Saturday, October 24, 2020


Here is an interactive map that you probably never knew that you needed. McBroken can tell you before you leave home whether the ice cream machine at your local McDonalds restaurant is working or is currently broken.

Every 30 minutes McBroken tries to order an ice cream from every McDonald's outlet in the United States. If an ice cream can't be added to the shopping cart then the map assumes the ice cream machine at the restaurant is broken. The results of all this furious ice cream ordering is the McBroken interactive map.

On the map all McDonald's restaurants with a working ice cream machine are shown with a green marker. Red markers show all the restaurants where it looks like the ice cream machine is broken. The map also provides some statistics on the national and local status of McDonald's ice cream machines. At the time of writing 7.5% of restaurants have broken ice cream machines. People in Phoenix are in the worst ice cream predicament. Over 13% of McDonald's restaurant in the city have broken ice cream machines.

Citites Without Light Pollution

There are lots of interactive maps which use NASA's 'Black Marble' or 'Night Lights' satellite imagery. to show the effects of light pollution around the world. NASA's composite Black Marble map of satellite images showing the Earth at night reveals how electric lighting in cities around the world contributes to the global problem of light pollution. 

The Light Pollution Map is just one of the many interactive maps which use this satellite imagery to show how human populations around the world contribute to light pollution. One of the problems with all this light pollution is that it makes it difficult for astronomers to view the night sky from Earth. The Light Pollution Map is very good at showing you where light pollution is located around the world. It isn't quite so good at showing you the effect of that light pollution on your ability to view the stars.

Clear Night Sky however does a very good job at visualizing what urban citizens around the world are missing because of light pollution. In Clear Night Sky the star mapping website Under Lucky Stars has taken 27 night-time photos of cities around the world and 'reimagined' them to show you how they would look if they were free from light pollution. 

On each of these 27 city views you can drag a slider to compare how each city's skyline looks at night (with the effects of light pollution) with how each city would look without the pollution blocking your view of the stars. I think you will have to agree that all these cities look so much more beautiful when you can see the stars shining above. 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Half of All Americans Live Here

One of the perennial favorite map themes on the MapPorn subreddit are maps purportedly showing where half a country's population lives. Due to the fact that most people live in cities it is possible to create seemingly interesting maps showing that a large majority of people in a country live in a very small area of the country. It seems that some people are perpetually surprised that one result of urbanization and high population densities in cities is that last swathes of rural areas consequently have low populations. 

It turns out that you can make these maps a lot more interesting by making them interactive. Albert Zhang's County Counting to Specified Proportion is an interesting map which allows you to see where different proportions of Americans live. Change the percentage of the total population you want to see mapped and Zhang's interactive map updates to show the lowest number of counties where that percentage of the population lives.


If you set the percentage to a low number you can see that the places with the highest densities are the country's biggest cities - many of them situated on the east and west coasts. According to the map 50% of the country's population lives on less than 5% of its land. Set the population percentage to a high number and the Great Plains stands out on the map as the area with the lowest density of people. Although the map now looks very crowded that actual amount of populated land is relatively small. In fact 90% of the U.S. population lives on just 25% of the country's land.

The Global Emissions Map


The Historical Global Emissions Map visualizes carbon dioxide emissions around the world from 1750 to 2010. The map shows a gridded view of CO2 emissions weighted by the human population over time. This timeline view of the world's CO2 emissions provides a fascinating glimpse into the spread of the industrial revolution around the world and the staggering impact it has had on the world's environment.

Using the map timeline you can see how industrial revolutions in countries around the world have contributed to the huge growth in global CO2 emissions. Starting in 1750 we can see that there were negligible amounts of carbon dioxide being emitted around the world. However by 1809 the United Kingdom was emitting 33 metric tonnes of CO2. 

The birth of the Industrial Revolution in the United Kingdom led to a huge rise in the burning of fossil-fuels. The development of industrial manufacturing resulted in pollution and the beginning of the process which would kick-start global warming. 

In 1806 the United Kingdom was responsible for 94% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. However other countries around the world were not too far behind. Using the map's timeline we can see that just 41 years later, in 1850 the UK's share of CO2 emissions had fallen to 62%, as the USA, France and Germany had begun their own industrial revolutions. 

It would take more than 50 years for the United States to overtake the United Kingdom in the amount of CO2 emitted per person. In 1906 the United States emitted 12 tCO2 per cap to the UK's 11. By this time the United States was now responsible for 41% of the world's CO2 emissions and the UK's share had fallen to 18%.

If we fast forward a century the United States total share of the world's CO2 emissions has halved to 20% and China (22%) has become the world's largest CO2 polluter. Although in terms of per capita emissions the USA still leads the way, with 19 tonnes of CO2 being emitted per person - more than double the per capita emissions of nearly every other country in the world.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Climate Change & the California Wildfires

The Washington Post has created a powerful and emotive mapped visualization of the huge devastating wildfires which have destroyed 4.1 million acres of land in California this year. In How Escalating Climate Change Fuels California's Infernos the Washington Post shows the devastation caused by wildfire in one Californian town and then zooms out to show the extent of the devastation across the whole state.

The article starts with a zoomed in satellite view of the school in Berry Creek, California. A school destroyed by the North Complex Fire. As you scroll down the page you zoom out from the school to see the devastation caused by the fire in the whole town. Continue scrolling and the satellite view continues to zoom out to show the whole massive extent of the North Complex Fire.  

Starting from one particular school and one small town and then zooming out to show the whole extent of the fire is a clever way to show how the California wildfires have destroyed the lives of thousands of Americans this year. 

After this long zoom out the WaPo then proceeds to show how California's wildfires are being intensified by global heating. Now as you scroll down the page an animated heat layer shows how August's record breaking heatwaves resulted in highly combustible vegetation and a very high vapor pressure deficit (the amount of water in the air). In August California also experienced record cold, dry air fanned by relentless winds.

The combination of record temperatures, a high vapor pressure deficit and cold, dry winds created a perfect storm for the creation and spreading of fire across California. Five of California’s six biggest recorded wildfires happened this year. As climate change accelerates in the coming decades this level of wildfire is likely to become the new normal. Well actually it won't - because of continuing global heating the wildfire levels in California will become even worse in the coming years.

Earth's Climate from Space

The European Space Agency has released a new online platform to provide and visualize climate data gathered from the agency's satellites and space missions. ESA's Climate from Space platform uses interactive 3D globes, 2D maps and charts and graphs to visualize how the Earth's climate works and how climate change is leading to some drastic changes to the world's weather.

Climate from Space consists of two main sections - Stories and Data. The Stories section of Climate from Space provides a number of guided explanations of some of the global phenomena that drive the Earth's climate. This collection of stories also include investigations into how climate change is effecting the polar ice caps and contributing to biodiversity & habitat loss. 

The Data section of Climate from Space allows users to visualize ESA climate data on an interactive 3D globe or on a 2D map. These data layers include visualizations of CO2, methane, ozone and both northern and southern sea ice. You can select to view any of the available climate data layers on top of either a 3D  globe or a 2D map. It is also possible to select two different data layers and compare them side by side on two separate globes or maps. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The 2020 Bolivia Election Map

Elecciones 2020 is an interactive map showing the results of Sunday's presidential election in Bolivia. In the election the left-wing Mas party manged to win an overall majority, meaning that Luis Arce will become the country's next President.

Polling Stations on the map are colored to show the winning candidate. The blue colored markers show where Luis Arce, the Movimiento al Socialismo (Mas) candidate won the most votes. The other colors represent where the right-wing parties gained the most votes. The size of the markers appear to reflect the number of citizens who voted at each polling station.

The convincing win by Mas in Sunday's election is quite a turn around in fortunes for the party. Less than a year ago, in November 2019, Evo Morales was overthrown in a right-wing military coup. The coup, supported by the USA, proved to be disastrous for the country and the right-wing evangelical President Jeanine Áñez has been widely criticized for her handling of the country's Covid-19 response. 

Under Morales the Mas party had reduced poverty in the country from 60% to 35%. This had been brought about partly through the quasi-nationalism of the country's natural gas companies. A move which managed to vastly increase Bolivia's state revenues.   

The Mas party's support for the poor seems to have been repaid during the 2020 election. What is apparent from the map is that although Mas managed to win a landslide majority in the Bolivian election the party is most popular in the western poorer part of the country. According to the map Mas appears to be less popular in the richer eastern part of Bolivia. Many of the richer provinces in east Bolivia are home to the eastern cambas (European-descended Bolivians) - many of whom seem to still support the country's right-wing parties. However Mas has huge support among the majority indigenous population. 

Mapping the View from Mount Washington

In 1902 the Boston and Maine Railroad published an interesting map which shows the view from Mount Washington in New Hampshire. 

The Birds-eye view from summit of Mt. Washington; White Mountains, New Hampshire numbers all the mountains surrounding Mount Washington and identifies each of them in corresponding lists in each of the map's four corners. What is most interesting about the map is its 360-degree panoramic perspective. The mountain summit and the railroad station are positioned at the center of the map. The surrounding topography is then distorted and wrapped around this central view. 

If you held the map in your hands at the top of Mount Washington and rotated the map to reflect your direction of view you could then easily identify each of the mountains in your current vista. Unfortunately it isn't always so easy to rotate your computer's monitor. Which can make the map a little difficult to read online. 

Luckily however John Nelson and Jinnan Zhang have created a Rotating Bird's Eye View From Mount Washington map. Open up this interactive version of the Boston and Maine Railroad's map and you can rotate the map using your mouse's scroll-wheel. As you scroll the map rotates around its center so now you don't have to keep turning your monitor upside down. 

New York Has a New Subway Map

The New York Subway has a new interactive map. The new MTA Live Subway Map was developed by the digital agency Work & Co and the Transit Innovation Partnership to create a subway map which includes live data and even shows the network's trains in real-time. 

It is fair to say that reactions to the new map have so far been mixed. Those from a graphic design background seem to think that the map is a wonderful compromise between a diagrammatic and geographical transit map - while those from a cartography background appear to think that the result is an unholy mess. 

Transit maps usually have to make compromises between the simplicity of a schematic network diagram and the underlying real world geography. The new MTA Live Subway Map has attempted to actually marry a diagram with a geographical map. The main criticism of the new map is that while the MTA stations are in the correct positions on the geographical base map the MTA lines between these stations subsequently ignore the geographical reality of that base map. Lines therefore end up taking imaginary routes between stations (even through and across what appear to be new imaginary tunnels and bridges).

Where the map does work well is in providing real-time information on train arrival time, line availability (lines currently down are grayed out on the map) and even the real-time position of trains. Click on a station on the map and you can discover not only when the next trains are due but even how many elevators are currently in operation.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Life is Getting Better - Maps Are Not!


Writing this blog can be a depressing experience. Sometimes it feels like I'm just writing about a series of maps illustrating catastrophic climate change, global disasters or just another election of an extreme right-wing demagogue. 

Therefore writing about a Guardian article on how life is getting better should cheer me up - but it doesn't.

In The maps that show life is slowly getting better The Guardian has created a series of maps to illustrate recent global improvements in life expectancy, improving education and the shrinking digital divide. These examples about how life is getting better are taken from the book 'Terra Incognita: 100 Maps to Survive the Next 100 years' by Ian Goldin and Robert Muggah. This book uses EarthTime's mapping platform to "illuminate the most pressing issues of our time."

The reason why these good news stories don't cheer me up is because the maps are so bad. To illustrate some of the ways that life is getting better The Guardian has created a series of before & after comparison maps. All these maps use screenshots from Carnegie Mellon University's EarthTime - with an overlay control which allows you to swipe between the before and after views.

The Guardian article starts with a eulogy to maps and their ability to inform and empower. Not these maps! 

The Guardian's decision to use static images of interactive maps just seems perverse. They have removed all the functionality of the original interactive maps and gained very little in return. If you are going to use static screenshots of an interactive map, you should at least crop out the zoom buttons. Your users probably won't then get confused by what appear to be buttons but which really aren't. Also if you are overlaying one map on top of another and allowing users to swipe between them then you should probably take a little care in making sure that the two maps are properly aligned. When they aren't aligned swiping between them just looks incredibly janky.

I don't know if life is getting better. I do know that The Guardian's maps are not.