Where the Wild Spaces Are: Un planeta salvaje

Make the world a wilder place | Por un planeta más salvaje
Where the Wild Spaces Are - WILD10 Conference 2013, 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. 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:


(click for larger version – high resolution PDF)

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Changing Views of the World

The mental map of the world though the eyes of Guardian Online readers in recent years may look a little bit like the following cartogram adding up the distribution of all online news items in the period of 2010 to 2012 (excluding the coverage of domestic British news):

Map / Cartogram of Global Guardian Online News Coverage 2010 to 2012
(click for larger version)

The picture confirms very much the hotspots of political, economic and in smaller proportions also natural events at the start of the new decade that we are now well into. Following the map series of Guardian Online news coverage in recent years, the following maps demonstrate a different approach to how change can be mapped in cartogram form. Rather than using the absolute values for a topic, when having a time series one can also look at the change between individual moments in time. So when wanting to see how the global news coverage of the Guardian website has changed between 2011 and 2012 one gets two sets of data, one indicating the absolute increase and one indicating the absolute decline in news items in that time. This is what the following two maps show, demonstrating which regions suddenly appeared or became more important in the media, and where the relevance and public attention dropped (while a stagnating news coverage – regardless of it being very high or very low – is not reflected in this approach and better shown in the absolute mappings that were shown in the first part of this data analysis):

Increase in Guardian Online News Coverage between 2011 and 2012
(excluding the United Kingdom)
Map / Cartogram of Global Guardian Online News Coverage Increase from 2011 to 2012
(click for larger version)

Decline in Guardian Online News Coverage between 2011 and 2012
(excluding the United Kingdom)
Map / Cartogram of Global Guardian Online News Coverage Decline from 2011 to 2012
(click for larger version)

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Everything’s Changing: A World of News

This is a map series visualising a comprehensive data set kindly provided to me on request by the editors of the Guardian Data Blog a couple of months ago (special thanks to Peter Martin and Grant Klopper for this!). The work on these maps started with the idea to make an update of the still quite frequently accessed maps of global news coverage of the Guardian.co.uk news website that I created for the years 2010 and 2011. As explained back then, while being the snapshot of one single newspaper this data also gives some indications of the way the countries of the world are represented in the print media in the United Kingdom, hence giving a picture of how the world looks through the eyes of the British people (it’ll vary slightly for other media outlets, though the overall picture will result in similar patterns).
I have now updated this map using the most recent data that the data store team sent to me (unfortunately it is not available in the data store this time). The data lists the total number of news items on the website of the British Newspaper The Guardian that are tagged with a specific country name. For the year 2012 the news coverage (leaving out the United Kingdom) on their website was distributed as shown in this cartogram:

Map / Cartogram of Global Guardian Online News Coverage 2012
(click for larger version)

With the United States being consistently the second largest country represented in the data (after the UK which is excluded in this map) it should be mentioned that this may not only be explained with a certainly quite prevalent US-biased media coverage in most of the British press, but could in the case of the Guardian also be explained with the additional fact that the Guardian is expanding its media activities more and more actively across the Atlantic (also launching a dedicated online US edition in 2011), and indeed worldwide, as the very recent move to the domain http://www.theguardian.com/ suggests.
With having a series of three years (ranging from 2010 to 2012) available, I was now able not only to look at an update to the previous maps, but could also start a little look into the changing patterns that emerge from the data. The following animation shows how the news coverage has shifted in this period:

Map / Cartogram Animation of Global Guardian Online News Coverage 2010-2012
(click for larger version)

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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
(click for larger version)

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The Human Planet: A modern Mappa Mundi

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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:

Equal population projection map of the Earth's land and water surface
(click for larger version)

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A World Map of Organic Agriculture

Organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved. (IFOAM 2009)

The practice of organic farming is not only relevant for soothing the bad conscience of wealthier societies, but it plays an important role in preserving croplands from degradation that is often caused by conventional intensive methods of farming. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recognised this need and set up the Organic Agriculture Programme. Its objective is “to enhance food security, rural development,sustainable livelihoods and environmental integrity by building capacities of member countries in organic production, processing, certification and marketing“. With a still growing world population and the rising demand for food, more sensible (and thus sustainable) ways of agriculture are needed more than ever to stop damage to the world’s arable lands.
In a joint paper published last year in the European Journal of Social Sciences (Vol. 24, Issue 3) John Paull and I presented a new world map of organic agriculture that presents countries as proportional in size to their share of the total of world organic hectares (data sources are described in the paper, reference see below):

Cartogram / World Map of Organic Agriculture
(click for larger version)

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