The world’s population in 2015 (full screen version)
The data for the globe comes from SEDAC, NASA‘s Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center. Each spike represents the number of people living at that location.
The populations are sampled at specific points, so the tallest spike doesn’t necessarily mean that area has the densest population. It could be that the spike just happened to coincide with the center of a city. Though having worked with world population data many times before, I’d say the spikes looks more or less as I would expect. Originally the populations were based on point samples. I’ve since updated the calculation to include the area around each point. The height of each spike now reflects the total population of the rectangular cell surrounding it (each cell measures 1.4° x 0.7°).
The graphic was made with WebGL, which, if you’re not familiar with it, is a relatively new and esoteric programming library for rendering 3D graphics. By sending instructions directly to your computer’s graphics card, it allows for web-based visuals that are far more complex than would otherwise be possible, opening new possibilities for visualizing data.
In the process of building Blueshift, my forthcoming WebGL-based mapping tool, I’ve been experimenting with new and different ways of using WebGL for data visualization. If you’re not squeamish, see, for example, my previous post: Hourly Traffic on the U.S. Interstate, Visualized as a Living Circulatory System.
I thought this was a fun one, which came out looking sort of like a thorny cactus (hence the title). But the 3rd dimension here also serves a practical purpose.
Most maps rely on color to communicate information. Color is great for binary comparisons (“is population A bigger than population B?”), but it’s not very effective at communicating magnitude (“how much bigger is population A compared to population B?”). In this case, the spikes serve as something of a geographical bar chart, making it easier to compare the relative population size of different areas.
To navigate around the globe, use the left mouse button to rotate and the right button to drag. To zoom in and out, use the middle mouse button (= scroll wheel, two-finger swipe, or both buttons at the same time).
Have a look around and let me know if you notice anything interesting.
More about my background
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