Half the world’s population lives in the yellow. The other half lives in the black.
This map was created using gridded population data compiled by NASA. Whereas populations are typically broken down by geographic regions such as countries or states, gridded population data divides the world population into a grid of tiny square-shaped cells, without regard for administrative borders.
The population grid used here comprises 28 million cells, each one measuring roughly 3 miles x 3 miles.
- The yellow region in the map includes every cell with a population of 8,000 or more people. Since each of them has an area of about 9 square miles, the population density of each yellow cell is at least 900 people per square mile, roughly the same population density as the state of Massachusetts.
- Conversely, the black region is made up of those cells with populations of less than 8,000 people. In other terms, the population density throughout the black area is less than 900 people per square mile.
In total, the world’s population is evenly split between the two areas, half living in the yellow and half living in the black.
Plenty of open space
As discussed in a previous post, by 2100, the world’s population is projected to balloon to 11 billion. Looked at in isolation, that number seems astoundingly high.
Does the earth have enough room to accommodate so many people?
Judging by this map, the answer is a clear yes. While overpopulation may be a localized problem in some of the densely population areas of Asia (see population maps of Bangladesh/India and Tokyo), the vast majority of the world’s land area is actually very sparsely populated.
In terms of area, the black region covers 99% of the Earth’s land. Particularly in Africa, where nearly all of the population growth is expected to occur, there is an abundance of open space for more people to live.
Nearly all of the world’s population growth by 2100 will occur in Africa. By that time, the populations of Asia, Europe, and the Americas will be flat or shrinking.
A higher resolution view
Not all of the details are visible in the map at the top. If you’d like to take a closer look, you can download a high resolution version from here.
Below are the zoomed-in views of a few select areas.
India, Bangladesh, and China
The bulk of the yellow region is clearly located in India, Bangladesh, and China.
Nearly half (46%) of the world’s population lives within just the area shown in this image.
And unlike the rest of the world, much of the population is concentrated deeply inland. The Chengdu / Chengking region, the large yellow blob in the center of China, is about the same size as the state of New York. There is a good chance you’ve never even heard of these cities, yet the area is home to over 100 million people.
Java (Indonesia) and Japan
The island of Java in Indonesia, shown on the left, is also about the same size as New York State. It has a population of 140 million, making it the most populous island in the world.
Number 2 on the list of most populous islands is Japan. It contains not only the largest metro area in the world, Tokyo with 37 million inhabitants, but also the world’s seventh largest, Osaka, which has a population of 20 million.
Though it does not have nearly the population density of Asia, Europe is exceptional for its lack of open space. Unlike the heavily concentrated population centers of Asia, Europe’s dense areas are spread out remarkably evenly across the continent.
Though it may not be surprising, the north of Africa is largely devoid of dense population zones, with one major exception.
As explained above, this map was constructed based on a world population grid made up millions of tiny cells, each one measuring about 3 miles x 3 miles. In all the world, the cell with the largest population is located in Cairo. The area, which measures only 9 square miles, is home to over a million people.
This image shows the United States with the state borders overlaid. Coincidentally, the same yellow-black regions that split the world population evenly in half also happen to split the U.S. population evenly in half as well.
As with the world population, roughly half the U.S. population lives in the yellow, and half lives in the black.
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- The population data used in the map comes from NASA / SEDAC. It is based on 2000 populations, the latest data available for this level of resolution.
- World borders courtesy of Thematic Mapping.
I'm fascinated by data visualization and the ways that data is transforming our understanding of the world. I spend a lot of time with my face buried in Excel, and when I find something interesting I write about it here and as a contributor for the Huffington Post.
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