spatial Science Forum Plenary A1 (Wildland Area Attributes and Benefits in Europe and the World), part of the Symposium on Science & Stewardship to Protect & Sustain Wilderness Values, to hear more about these maps. If you are not in Salamanca or read this at a later point, there will be a book chapter about these maps in a forthcoming Springer publication on ‘Mapping wilderness: concepts, techniques and applications of GIS‘ (edited by Steve Carver of the Wildland Research Institute, University of Leeds).
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