3 posts about mapping

Mapping Bird Flu

Jan 9 2006

I have spent an awful lot of (relative) time writing about maps in this space over the last month, but this one really caught my eye.

Declan Butler has recently worked with the journal Nature to publish a map of the H5N1 avian influenza virus outbreaks over the last two years. He used some data from various government sources, an MS Access database, and the ever popular (astoundingly fun) Google Earth application.

This is why the new breed of online maps are such wonderful tools for creating understanding: With a little technical work (and perhaps a lot of fact-checking), you can create simple yet information-rich presentation of a pandemic that is affecting millions.

Good writeups of the new map can be found on the Nature website and at WorldChanging. (You can find details of the programming side on Declan's Blog.)

The trendiness of "mashups" is frustrating to me when I see it only being applied to giving superfluous but super-detailed information about movie times and local gas prices.

In this anticapitalist, curmudegonly spirit I appreciate journalist Glyn Moody's alternative description of Google Earth "conceptually simple scaffolding for other data to be brought together and displayed." As he points out in his bioinformatics/open source blog, this type of platform has incredible implications for the sharing of scientific resources. Like all open source concepts/applications, this has the greatest impact on science in the developing world, where resources remain scant.

Raising International Awareness Through Innovative Cartography

Sep 14 2005

Being a great way to communicate quickly, maps can also be incredibly dense with information. When they are put to a wholesome use, maps, like apple pie and puppies, deserve to have a special place in every home.

Take, for example, the incredible work coming out of the Dutch group Mapping Worlds. They've beautifully mapped global poverty, international migration, and civil conflict. They even have a special section of maps for Millennium Development Goals!

These Nederlanders have their act together.


This is their fabulous map of the failed funding effort being undertaken by the developed world for poverty relief. (You can find a larger one on their site. You know you want to.) It's shameful, really.

If you enjoy this and have a second or two, be sure to toy with their animated, more robust version at the Center For Global Development, where they have mapped an index of international commitment to the Development Goals. No really, check that last link, it's fantastic.

Here's what they say about this project:

The Commitment to Development Index reminds the world that reducing poverty in developing countries is about far more than giving money. Trade, investment, migration, security, environment, and technology policies matter, too. Now in its third year, the CDI ranks 21 of the richest nations on their performance in each policy area, giving you the big picture. View the rankings in charts, learn what the Index rewards and penalizes, compare country report cards, and post comments or suggestions.

It's an amazing bit of scripting, for sure.

GIS and Humanitarian Crisis

Sep 2 2005

With a nod to International Blogging for Disaster Relief Day (Friday, Sept. 2). ... Crossposted on the DDN list.

I am beginning research into ways in which mapping technologies like GIS (wikipedia: GIS) are being used (and can potentially be used) to help avert or cope with humanitarian disasters.

The tragedy of New Orleans has given me some insight into the potential and limitations for this use of geospatial technologies. New Orleans below sea level Thanks to Andy Carvin for applying his blogging/networking skills to this problem and prompting this line of thinking (The Katrina Aftermath Blog) . Recent discussion on the Digital Divide List of geocoded pictures has also been stimulating.

GIS is a sophisticated, robust technology that is being used to map and analyze data in numerous fields, especially environmental studies and public health. One of the most compelling features of GIS research is that it takes advantage of the contemporary wealth of data that is collected by all kinds of environmental monitors. (eg: weather is monitored constantly, and thus existing weather datasets can be mapped geospatially to discover, for example, patterns in flooding or to predict the best time to plant crops.)

New Orleans has for some time been the subject of extensive GIS research because of its precarious position below sea level. The availability of this technology has, I feel certain, prevented or alleviated numerous problems created by the hurricane (perhaps, for example, by helping prepare the safest evacuation routes years ago). I am interested in discovering similar, existing applications for GIS in poorer parts of the world. I would also like to find discussion/research of potential uses, especially, again, in the context of poverty.

nigerCusory searches of the internet find that there certainly exists a great deal of straightforward mapping going on in terms of humanitarian crises, most notably (according to my notes) the indexes on Reliefweb.int. These are extremely useful documents for creating awareness, but they are also rich, multilayerd documents for use by the aid workers and activists that cope with these problems daily. A .pdf file of the crisis in Niger, for example, can be a great way to understand the scope of the problem, but it also can direct the triage more effectively.

The center for New Orleans GIS research is at Louisiana State University; they have an excellent website that distributes their GIS data to the folks in the government that need the information. I doubt that there is any much more sophisticated model of GIS research. What fascinates me is that, although I am new to GIS, it appears that there is a strong "open source sensibility" about most GIS-- the information is provided free (though sometimes to a limited set of users) and is intended for extended, unmonitored use. How can this be expanded and reproduced in a way that promotes human development?