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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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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Country File: Mapping rural-to-urban migration

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Within the next five years rural living will have reached its climax. According to the United Nations World Urbanization Prospects (a biennial publication from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs), rural populations will have reached their absolute high in 2022 with approximately 3.38 billion people. This is only slightly up from the current 3.37 billion people, showing how the number of people not living in cities has flatlined since the turn of the century and comes after a period of continuous growth since the 1950s when only 1.78 billion people lived in the countryside. The current long-term projections see this number going slightly down to 3.2 billion people by 2050.
While the rural population has become a minority globally (at approximately 46 per cent), the majority of those are increasingly concentrated in the poorer parts of the world. Sixty-nine per cent of people in the least developed countries live in rural areas, while this number is at only 20 per cent in higher-income countries.

Cartogram: Map of Global Rural Populations and Rural Population Changes
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(Un)Happy Nations

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March, 20th is the United Nations’ International Day of Happiness, recognising ‘the importance of happiness in the lives of people around the world’. Bhutan is credited as the first country to have implemented the concept of ‘Gross National Happiness’ as an official measure for the state of a nation, introduced in 1972. After the global financial crash in 2008, ideas about giving the ‘spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of [people] and natural environment’ more prominence over mere economic development are reflected more and more in international efforts towards a sustainable future.
The Happy Planet Index (HPI), developed by the New Economics Foundation, takes a rather radical approach on this issue. It aims to measure well-being and happiness by taking a universal and long-term approach to understanding, how efficiently people in a country are using their environmental resources to live long and happy lives.
This cartogram maps the results of the 2016 Happy Planet Index from the perspective of people. The gridded population cartogram shows the world resized according to the number of people living in each area, combined with the national HPI score:

Cartogram Map of the Happy Planet Index
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Coast Lines

Cartogram of the lengths of Coastlines
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The question about the length of the world’s coastlines is not as easy to answer as it would initially seem. Continue reading