Visualising wilderness

(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 (translating somewhat into the ‘remotest’ spaces on the planet – and also labeled as the ‘Lonely Planet’ map as this was featured in a Lonely Planet book not long ago) using the gridded cartogram technique. The following slides were part of a talk and poster exhibition that I made at the 2013 WILD conference in Salamanca (Spain):

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. The maps shown in the slides demonstrate a different approach to visualising and understanding these loneliest places on the planet by using a technique called a gridded cartogram transformation which is described in full detail in my PhD thesis.
In the above shown world map, the gridded cartogram technique is used to visualise the relative distance of areas to the majority of people as calculated in an analysis of people’s closeness by Uchida & Nelson. 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. This results in a map that gives the remotest places most space and provides a unique new perspective on the spatial dimension of remoteness. The following image shows, how this data looks on a conventional world map:

Map of Global Accessibility
(click for larger version)

You can read more about the technique and how these specific images have been created in the chapter about ‘Applications for Gridded Cartograms’ (pp 194) in the following book which is available from Springer (and can be purchased at Amazon or – even better – ordered at your local book shop…or read electronically as an iTunes iBook):

  • Hennig, Benjamin D (2013). Rediscovering the World: Map Transformations of Human and Physical Space. Heidelberg / New York / Dordrecht / London (Springer).
    doi: 10.1007/978-3-642-34848-8

There is also a forthcoming Springer publication on ‘Mapping wilderness: concepts, techniques and applications of GIS‘ in preparation (edited by Steve Carver of the Wildland Research Institute, University of Leeds) in which I contributed the chapter about ‘Visualising spaces of global inaccessibility’):

  • Hennig, B.D. (2016). Visualising spaces of global inaccessibility. In, S. Carver and Fritz, S. (ed.) Mapping wilderness: concepts, techniques and applications of GIS. Heidelberg / New York / Dordrecht / London (Springer). pp. 103-116.
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