Saturday, August 24, 2019

Between a Wall & the Syrian Army


In Syria hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped between the concrete border wall with Turkey and approaching Syrian and Russian forces. Eight years after the start of the civil war in Syria fighting is now mainly limited to the north-western province of Idlib, the last stronghold of rebel forces. As the Syrian and Russian forces approach the border fleeing civilians have become trapped against the border wall which has been constructed between Syria and Turkey.

Reuters' article Syrians at the border with Turkey await wars bitter end includes a number of maps which help to illustrate the plight of the civilians desperately being caught up in Russia and Syria's violent attacks. Over recent weeks the Russian and Syrian forces have been launching continuous air attacks on the province of Idlib. The government forces have also been burning orchards and crops. The maps in the Reuters article show the damage being caused by Syrian government and Russian airstrikes on civilian targets, including schools and hospitals.

The maps also show where agricultural fields have been burnt, destroying crops such as wheat and barley. Orchards and olive groves have also been destroyed by government incendiary weapons. Reuters says that in some areas over 30% of cropland has been destroyed. The result has left the fleeing civilians trapped in Idlib with escalating food prices and little to eat. 76% of the civilians trapped against the border with Turkey are women and children.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Building America's Transcontinental Railway


At the same time as the American railroads were being constructed in the Nineteenth Century the new technology of photography was also being developed. The railroads made good use of this new technology to document and promote their drive to build routes from the east to west coast. Which is why the Library of Congress has been able to combine vintage maps and photographs in this story map exploring the construction of America's transcontinental railroad in the years 1863–69.

As you progress through the Camera and Locomotive story map you can view the vintage pictures captured by a number of different photographers in the construction of the railroad. A number of different maps are used, including a couple of vintage maps, to show the route that the rail companies used to build a transcontinental railway. On these maps colored markers are used to show the location of the geotagged vintage photos. The colors of these markers reflect the different photographers who captured each picture and you can click on the individual markers to actually view a photograph.

After the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad led the race to link the east coast to the Pacific. The early photographs in the Library of Congress' story map both document the work of these two companies and help reveal the beauty of the difficult terrain that they railroad companies were trying to conquer.

Who is Still Smoking?


Despite the rise of vaping it appears that many Europeans still like to smoke. According to World Health Organization data, despite the dangers to health, smoking rates are still very high in many countries around the world. However it also appears that in many countries women are paying more attention to the dangers of smoking and are actually giving up quicker than men.

Smoking is more prevalent in Europe and the Western Pacific region is an interactive cartogram which shows smoking rates across the globe. Don't be confused by the size of the countries on this cartogram as they are actually scaled by their population not their smoking rate. This means that the larger squares do not represent the countries with the highest rates of smoking. The smoking rate in each country is actually visualized by the color of the countries. The darkest colored countries on the map are therefore the ones with the highest smoking rates.

Some of the countries with very high rates of smoking (including Peru, China, Indonesia and Egypt) actually have very low rates of smoking in the female population. This is presumably a result of prevailing sexist expectations in these countries about how females should behave. It also means that the smoking rates among the male populations in these countries is incredibly high.


Although the vast differences in smoking rates between men and women in some countries is a clear result of inherent sexist attitudes it is also true that the smoking rate for women has fallen in almost every country since 2000. This interactive chart (using the same WHO data on global smoking rates) shows where smoking rates have increased and decreased for both men and women. The chart shows that there are only two countries in the world - Russia and the Czech Republic - where the smoking rate for women has actually increased while, at the same time, decreasing among men. On the other hand there are ten countries where the female population has decreased its smoking rate at the same time as men have increased their rate of smoking.

The good news is that in the majority of countries around the world both men and women have decreased their smoking rates.

These interactive smoking rate cartograms and charts were created using the Datawrapper data visualization platform. The tool can be used to create charts, tables and map from your own data. You can explore other data visualizations created with Datawrapper on River, Datawrapper's showcase of visualizations created using its platform.

Iran and the Strait of Hormuz


The United States, the United Kingdom and Australia have all now sent ships to help protect international shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. Twenty percent of the world's oil is shipped through the Strait of Hormuz. Iran has been accused of sabotaging tankers in the Strait and last month seized a British oil tanker which it claimed had strayed into its waters. In June Iran also shot down a US military surveillance drone which they said had entered Iranian airspace.

The Conversation has released an interesting story map which does a good job of explaining the current tensions in the Strait of Hormuz. The Conversations' article, The Strait of Hormuz is the most important oil choke point in the world, includes an interactive map which explores some of the recent incidents in the Strait and the planned response by the US-led naval mission.

The map only covers the recent incidents in the Strait of Hormuz. What it doesn't do is look at the background reasons for Iran's recent aggression. These go back to Donald Trump's decision last year to withdraw from the nuclear deal which the US (and other world powers) had signed with Iran. Since then the US has imposed sweeping sanctions against Iran and increased its military presence in the region. Iran has not reacted well.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Mapping the Burning Rainforest


Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) uses satellite data to assess the levels of wildfire in the Amazon rainforest. Inpe says that this data shows an 84% increase in wildfires in the Amazon this year over the same period in 2018.

One fairly clear indication of wildfires in the Amazon (and elsewhere) is the concentration of carbon monoxide. When carbon burns it produces water vapor and carbon monoxide. According to NASA in South America there is a strong correlation between carbon monoxide levels and fires, 'When fire counts are high, carbon monoxide is high; when fire counts are low, carbon monoxide is low'.

We can use real-time weather maps, such as Windy, to view current levels of CO around the world. At the time of writing Windy shows that there are very high levels of carbon monoxide in the west of Brazil.


The European Union's Earth Observation Programme, Copernicus, provides an interactive map of Fire Activity across the world. This map uses data from the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS). CAMS provides information on atmospheric composition based on both satellite and ground-based observations. The National Institute for Space Research provide a similar interactive map. The Inpe map also includes a fire hazard layer showing the risk of fire across Brazil.

There is a direct link between the increase in wildfires in Brazil this year and the growing deforestation in the Amazon. Of the 10 areas that have recorded the largest fires in 2019, seven are areas with the highest number of deforestation warnings. Last year Brazil elected Jair Bolsonaro. Since Jair Bolsonaro became president the rate of deforestation in the Amazon has grown. This year the rate of wildfires has also grown. Most people around the world believe therefore that this year's increase in fires in the Amazon is largely the direct fault of Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro himself says that non-government agencies are causing the fires in order to embarrass him. He also recently fired the head of Inpe.

How Far is a Mile?


One thing I nearly always omit from the interactive maps I create is a distance scale. This could be a big mistake. It turns out that most people are pretty bad at estimating distances on maps. Including me.

You can find out how good you are at estimating distances on a map using this Distance Perception Study interactive map. The map simply asks you to draw a circle with a radius of one mile on a location that you are familiar with. When you have submitted your circle you are then told how accurate your circle was.

When I attempted to draw a one mile circle centered on my house I was way out. The circle I drew was actually 0.72 of a mile. So I therefore underestimated the distance of a mile by more than 25%. This is embarrassing - but on the plus side - my favorite pub is actually a lot nearer than I always thought it was.

If you attempt the study yourself you might actually be asked to draw a circle that represents a 5 minute walk or a circle that represents a 5 minute drive rather than draw a circle that represents a mile. The study asks at random one of these three distances.

The Distance Perception Study map is actually part of Dave Michelson's research project for his Masters of Liberal Arts and Sciences. You can read about some of his initial findings from the study at Can Users Estimate Distance on Web Maps? According to the results so far it turns out that I am not alone in underestimating the length of a mile on an interactive map. On average participants in the study have underestimated the distance of one mile by 1,486 feet.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Mapping America's Area Deprivation Index


The Area Deprivation Index (ADI) is a measure of neighborhood disadvantage compiled by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. The index ranks neighborhoods based on data taken from the American Community Survey Five Year Estimates. The ten ranks in the index consider local measures of income, education, employment, and housing quality.

You can view the ADI scores at census block levels on the Neighborhood Atlas interactive map. On the map each block is colored to show its ADI rank. There are ten ranks in the ADI ranging from the least to most disadvantaged. You can click on individual blocks on the map to see in which ADI decile it ranks. If you are interested in viewing the distribution of different ADI deciles then you can hover over individual decile colors in the map legend. This will filter the map to only show the blocks in the selected decile.

Census blocks can be ranked on the map relative to the whole country or to other neighborhoods in the same state. You can switch between the state-only deciles and the national percentiles by using the menu in the map legend.

Europe Stinks


OdourCollect is an interactive map which is dedicated to recording the smells of the world. The map is part of a citizen science project to build an odour map of the world. Apparently, after noise complaints, bad smells are responsible for the second most environmental complaints across the globe. OdourCollect has been designed so that it can be used by communities which are affected by bad smells to systematically record and report the extent of bad odours.

Using OdourCollect five different categories of smell can be recorded simply by clicking on a location on an interactive map. These categories include waste, agricultural and food smells. The strength of these individual smells can be recorded, from very weak to extremely strong. The pleasantness of a smell can also be noted, using a scale from -4 (if the odour is really unpleasant) to +4 (if the odour is very nice).

Of course Europe isn't the only place on Earth which has distinctive odours. OdourCollect is running ten initial pilot projects in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Bulgaria, Chile, Italy, UK, Germany, Austria and Uganda. However the application is already being used by people to map smells around the world. In fact the map already has smells reported in Africa, Asia, North & South America and Europe.


OdourCollect is not the first interactive map of smells. Back in 2015 Rossano Schifanella created three Smellscape maps plotting the dominant smells in three global cities. His three maps New York Smellscape, London Smellscape (the London map no longer seems to work) and Barcelona Smellscape colour individual city streets based on their dominant smells.

These smell maps were created by using smell related tags added to Flickr photographs of locations in the three mapped cities. Each street segment on the individual maps is coloured to reflect the most characteristic smell tagged in that area. Unfortunately Rossano's maps now don't seem to load the underlying map tiles. The maps also don't have legends, so we also now have to guess what smells the individual colours on the maps represent.

Mapping the English Premier League


Sky Sports has mapped the birthplaces of all 557 football players registered to clubs in the English Premier League. According to Transfermarkt 368 of those 557 players were born overseas,

In Where were Premier League players born? Sky has plotted the birthplace of every single player in the EPL. If you click on the markers on the map you can learn more about the individual players, such as which position they play and their number of Premier League appearances and goals. You can also filter the map to show only players for individual clubs by clicking on the club logos above the map.

The map reveals that Europe is by far the biggest catchment area for EPL teams. However a lot of players also come from South America and Africa. There are few players in the EPL who originate from Asia, North America or Oceania. I can't help wondering if the map might therefore be a reasonable guide as to where in the world children grow-up playing football.

Sky's map is in truth a pretty poor attempt at visualizing the data on EPL players. If you want to know how many players come from individual countries then you need to zoom-in on the map and count the players yourself. This can be difficult, especially when two or more players were born in the same city or when players were born very close to country borders. Would it have been that difficult to provide a table view with the map?

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Dot Map of American Education


Educational Attainment in America is a dot map which visualizes the level of education achieved by the American population across the whole United States. Using the map you can zoom in on any town or city and see the local distribution of educational attainment.

The map shows five levels of educational attainment ranging from those who didn't finish high school to those with graduate degrees. As you can see in the screenshot above the map reveals the often quite stark differences in educational achievement which can exist in different neighborhoods, even in the same cities and towns. You can examine the distribution of any of the levels of educational attainment by selecting any combination of the five levels of achievement (click on the levels in the map legend to add or remove them from the map).

The map also includes an option to view a chart of the percentages who have achieved different levels of achievement in the current map view. This is very useful for comparing the different levels of achievement in different neighborhoods or cities. For example if you zoom-in on Manhattan you can see a very high percentage of the local population holds some kind of college degree. Conversely zoom-in on the Bronx and you find that the largest percentages of educational achievement are high school & less than high school and a far smaller percent of the population has achieved a degree level of education.