Category Archives: Visualization

Planet: global change website

PlanetenFredrik Moberg at Albaeco has set up an English version of the website for Swedish TV’s The Planet a series of four programs about Global Environmental Change.

The website provides articles, animations, and videos to illustrate the processes involved in global environmenal change. It is in Flash – which is a bit annoying for linking (you can’t), but among other things – it includes bits on tipping points in the climate system, resilience, and scenarios.

There are also some silly games to accompany the documentary – but they are only available in Swedish.

Google Gapminder

Google is now hosting Gapminder development visualization software that allows the interactive visualization and animation of several world development statistics, showing world development trends over roughly the past thirty years (ranges vary among data sources) . Indicators include: CO2 emissions/capita, Child mortality, Fertility, Economic growth, Income/capita, Life expectancy, Military budget, Girl/Boys in School, Population, and Urbanization.

The site has a great interface that easily allows the data to be visualized as either maps or scatterplots, as change the display. On the scatterplots each point can be represented by a bubble that represents the population of the country or other indicators. This site allows a user to easily explore data showing some of the huge changes – in things such as urbanization, life expectancy and population – that have occurred over past decades.


Above is an example showing the relationship between per capita income and urbanization – showing the different trajectories of Nigeria, China and India. Many visualizations are possible. Here is a graph that shows the difference in life expectancy and child mortality between North and South Korea – with shading showing fertility, and another graph showing urban population vs. CO2 emissions per capita).

Mapping climate change?

The USA’s National Abor Day Foundation has updated it tree hardiness maps (which are used to suggest what species of trees will grow in a particular region) based upon data from 5,000 National Climatic Data Center cooperative stations across the continental United States. The site includes an animation of changes between the 1990 and 2006 maps, which shows how the tree hardiness zones have moved north over the past 15 years.

abor day hardiness maps

The new map reflects that many areas have become warmer since 1990 when the last USDA hardiness zone map was published. Significant portions of many states have shifted at least one full hardiness zone. Much of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, for example, have shifted from Zone 5 to a warmer Zone 6. Some areas around the country have even warmed two full zones.

… Hardiness zones are based on average annual low temperatures using 10 degree increments. For example, the average low temperature in zone 3 is -40 to -30 degrees Fahrenheit, while the average low temperature in zone 10 is +30 to +40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Visualizing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

A World GHG Emissions Flow Chart from WRI’s Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (CAIT).

CAIT provides a comprehensive and comparable database of greenhouse gas emissions data (including all major sources and sinks) and other climate-relevant indicators. CAIT can be used to analyze a wide range of climate-related data questions and to help support future policy decisions made under the Climate Convention and in other fora.

world GHG flow chart

Click on the image to see a full size version.

According to the site: All data is for 2000. All calculations are based on CO2 equivalents, using 100-year global warming potentials from the IPCC (1996).

Mapping US urban income

On radicalcartography Bill Rankin has produced some interesting maps of urban wealth patterns in large US cities, which show how patterns of wealth and poverty vary among US cities.


Maps show the distribution of income (per capita) around the 25 largest metropolitan areas in the US (all those with population greater than 2,000,000). The goal was to test the “donut” hypothesis — the idea that a city will create concentric rings of wealth and poverty, with the rich both in the suburbs and in the “revitalized” downtown, and the poor stuck in between.

This does seem to have some validity in older cities like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, or Chicago, but in newer cities it is not the case. Instead of donuts, one finds “wedges” of wealth occupying a continuous pie-slice from the center to the periphery.

Resilience networks in global environmental change science

In a new paper, Scholarly networks on resilience, vulnerability and adaptation within the human dimensions of global environmental change, Marco Janssen and others have analyzed the networks of co-authorships and citation among research on resilience, vulnerability, and adaptation in human dimensions of global change research. They analyzed co-authorship and citations among 2286 publications between 1967 and 2005 (3860 unique authors and 10,286 co-authors).

Janssen et al identified the most central scholars, publications, and journals in the knowledge domains of resilience, vulnerability and adaptation.

network of coauthorship

Figure 2 Co-author network of most productive and best connected authors with the strongest co-authorship relations. Circles denote author nodes and are labeled by the authors’ last name and first initials. The larger the node, the more publications. The darker the node, the more the co-authors. Black nodes refer to 50 or more co-authors, while white nodes refer to less than 10 co-authors. Edges represent co-authorship relations. The width of an edge represents the relative number of co-author relationships (Janssen et al 2006).

Janssen et al found that the number of publications in all domains increased rapidly between 1995 and 2005, while co-authorship increased from 1.5 authors to 2.5 authors per paper between the 1970s and early 2000s. Despite this increase in number of publications and co-authorship, the resilience knowledge domain is only weakly connected with the other two domains. However, overall there is an increasing number of cross citations and papers contributing to multiple knowledge domains.

The complete database of papers can be analyzed online, on Marco Janssen’s website. However, because this is the Resilience Science weblog, I’ve an image showing the citation network among the most cited papers on resilience (in human dimensions of global change) is shown below. Size corresponds to the number of citations.

Citations within resilience domain
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Visualizing Global Urbanisation

Urban Growth RatesThe BBC website has a visualization of the growth of global cities showing the growth of cities of more than 5 million people as part of their coverage of the World Urban Forum.

The coverage includes other interesting articles, such as a multimedia profile of a few of the million people who live in the slum of Dharavi in downtown Bombay, and Finding green in the concrete jungle, a look at how air pollution in cities compares in rural areas.

Fuel use, intimately connected to urban pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, demonstrates exquisitely the problems in trying to compare the ecological footprint of the rural and urban dweller.

In 2002, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) focused much of its Human Development Report on China.

“Rural residents consume less than 40% of the commercial energy used by their urban counterparts,” it concluded.

Tokyo skyline

Tokyo’s population and economy have grown while air quality decreased.

“However, if biomass [principally wood-burning] is included, the average person in the countryside uses nearly one-third more energy than a city dweller.”

So the rural resident apparently contributes more to global climate change than the urban citizen – but the equation hinges on how the energy is produced.

If “commercial energy” used in cities – principally electricity – is derived from renewable sources or nuclear stations, the urban dweller wins the eco-prize hands down. But if the rural citizen burns nothing but trees and always replaces them, he or she becomes “carbon neutral” and scoops the award.

In London and Tokyo, air quality has improved over the last 50 years. In Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur, it has gone down, though there are signs of improvement elsewhere in the developing world.

“It has happened in Delhi, for example, where there has been a huge improvement in air quality by substituting liquefied petroleum gas [LPG] for diesel in vehicles,” observes John Harrington.

“Partly it is just that as cities become richer they can clean their act up, but it’s also how vocal the middle classes become, which in India counts in a way it doesn’t yet in China.

The coverage also includes less interesting articles. One disappointingly boring, and strikingly disconnected from the other articles is a collection of perspectives on the urban world in 2050 from urbanization experts. Their views of 2050 seem to more represent cities today, rather than a global view of what cities could become.

Mapping global soil degradation

UNEP global map of soil degradation

UNEP provides access to a number of global environmental datasets via the GEO data portal. For example, the Global Assessment of Human Induced Soil Degradation data base was created in 1990 by ISRIC. The database contains information on soil degradation within map units reported by a survey of soil experts from around the world. It includes the type, degree, extent, cause and rate of soil degradation.
The main causes of degradation are (in order) overgrazing, deforestation, and agricultural mismanagement. Each of these is responsible for a bit less than a third of total degraded area. Other causes of degradation make up less than 8% of the total degraded area. Deforestation dominates in Asia, while overgrazing is the main driver in Africa and Australia.
For details of assessment see:

Oldeman LR, Hakkeling RTA and Sombroek WG 1991. World Map of the Status of Human-Induced Soil Degradation: An explanatory Note (rev. ed.), UNEP and ISRIC, Wageningen pdf