Monday, April 15, 2024

GeoGuessr for Art

screenshot of the game Backdrop, showing a map and a painting of the Houses of Parliament

Calling all art sleuths and geography buffs! There's a new game in town that will test your knowledge of both the artistic and the actual world. Buckle up, because Backdrop is here to take you on a virtual journey through the works of the world's most famous artists.

Inspired by the wildly popular GeoGuessr, Backdrop throws you into the heart of stunning landscapes and iconic cityscapes, all captured within renowned works of art. But instead of streets and buildings, you'll be navigating brushstrokes and artistic composition.

Here's how it works:

  • Study a famous painting
  • Pinpoint the location depicted in the artwork by clicking on an interactive map.

It is that simple. Think you can recognize the rolling hills of Tuscany from a snippet of a Renaissance masterpiece? Or perhaps the bustling Parisian streets in the background of a Monet? Backdrop will put your location recognition skills to the test, all while challenging you to identify the locations shown in famous works of art.

However Backdrop is not just restricted to famous works of art. The game also works with all other types of images. Therefore as well as identifying the locations depicted in famous works of art you can play Backdrop rounds which involve identifying the locations in some of the world's earliest photographs, the scenes captured in vintage postcards, in pixelated Street View images, in famous movie scenes and in some of my own personal photos of London. 

And more rounds will be coming soon ... (such as images of famous cat explorers). There are also plans a foot to maybe open up Backdrop so that registered users can create their own games from their own photos.

You can also play Backdrop - the Ultimate Challenge. This is very similar to the Art Attack game on Backdrop but actually selects random paintings from around 200 different works of art.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

The AI Music Map

Over the last few days my Twitter feed has been lit up by people sharing the songs that they have created on Udio. For the one or two cave dwellers out there who have only just installed spelunking wi-fi, Udio is an AI-powered music generation tool which allows users to create songs from a text prompt. The tool allows you to create tunes with customized lyrics, vocal styles, and musical genres.

Because I happen to follow a lot of cartographers and geographers many of the AI songs I have seen on Twitter have a map theme. However Darren Wiens has to get a special mention for creating the first Udio-map mash-up. His Longitunes interactive globe allows you to click on lines of longitude around the world to listen to an AI-generated song about that specific pole-to-pole segment of the Earth.

Of course using music as a navigational aide isn't new. Long before maps and compasses were invented the indigenous people of Australia were able to navigate using the songlines of the Gods. Songlines, or dreaming tracks, are the creation myths of Indigenous Australians. They are the paths that the creator-beings took across the world while naming and creating the features of the land. 

These songlines crisscross Australia and, if you know the songline, you can follow the routes that the creator-beings took across the country. By singing the songlines indigenous people can actually navigate vast distances, often travelling through the deserts of Australia's interior. You can learn more about songlines from different parts of Australia on ABC's Singing the Country into Life, which explores the songlines of a number of indigenous groups across the whole of Australia.

Friday, April 12, 2024

The 2024 Submarine Cable Map

the 2024 submarine cable map presented as a globe

Every year the telecommunications company Telegeography releases a new, updated version of its Submarine Cable map. This map shows all the undersea telecommunication cables which carry data around the world.The 2024 Submarine Cable Map is now available. 

Subsea cables carry telecommunication signals under the oceans, communicating information between different countries and regions of the world. In the 19th Century the first submarine cables were laid to carry telegraphy traffic. In the 21st Century submarine cables carry digital data. This includes all our telephone and Internet data.

This year's version of Telegeography's undersea cable map plots 529 cable systems and 1,444 landing stations. The 2024 Submarine Cable map is available as a free download or you can purchase a wall map for $250. In previous years Telegeography has often experimented with different vintage map styles. This year's edition is much more straightforward (which is probably the most sensible design choice). 

One interesting cartographic choice in this year's edition of the map is the positioning of some of the inset maps on top of the massive Russian landmass. These inset maps provide a close-up view of country landing stations and the cable systems which they serve around the world. Normally you might expect inset maps to be positioned in the ocean, and in the corners of a map. However because the major focus of a submarine cable map is the oceans and coastlines it makes sense to position inset maps inland (although the central prominence of the Egypt hub makes little geographical sense and may owe more to the fact that the map is sponsored by Telecom Egypt). 

You can explore Telegeography's Submarine Cable Maps for previous years just by changing the year in the map's URL. For example, one of my favorite Telegeography maps can be found at This 2015 map was inspired by medieval and renaissance cartography and features a vintage map style containing sea monsters, cartouches and border illustrations.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Mapping Conflicts Around the World

In 2024 the specter of military conflicts haunts the world. Israel is engaged in conflict in Gaza, Russia continues its illegal invasion of Ukraine and the Syrian civil war is now in its thirteenth year. It should be a matter of extreme shame that there are so many organizations who feel the need to publish interactive maps dedicated to tracking the progress of military action around the globe.
map of armed conflicts around the world

The Geneva Academy's The Rule of Law in Armed Conflict Map monitors and plots armed conflicts around the globe. The map currently shows the locations of  more than 110 armed conflicts, including the military occupation of Palestine by Israel and the occupation of parts of Ukraine by Russia.

The Rule of Law in Armed Conflicts (RULAC) online portal has been mapped armed conflicts around the world since 2007. The map currently shows that at least "55 states and more than 70 armed non-State actors" are presently involved in armed conflicts. 

If you click on the yellow country markers on the map you can discover which conflicts the selected country is currently involved in. For example if you click on the United States the map reveals that the US is presently involved in "airstrikes in Iraq and Syria" and is "also undertaking strikes against Islamist militants in Somalia, Pakistan, Libya and Yemen."

According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) the intensity of conflicts around the world increased last year with the number of people dying in these conflicts increasing by 14% year-on-year.

The IISS is an international research institute (or think tank) focused on global security, political risk, and military conflict. The IISS Conflict Trends Map plots the fall and rise of conflicts around the world based on the result of the institute's annual Armed Conflict Survey. The interactive conflict trends map plots five main criteria: troop deployments, violent events, fatalities, the number of internally displaced persons and the number of refugees.

The map also includes a timeline control which allows you to track conflicts in countries around the world over time. Press the play button on this timeline and you can view an animated choropleth layer visualizing the progress of global conflicts for the years 2014-2023.
The Center for Preventative Action's Global Conflict Tracker is another interactive map which tracks conflicts around the world. The Center for Preventive Action (CPA) is a think tank based in Washington, D.C., affiliated with the Council on Foreign Relations. It has a specific focus on conflicts which affect 'U.S. interests'.

The Global Conflict Tracker allows you to filter the conflicts shown on the map by status (worsening, unchanging or improving). The map can also be filtered to show conflicts which have a 'critical', 'significant' or 'limited' impact on the United States. If you click on any of the conflicts shown on the map you are taken to the CPA's page on the conflict, which includes background information, a summary of concerns and news of any recent developments. 

The ACLED Conflict Severity Index (from the The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project) uses four different indicators to assess and rank the complexity and severity of conflicts in countries across the world. Based on violence measured in countries around the globe in 2022 the Index identified 46 countries and territories which were experiencing severe levels of conflict. 

You can explore Conflict Severity Index rankings for individual countries and the 46 countries identified with severe levels of conflict on ACLED's interactive map (based on 2022 conflicts). The map includes a choropleth layer which shows the number of incidents of political violence in each country. In 2022 political violence was seen in nearly every country and in many countries the incidents and number of incidents were considered severe by the ACLED. The ACLED has yet to publish it 2023 report.

Canada's Hidden Subterranean Rivers

map of Toronto's hidden rivers transitioning into an overhead video

Canadian cities, like many cities around the world, have a history of hiding waterways underground. As cities grow rivers can become obstacles to the movement of people, can be seen as wasted real-estate, and historically (when cities had poor sanitation) they often became open sewers. For these reasons cities often culvert and divert rivers underground.

In Discover Where Ancient Rivers Flow CBC has mapped out the hidden subterranean waterways of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. These maps are used to take the reader on a tour of each city's underground rivers. These story-map tours are filled with some wonderful transitions between the map and  overhead drone captured imagery. For example in the screenshot above CBC seamlessly transitions between the map and an overhead video of a multi-lane highway.

There is a growing movement in many cities around the world to "daylight" urban rivers, to return them to the surface. This can improve water quality, create recreational spaces, and reconnect people with nature in the city. CBC explores the argument that resurfacing urban waterways can help cities deal with "heat islands, flooding, pollution, and (the) loss of ecosystem diversity". 

If you live in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver you might want to scroll to the end of Discover Where Ancient Rivers Flow where you can explore for yourself the locations of each city's underground hidden rivers on an interactive map.

Via: Datawrapper

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

15 Minute US Cities

map of Los Angeles showing 15 minute neighborhoods

The idea of the 15 Minute City is that urban living is much more enjoyable and sustainable when all our essential needs are close by. These essential needs include such things as grocery stores, health care facilities, cultural attractions, transit stops, educational facilities and leisure activities. Individuals living in a 15 Minute neighborhood should be able to access all these essential health, educational, retail and leisure needs within a short fifteen minute walk or bike ride.

Last week Nat Henry released a new interactive map which allows users to discover walkable, bikeable, and transit-friendly neighborhoods across the United States. Close allows users to select the amenities & destinations which are important to them and then it creates a US travel-time map based on walking, biking and public transit travel times to those destinations. Which means you can quickly find your ideal 15 minute neighborhoods in towns and cities across the US.

If you are moving home in the near future you can use Close to help identify the best places for you to live based on your own personal life choices. Using the Destinations menu you can select from 35 different amenities and destinations which are important to you. These include destinations such as shops, parks, schools, bars, transit stations, health care etc. 

You can then select a travel-time mode for each of your selected destinations (walking, biking, and walk & transit). When you have finished adding destinations Close will produce an ishochrone map which shows the travel time to the furthest of those amenities. The areas marked blue on this map are the areas where your essential needs will be met without you having to travel long distances.

Monday, April 08, 2024

Live from the Sundhnúkur Eruption

Live webcam view of volcanic activity in Iceland

The Reykjanes peninsula in Iceland has been experiencing a period of heightened volcanic activity since December 2023. This follows an increase in seismic activity that began in late 2019. The most recent eruption started on March 16th in Sundhnúkur near the town of Grindavík.

You can view a live webcam of volcanic activity in Sundhnúkur on Live from Iceland.  This webcam shows a live feed of the eruption near Sundhnúkargigar, north of Grindavik from Mt Þorbjörn.  

animated map showing the increase in seismic activity in Sundhnúkur starting in December 2023 is an interactive map of near real-time seismic activity in Iceland. The map uses data from the Icelandic Meteorological Office in order to plot live and historical earthquake data across the country. 

The map's GPS Viewer plots data from GPS stations. GPS stations can monitor seismic activity by recording how far the position of a station is displaced by a seismic event. In the screenshot of the GPS Viewer map above you can see the sudden increase in seismic activity in Sundhnúkur starting in late 2023 and continuing to the present date. 

The arrows on the map visualize the direction and scale of movement recorded by the GPS stations. The yellow and green arrows clearly show the magma dike of the volcanic eruptions in Sundhnúkur pushing land to the northwest (yellow) and southeast (green) of the dike. The blue timeline control allows you to view the GPS displacement data by date.

Saturday, April 06, 2024

The D-Day Memorial Map

map of WWII war memorials in Normandy, France

KilRoyTrip is an interactive map of World War II memorials in Normandy. It provides a fantastic guide to anyone visiting the region who is interested in the D-Day landings and the liberation of France.

The Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day Tuesday, 6 June 1944 was the largest seaborne invasion in history. On D-Day the Allied forces from the United States, Britain, Canada, and other countries began the liberation of France, and the rest of Western Europe, eventually leading to the end of the war.

Over 4,000 Allied soldiers died on D-Day alone. Total casualties, including wounded, are believed to be over 10,000. The KilroyTrip map provides an exhaustive guide to the memorials of these brave men who died in World War II in the Normandy region. These memorials include museums, cemeteries and war memorials. 

If you share your location with KilRoyTrip the map will show you the locations of your closest WWII memorials. Click on a marker and you will be taken to the selected memorial's dedicated place in the KilRoyTrip database. Each memorial entry in the database includes a description of the memorial, photographs of the memorial and links to other nearby memorials.

If you are interested in learning more about D-Day then you might also want to explore these vintage military maps from the D Day operation:

World War II Military Situation Maps - This Library of Congress collection of American military D-Day maps provides a day-by-day account of Allied and Axis troop positions from D-Day until the end of the war. The maps start on 6th June 1944, with the D-Day invasion, and then provide a daily picture of the military campaign in Western Europe.

US BIGOT maps - The University of Texas Libraries has two secret BIGOT Maps of Omaha Beach (East & West). BIGOT was a code-word for Operation Overlord and the BIGOT list included the names of all the personnel who had been cleared to know details of Operation Overlord.

Friday, April 05, 2024

The US Foreign Assistance Map

animated world map showing US foreign assistance to individual countries from 1948-2024

The US government's Foreign Assistance website provides detailed information and data on U.S. foreign assistance programs. The website serves as a central platform for transparency and accountability in U.S. foreign aid efforts. It also provides a fascinating insight into the shifting geo-political ambitions of the United States over the last 75 years.

The Foreign Assistance Dashboard reveals the amount of foreign assistance provided by the US to countries around the world by year. The size of the circular markers on the map indicate the amount of money provided by the US to each country in the displayed year. Click on a country on the map and you can view a detailed breakdown of the funding programs provided by the US in that selected year.

The Foreign Assistance Trends map provides a really interesting overview of the changing geo-political priorities of the United States over time. In the early 1950's the majority of US foreign assistance was being provided to European countries, presumably to help them rebuild after WWII. For example in 1953 the US provided $4.2B in foreign assistance to the UK, $4.6B to Italy, $5.3B to France and $2.3B to Germany.

During the 1960's US foreign assistance was directed away from Europe and towards South-East Asia. In 1967 $8.3B in foreign assistance was provided to Vietnam, $3.1B to Korea and $780M in Taiwan ( n.b. the U.S. military presence in Vietnam peaked in April 1969).

Since the late 1970's Israel has increasingly become by far the largest recipient of US foreign assistance. As a result of the Afghan War (2001 to 2021) Afghanistan temporarily became the largest recipient of US foreign assistance between 2008 and 2020. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 Ukraine has become the largest recipient of US foreign assistance.

Thursday, April 04, 2024

The Drug Map of Europe

Cocaine use has been increasing rapidly in Europe over the last seven years. Europeans are also taking more MDMA and ketamine. Every year the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) undertakes an annual wastewater drug survey in order to evaluate trends in the consumption of 'recreational' drugs. By analyzing residues of different recreational drugs in sewage the EMCDDA are able to detect trends in the drug-taking habits of residents in cities across Europe. 

Using the interactive map in the 2023 Wastewater analysis and drugs - a European multi-city study you can explore for yourself the levels of cocaine, cannabis, amphetamine, methamphetamine, MDMA and ketamine detected in around 90 European towns and cities. According to the EMCDDA report "cocaine use remains highest in western and southern European cities". The highest levels of amphetamine use are in cities in the north and east of Europe. The highest levels of cannabis use were detected in Czechia, Spain, the Netherlands and Slovenia.

According to the EMCDDA cannabis is Europe's most commonly used illicit drug. The EMCDDA has been analyzing dug levels in wastewater since 2011 so it is also able to detect trends in drug use over time. For example in 2023 20 cities out of 51 saw an increase in cannabis in wastewater samples compared to 2022, and 15 cities saw a decrease. Cocaine use in Europe has seen a steady increase since 2016. 

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Four Free Alternatives to GeoGuessr

screenshot of OpenGuessr showing the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul

I am a huge fan of GeoGuessr, but unfortunately without becoming a paid subscriber it is now a very limited game. I don't blame GeoGuessr for developing its subscription model. The Google Maps API isn't cheap and I'm sure Google sends GeoGuesssr huge invoices every month. However that does mean there is a huge potential market for a free Street View game. A market that OpenGuessr now hopes to exploit.

Very much like GeoGuessr the new OpenGuessr is an online geography game that uses Google Maps Street View images to drop players in random locations around the world. Players must then use the clues from their surroundings to guess where they are on the map. The closer their guess is to the actual location, the more points they earn. 

The 'open' in OpenGuessr very much refers to being open or free to play. The game itself is not open-source and it doesn't use open-sourced map data or panoramic imagery. In fact like GeoGuessr the new OpenGuessr game uses Google Map's proprietary data and imagery. Which does make me wonder how long OpenGuessr can survive itself before it will have to start charging users to play.


If you are looking for other free alternatives to GeoGuessr then you might also enjoy TimeGuessr. TimeGuessr is another very similar game to GeoGuessr - except in TimeGuessr you are asked to identify the location shown in a photograph rather than the location of a Google Street View panorama. 

As the name 'TimeGuessr' suggests this game also comes with an additional requirement. Like Geoguessr this game requires you to guess a location by dropping a pin on an interactive map, however in TimeGuessr you are also required to guess the time, or rather the 'date' when the image was captured. For me the extra dimension of time in TimeGuessr actually makes it more fun to play. Now as well as using the visual clues to try to determine where in the world a photograph was taken you also have to use the same visual clues to work out in what year the picture was captured. 


screenshot of cityguessr showing a street view of a rainy street in Bristol

GeoGuessr fans should also have no problem understanding how to play Cityguessr. In Cityguessr you are shown a Street View panorama of a random city. All you have to do is identify the city using the visual clues (street signs, street furniture, architectural signs etc) within the Street View images. 

In most cities you can explore a little by using the arrow signs in Street View to move yourself around. However you only have 135 seconds before you have to make a guess. Unfortunately sometimes Cityguessr gives you a user submitted Street View and you are unable to explore - which can make identifying the correct city very difficult. It's still fun to try though and if you do guess right it makes it even more satisfying.

City Guesser

City Guesser is a fun location guessing game, which requires you to identify a location revealed in a video and point to it on an interactive map. 

The game shows you a random video of someone walking around a city or a famous monument. You have to pick up on the visual clues in the video (such as the languages & words used in street signs and the design of the street furniture) to identify where you think the video was shot. Once you have made your guess you just need to click on the location on an interactive map and you are awarded points based on how close you got to the real location. 

There are a number of different games that you can play. You can choose to view videos just from one country - or you can play either a Worldwide or Europe game - featuring videos from across the world or from just within Europe.

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Playing Placename Detective

The British Placenames Mapper is an interactive map which allows you to search for patterns in British placenames. The map uses 'regular expressions' to find defined text patterns within placenames. These text patterns could be prefixes used at the beginning of a name (eg 'Great' or 'Little'), suffixes used at the end of a name (eg 'ford' or 'mouth'), or even patterns that occur anywhere within a placename.
map showing the distribution of Viking placenames in Britain
The map is a fantastic resource for anyone who is interested in British toponyms or even in general British history. For example the map can be used to explore how foreign invasions have helped to shape modern Britain. This map of Roman placenames ending in 'caster', 'cester' or 'chester' (all of which mean 'fort') reveals the lasting influence of the Roman invasion of Britain almost 2000 years after the Romans first arrived. 

The influence of the Viking invasion can also be explored on the British Placenames Mapper. This map showing the locations of Norse placenames, ending in 'by' (village or settlement), 'thorpe' (a hamlet or village) or 'thwaite' (a clearing or meadow within a forest or wooded area). The map shows clear evidence of where the Vikings successfully invaded, with the distribution of these placenames closely matching the Danelaw, the area of the UK which was once ruled by the Vikings. 

Placename Patterns Using Regular Expressions is another interactive mapping tool for exploring the distribution of different patterns in placenames. This map can currently plot the distribution of placenames in a number of different countries (the United States, the British Isles, France, Germany, Romania, Canada, and Japan).

The 'about' section of the map provides two interesting examples of how Placename Patterns Using Regular Expressions can be used. One example shows the link between German placenames and altitude. The other example visualizes the distribution of places in France whose names end in 'ac' (the -ac placename in France comes from the Gaulish language - so towns ending in '-ac' are most likely to predate the Roman invasion of France).