Europe at Night

Earth HourNASA’s night lights imagery published in the Earth Observatory provides a stunning view of our impact on the planet. The following map of Europe at night is an extract of my gridded population projection of the the Earth at night showing more detail of where the distribution of night lights is on the European continent in relation to its population distribution (the surrounding areas such as the northern tip of Africa remain unchanged, hence shows a ‘normal’ land area perspective). Europe is one of the few regions globally (alongside North America) where light pollution at night is very much a phenomenon that is ‘normal’ for the vast majority of people who see very little of the night skies (hence the dominantly bright areas in this image – dark spots are those areas where people live with very little light pollutin). Northumberland Dark Sky Park (which gained Dark Sky Status by the International Dark-Sky Association in December 2013) is now to be known as Europe’s biggest Dark Sky Park and the largest unspoilt area in this regard, squeezed in the sparsely populated bright spaces between Northern England and Southern Scotland in this cartogram:

Equal population projection map of Europe at Night
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Unequal wealth: Income distribution gaps in Europe

The Social Atlas of EuropeIncome inequality has become a wider acknowledged issue in the wealthy parts of the world which is no longer restricted to academic debate. A study commissioned by the IMF (Berg et al, 2011) acknowledges that “the trade-off between efficiency and equality may not exist” (IMF), referring to inequality one possible result of unsustainable growth. Europe has seen a steep rise in economic inequalities which have a huge impact of the people in the European nations. An OECD working paper (Bonesmo Fredriksen, 2012) states that “poor growth performance over the past decades in Europe has increased concerns for rising income dispersion and social exclusion”. It also concludes, that “towards the end of the 2000s the income distribution in Europe was more unequal than in the average OECD country, albeit notably less so than in the United States”, stressing that within-country inequalities are just as important if not more important than the between-country dimension. Both, however, are relevant in the current economic crisis and the again-growing divisions on the continent. As one of the reasons for these changes, the OECD paper states that “large income gains among the 10% top earners appear to be a main driver behind this evolution”.
The following two maps compare the share of income of the richest and poorest 10% of the population in Europe based on national-level data published by Eurostat (2013) (map legend ranked by quartiles). To show the data from a people’s perspective, the map uses a population cartogram as a base which shows the countries resized according to their absolute population. The maps give a look at how disparities exist not only between the countries, but also within each of them by showing, how (un)equal the distribution of income is in every country:


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Unequal Elite: The THE World University Rankings

This feature was compiled in collaboration with Phil Baty of Times Higher Education and first appeared in the World University Rankings 2013-2014. In the following blog post we put the rankings results into a human and economic perspective (modified version from the original article). The two maps show the top 200 Universities from the Ranking displayed on two different kinds of gridded cartograms:


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World Lightning: Thunderstorms and human population

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:

Equal population projection map of
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7 Billion and beyond

Predicting future population chances remains a difficult issue. But while popular (and populist) media tends to dramatise every new release of population predictions, it is less often discussed that these figures are one possible scenario for what is an extremely complex issue. Small political and cultural changes in societies can lead to drastic long terms effects that change the future numbers of people within a country. The current estimates are therefore never figures that are engraved in stone, but estimates that look at the current trends that we can observe. The different scenarios therefore have an extreme variability, ranging from a decline down to just above 6 billion to an increase up to almost 16 billion. These are of course the very extreme scenarios in the latest revision of the Unites Nations’ World Population Prospects that has just been released. While it is almost certain that any scenario is likely to not happen in that way, the trends outlined in the report are in important political guideline that tells, what humanity should be prepared for and which economic, ecological and other implications the different scenarios have for the future. The following map shows a population cartogram of the most recent population estimates where each country is resized to its total population in 2013 (approximately 7.1 billion):

World Population Cartogram 2013
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A Cold World

Winter 2013
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:

Global Temperature Anomaly in March 2013 shown on an equal-population projection
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