The story of an election in a modern democracy has recently more and more turned into the story of a non-vote, as turnout at elections is on a general decline in many countries. That does not always reflect a certain libertarian strategy (otherwise the strive for anarchism would be stunningly on the rise), but can more likely be linked to an apolitical attitude. So how many Germans did choose to not cast a vote on this year’s general election (see the full results of the Bundestagswahl in this blog post)? 71.5% went to the polls last Sunday, so 29.5% of the electorate did not, which is slightly lower than the 29.2% non-voters at the 2009 election, though one can certainly not speak of an upward trend here. The following map gives an impression of this quite interesting geographical pattern that is far from evenly distributed across the country. The second map shows another group of voters who did not make their voice heard: The 1.3% of spoilt votes which again show a certain geographical distribution and are not completely evenly distributed. Even in the non-votes lie many spatial stories:
Germany’s vote at this year’s general election has implications that reach much further than its national borders. CDU, the party of chancellor Merkel, could secure a massive victory getting 34.1% of the second vote share, though it narrowly missed an absolute majority of seats with its sister party CSU who won 7.4% of the votes (they are only standing in the Federal state of Bavaria). The former coalition partner FDP however missed the 5% mark (4.8%) that is needed to enter parliament, so that CDU/CSU now have to find a new coalition partner. Second largest party became that of Merkel’s contender Steinbrueck. SPD could secure 25.7% of the second votes. The only two other parties in parliament are Die Linke (The Left) with 8.6% of votes, and Die Gruenen (the Green Party) with 8.4%.
As often the case with electoral maps, the problem with conventional map depictions (as shown in the little thumbnail maps below) is the distorted perspective of the less populated areas. The maps shown in most of the media give the impression of an almost landslide victory of CDU/CSU. But while their good results are undisputable, the conservative CDU is traditionally strong in the rural regions, while SPD is stronger in urban areas. The following two maps show the largest shares of votes from each of the two votes. The first vote directly elects the local candidate into parliament, while the second vote determine’s each party’s total vote share in the Bundestag (Erststimme / Zweitstimme, read more about the electoral system in Germany at Wikipedia). When it comes to showing the real distribution of voting patterns in Germany, these two main maps give the more honest result of this year’s election:
Time again to talk about the weather: Britain is suffering under heatwave conditions (also known as summer in other parts of the world), with the ongoing high temperatures and developing clouds going along with an increased humidity slowly increasing the risk for thunderstorms. Thunderstorms are not an uncommon phenomenon on the British Isles, but they are much less common and much less severe compared to other regions experiencing similar conditions much more frequently and more intensively. The Met Office explains that “Owing to the fact thunderstorms are created by intense heating of the earth’s surface, they are most common in areas of the globe where the weather is hot and humid. Land masses therefore experience more storms than the oceans and they are also more frequent in tropical areas than the higher latitudes. In the UK thunderstorms are most common over the East Midlands and the south-east.”
As it happens to be, the part most prone to thunderstorms in Britain is also the most densely populated region. Comparing this to other parts of the world, it can be seen that some of the most risky regions are also some of the very densely populated places. In Europe, which is overall densely populated in many parts, the most affected areas are the people living in the Mediterranean countries, although the European population in general is amongst the least affected by thunderstorms when comparing this to areas such as the southern edge of the Himalayas in India – densely populated and experiencing very intensive thunderstorms. These details only emerge when changing the projection of data collected on lightning flashes from a conventional land area map (where this part of India for instance remains comparably small) to a gridded population cartogram. The following map shows the intensity of lightning flashes displayed as the number of flashes per square kilometre per year in each of the grid cells, while the distortion of the grid cells reflects the global population distribution, so that the most and least exposed populations are highlighted in this visualisation:
“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:
In 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:
While much of Europe has been denied a white Christmas, many of us were still having a white snow cover while the clocks went forward for ‘summer’ time this weekend. But although it appears that this winter is never-ending, it mainly comes very late this year. The coldest of temperatures and the main snowfall arrived in February and March, while the early winter months were even above average in some areas of central Europe.
Regular observations are collected regularly by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite, which records data about the land surface temperature (i.e. “how hot the ‘surface’ of the Earth would feel to the touch in a particular location“, a different measure than the air temperature we see on the weather reports every day). This map shows the land surface temperature anomaly this March compared to the average temperatures from 1951 to 1980 projected on a gridded population cartogram where every grid cell is resized according to its total population. The projection used in this visualisation shows, how the world’s population was exposed to the temperature anomalies in the late spell of winter last month: