Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

Preview of Natural Earth version 1.2 populated places

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

Version 1.1 brought Natural Earth up to ~7,000 populated places (purple hollow circle icons with labels). Version 1.2 will increase that by 25 times to about 175,000 populated places. It will be available as a supplement to the 1.1 version selection. What does this get you? A 1:1 million scale map of cities around the world and a 1:250,000 scale map of the United States and other select countries. There’s still basic selection work to be accomplished (Santiago Chile has duplicate points now, as does London) and scale ranks need refining (boosting blue 10 million, 5 million and 2 million selections from the 1:1 million black dots on these preview maps).

Because the world’s geo infrastructure sucks, not all the new features will have population counts in the 1.2 version. But most should have areal extent bounds and nesting to indicate if the town is part of a larger metro area. At the 1:250,000 scale (gmaps zoom 11), we start to see actual incorporated towns and unincorporated suburbs, but at the 1:1m scale we’re still dealing primarily in metropolitan and micropolitan features (urban areas that host multiple “cities”).

The names of the feature will also need work, but that will occur after the 1.2 release (India, China, and Central Asia mostly). The version 1.1 locations will be shifted over to use the more accurate geoNames lngLats for about 6,000 features (note Oakland below). Locations were fine at 1:10,000,000 scale but don’t always hold up on zoom in. A later update will incorporate an additional 100,000 places to flesh out the 1:1m scale and maybe a few extra for closer in. Combine these populated places with roads and they start looking like atlas plates :)

More preview images after the jump.

sfbayarea

haiti

iraq

More preview maps after the jump.

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What is the difference between a sea and a lake? (Environment Canada)

Friday, December 11th, 2009

[Editor's note: This Q&A from Environment Canada explains the rough difference between types of hydrological features. Names in the real world are often messier than this text book explanation. One way we've tried to help in Natural Earth is by indicating if a lake is freshwater, saline, natural, artificial, stable water level, seasonal water level, or simply ephemeral.]

Republished from Environment Canada. Feb. 2002.

What is the difference between a sea and a lake? Looking at the names of many sea and many lakes does not readily demonstrate an identifiable difference. There are salt water lakes and fresh water seas and some lakes that are bigger than other seas.
Bruce Schoenegge, Irvine, California, USA

Salt crust resulting from receding lake, Lake Frome, Australia.
Salt crust resulting from receding lake, Lake Frome, Australia.

In order to understand why some smaller salt water bodies are called lakes and others seas it is necessary to realize that lakes are, in geological time scales, transitory in nature–they form, mature and die.

Some water bodies that started out as saltwater seas over time became closed-off from the oceans. Depending on the quantity of fresh water flowing in from rivers, glacial melt water, or other sources, the salinity could have declined to the point where the water became relatively fresh. The Sea of Aral is probably an example of where this transition has occurred. Similarly the reverse can occur whereby freshwater lakes can become open to the sea so that the salinity increases, as in the Baltic Sea. The Black Sea is an example that has alternated between fresh and salt water conditions over geological time. Evidence for these changes can be found in ancient fossils of organisms some of which were known to be tolerant of saltwater while others were known to have been intolerant.

No doubt there was also some confusion in the naming of water bodies by the early explorers based on their first impressions and certainly one can understand why some may have been inappropriately named. In addition the subsequent translation of the names between different languages could also have added to the confusion.

Here are some definitions of water bodies:

Ocean
The whole body of salt water that covers nearly 3/4 of the surface area of the globe. In particular, each of the main areas into which the sea is divided geographically, e.g. Atlantic, Pacific. Oceans are tidal, living systems containing a multitude of biological organisms.

  • Average depth of the world’s oceans: 3,962 metres(13,000ft)
  • Maximum depth: 10,680 meters; (35,040ft)
  • Average salt content – 3.5% (mostly common salt, NaCl but with some magnesium and calcium salts)
  • Average density – 1.026
Sea
The expanse of salt water that covers most of the earth’s surface and surrounds the land masses. A body of salt water that is secondary in size to oceans.
Lake
A large area of water surrounded by land. Normally fresh water but in some cases can be appreciably saline depending on the geology of the underlying and surrounding terrain. Lakes are living systems containing various quantities of biological organisms. Lakes can be classified according to the level of bioproductivity as oligotrophic (low productivity), mesotrophic or eutrophic (high productivity). The productivity is usually controlled by the amount of nutrients (mostly phosphorus and nitrogen) present in the water and the amount of light that can penetrate the water column.
River
A large natural stream of water flowing in a channel to the sea, a lake or another such river. The flow can be permanent of seasonal.
Stream
A small, narrow river flowing on the surface of, or beneath, the ground.

A Remote Island Seeks a Boom Without a Bust (NY Times)

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

christmasislandmap

[Editor's note: One of the more enjoyable aspects of working on Natural Earth was finding out about the far flung territories of countries. Australia's Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean near Indonesia is featured in this dispatch from the New York Times.]

Republished from the New York Times.
By NORIMITSU ONISHI. Christmas Island Journal. November 26, 2009

CHRISTMAS ISLAND, Australia — “The good times are back on Christmas Island,” said Trish O’Donnell, this island’s sole real estate agent. “Three-quarters of Australians probably didn’t know Christmas Island belonged to Australia, but now it’s a speculators’ market. All thanks to the I.D.C.”

That’s short for the Immigration Detention Center, a $370 million facility the Australian government opened less than a year ago to house the increasing number of asylum-seekers coming by boat to Australia. Tucked away in the jungle, at the other end of this island’s one inhabited corner, the center nevertheless has brought the whiff of quick, new money here.

The math was simple enough. Since the start of the year, the number of asylum-seekers has grown steadily, so that it now tops the population of local residents, around 1,100.

As immigration officials, guards, interpreters and others now fly in from mainland Australia for stretches of days or weeks, the island’s limited facilities are enjoying a boom. Hotels are booked weeks in advance. Rents have doubled. Lucky Ho’s and a handful of other restaurants turn away patrons without reservations.

Like many other islanders, Ms. O’Donnell, 53, was out to get her share of the new detention money, in her case by opening the Barracks, a restaurant and inn. “When do we get the opportunity to make good money on Christmas Island?” she said. “We usually just sell to each other.”

If there was urgency in her tone, it was because of the knowledge that busts have usually followed booms on Christmas Island.

Continue reading at New York Times . . .

Natural Earth Vector Preview: Cities (Part 2)

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Announced at NACIS in Sacramento, California in October, we’re closing in on final release of Natural Earth vector and raster map data.

Bill Buckingham wrapped up processing the Natural Earth Vector cities (populated places point locations) this week. I’ve been honing our admin-1 and admin-1 rankings and feature names (only 4,000 states and provinces around the world, wew!).

Bill’s added population estimates for each city based on LandScan. The technique allows the user to know both the relative “regional” importance of a town, regardless of it’s population, based on which map scales the feature should be visible (thanks to Dick Furno) at AND to know how many people live there.

By taking a composite of both, you can still show small population cities that are regionally important at a small type point size along with larger populated places at the smaller map scales.

We have about 6,500 cities in Natural Earth Vector. Over 90% of those have population estimates (the ones that don’t are usually out in the boondocks). Together, our cities capture over 3 billion people or half of humanity.

For comparison, most other populated place GIS files have only 2,000 some cities and they focus on country and first order administrative capitals with a bare smattering of other towns. For instance: Lagos, Nigeria or San Francisco, California.  This makes smaller countries with lots of administrative divisions (like Slovenia, Vietnam, or Jamaica) seems way more populated than larger countries with larger administrative divisions (like the United States). See the North America screenshot below for an example and look at the Caribbean versus United States.

They also don’t estimate populations, and if they do they use official census number that hide the true “metro”-style counting of people that should inform a thematic map regardless of formal administrative boundaries at the smaller map scales that Natural Earth excels at.

Now for some screenshots:

(Scale ranks, followed by population view color coded like the scale ranks with nodata green dots, then cyan dot version is ESRI cities overlayed)

0world_ranks

0world_population

1no_amer_ranks

1no_amer_population

1no_amer_esri

2us_ranks

2us_population

2us_esri

More continents o’ dots after the jump.

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Travellr: Behind the Scenes of our Region-Based Clusters (Google GeoDev)

Monday, July 6th, 2009

[Editor's note: The age-old rule for cloropleth mapping that suggests aggregation by multi-scale areal units based on the map's zoom level is slowly seeping into "clustering" for the point-based mashup geo community. This overview from Travellr published on the Google GeoDevelopers blog includes two illustrations that show the power of this technique. I used such a technique (different implementation) on The Washington Post's recent swine flu mapping.]

Republished from Google GeoDevelopers Blog.
Monday, June 22, 2009

Recently, there has been a lot of interest in clustering algorithms. The client-side grid-based MarkerClusterer was released in the open source library this year, and various server-side algorithms were discussed in the Performance Tips I/O talk. We’ve invited the Travellr development team to give us insight on their unique regional clustering technique.

Travellr is a location aware answers service where people can ask travel-related questions about anywhere in the world. One of its features is a map-based interface to questions on the site using Google Maps.

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Figure 1. An example of the Travellr Map, showing question markers for Australia.

Clustering for usability
We learned that the best way to display markers without cluttering our map was to cluster our questions depending on how far you zoom in. If the user was looking at a map of the continents, we would cluster our questions into a marker for each continent. If the user zoomed-in to France we would then cluster our questions into a marker for each region or city that had questions. By clustering our data into cities, regions/states, countries, and continents, we could display relevant markers on the map depending on what zoom level the user was looking at.

Optimizing for Clustering
Our next challenge was how to extract clustered data from our database without causing excessive server load. Every time the user pans and zooms on the map, we need to query and fetch new clustered data in order to display the markers on the map. We also might have to limit the data if the user has selected a tag, as we’re only interested in a questions related to a topic (ie: “surfing”). To execute this in real-time would be painstakingly slow, as you would need to to cluster thousands of questions in thousands of locations with hundreds of tags on the fly. The answer? Pre-cluster your data of course!

Step 1. Structure your location data
When a question is asked about a city on Travellr, we also know its region/state, country and continent. We store more than 55,000 location points as a hierarchy, with each location “owning” its descendent nodes (and all of their data). Our locations are stored in a Modified Preorder Tree (also called Nested Sets). Modified Preorder Trees are a popular method of storing hierarchical data in a flat database table, having a focus on efficient data retrieval, and easy handling of sub trees. For each location we also keep a record of its depth within the tree, its location type (continent, country, region/state, or city), and its co-ordinates (retrieved using the Google Maps geocoder).

Step 2. Aggregate your data
We calculate aggregate data for every branch of our locations tree ahead of time. By storing aggregate data for cities, regions/states, countries, and continents, we provide an extremely fast and inexpensive method to query our locations database for any information regarding questions asked about a particular location. This data is updated every few minutes by a server-side task.

Our aggregations include:

  • Total question count for a location
  • Most popular tags for that location
  • Number of questions associated with each of those tags.

How we query our structured, aggregate data on the map
Whenever the user zooms or pans the map we fire off a query to our (unpublished ;) API with the tags they are searching for, the current zoom level, and the edge co-ordinates of the map’s bounding box. Based on the zoom level (Figure 2) we work out whether we want to display markers for continents, countries, states, or cities. We then send back the data for these markers and display them on the map.

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Figure 2. Clustering at different zoom levels (blue = continents, countries, pink = states, cities)

Everyone Wins
So what is the result of structuring and aggregating our data in such a way? It means that we have nicely organized, pre-clustered data that can be read from cheaply and easily. This allows us to provide a super-fast map interface for Travellr that puts minimal load on our infrastructure. Everyone is happy!

Comments or Questions?
We’d love to hear from you if you have any questions on how we did things, or suggestions or comments about Travellr’s map. This article was written by Travellr’s performance and scalability expert Michael Shaw (from Insight4) and our client-side scripting aficionado Jaidev Soin.

You can visit Travellr at www.travellr.com, or follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/travellr.

Flow Mapping (Box Shaped World)

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

uk-interdependenceminard

[Editor's note: Flow maps have always ranked high on my radar but constructing them has always been tedious. This post and academic paper link detail how they can be automated with programatically, including edge routing (not directly from A to B, but with bends to not overlap other connections).]

Republished from Box Shaped World.

Getting a head start on a new project that is more cartographic. It will involve mapping migration/flows from Australia to the Northern Territory (probably smaller geographic units than states). I like making maps, and so I’m excited to do some cartography beyond standard ArcGIS layouts. There are different possibilities on how to map this. Initially, I think I will use something like this that creates a more trunk/branch flow map instead of the typical straight line between places (Tobler’s Flowmapper). The project lead doesn’t like this style too much, but thought the trunk/branch style might work. We might pursue other mapping techniques, which would be cool to try and apply different map techniques to this area…

Continue reading at Box Shaped World . . .

Republished from Stanford Graphics paper.

Cartographers have long used flow maps to show the movement of objects from one location to another, such as the number of people in a migration, the amount of goods being traded, or the number of packets in a network. The advantage of flow maps is that they reduce visual clutter by merging edges. Most flow maps are drawn by hand and there are few computer algorithms available. We present a method for generating flow maps using hierarchical clustering given a set of nodes, positions, and flow data between the nodes. Our techniques are inspired by graph layout algorithms that minimize edge crossings and distort node positions while maintaining their relative position to one another. We demonstrate our technique by producing flow maps for network traffic, census data, and trade data.

Continue reading past abstract, includes source code . . .

Geography Illustrations in the Economist (Kelso)

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

[Editor's note: This week's Economist print edition features several geography themed illustrations, including KAL's take on the H1N1 swine flu situation.]

Republished from The Economist.
April 30, 2009

Cover Artwor: The Pandemic Threat
Illustration by KAL

1809ld1

The Berlusconisation of Italy
Illustration by Peter Schrank

d1809eu1

Australia’s Chinese entanglement
Illustration by M. Morgenstern

d1809as0

A healthy development: Taiwan and the WHO
Illustration by Claudio Munoz

d1809as1

Gitmo In Limbo (Wash Post)

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

[Editor's note: While President Obama has committed to closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay within a year, it's hard to know what to do with some of the prisoners.

This graphic reminds me of the old adage about people being able to deal only 5±2 things at once. There are almost 200 countries in the world. It's hard to keep track of them all. But there are only 7 continents, and those are easy to remember because it fits the 5±2 rule. To instead of listing out all those countries alphabetically or ordered by number of detainees, sometimes it is more useful to group them first by geographic "region". Note: Washington Post style views the Middle East as a separate continent-level region from Asia. Thank also to Laris for formulating these ideas with me.

Why wasn't this information shown on a map instead of listed in a structured table with charting? For several reasons: Geography, while useful as an metaphorical principle, does not function as a the most important thematic (organizing) principle in the distribution. We know nothing about where the individual detainees are from in each country so we would have had to create a by country choropleth map which would have given a false importance to larger countries like China, and been hard to show the three thematic subcategories. We could have placed the thematic symbols (1 for each detainee and color coded to their status, like in the table) on each country, but then it would have been harder to compare each country between countries for number and type of detainee as each entry would not have shared a common baseline. A table with charting accomplishes our goals: We list the countries sorted by number of detainees and grouped by continent. This serves the same function as a map would have in terms of giving in indication as to where each country is (metaphorical principle, reminding readers of the country's location in the network topology). And we get to easily compare the quantities and thematic types associated with those countries at a glance because of the common chart axis baseline.

What exactly are continents anyhow? Geology seems to have moved on to plate techtonics with 20-some major plates that often meet or rip apart the middle of "continents", but continents remain popular I think exactly because of the 5±2 rule.

Some cartographers are moving beyond the physical geography "continents" into top-level cultural regions. Allan Cartography's Raven world map does exactly this, take a look. The same holds true for any large set of thematic data. Find the trends, group them together, and use that hierarchy (topology) as an access metaphor. And remember geography doesn't always need to mean map. Your users will thank you.]

Republished from The Washington Post.
Orginally published: 16 February 2009.
Reporting by Julie Tate.

About a third of the detainees held at Guantanamo are either facing charges or approved for release. The rest are judged to be enemy combatants, and it is unclear whether they will be prosecuted, be released or continue to be held.


RELATED ARTICLE:
4 Cases Illustrate Guantanamo Quandaries
Administration Must Decide Fate of Often-Flawed Proceedings, Often-Dangerous Prisoners

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 16, 2009; Page A01

In their summary of evidence against Mohammed Sulaymon Barre, a Somali detained at Guantanamo Bay, military investigators allege that he spent several years at Osama bin Laden’s compound in Sudan. But other military documents place him in Pakistan during the same period.

One hearing at Guantanamo cited his employment for a money-transfer company with links to terrorism financing. Another file drops any mention of such links.

Barre is one of approximately 245 detainees at the military prison in Cuba whose fate the Obama administration must decide in coming months. Teams of government lawyers are sorting through complex, and often flawed, case histories as they work toward President Obama’s commitment to close the facility within a year.

Much of the government’s evidence remains classified, but documents in Barre’s case, and a handful of others, underscore the daunting legal, diplomatic, security and political challenges.

As officials try to decide who can be released and who can be charged, they face a series of murky questions: what to do when the evidence is contradictory or tainted by allegations of torture; whether to press charges in military or federal court; what to do if prisoners are deemed dangerous but there is little or no evidence against them that would stand up in court; and where to send prisoners who might be killed or tortured if they are returned home.

Answering those questions, said current and former officials, is a massive undertaking that has been hampered by a lack of cooperation among agencies and by records that are physically scattered and lacking key details.

Continue reading at Washington Post . . .

Google Earth helps yet worries government (USA Today)

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

[Editor's note: I was able to attend the reception for GeoEye-1 at the fabulous Newseum last week in Washington, DC. The imagery from this new satellite is truly awesome. Look for it soon in The Washington Post, and in Google Earth.]

Republished from USA Today, Nov. 6, 2008. By Peter Eisler.

WASHINGTON — The secretive National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is rushing to get the latest, high-definition satellite photos of Afghanistan into the hands of U.S. ground troops as they ramp up operations in the country’s tangled terrain.

The NGA analysts aren’t tapping the government’s huge network of highly classified spy satellites; they’re getting the pictures from commercial vendors. That’s the same stuff pretty much anyone can get, either through free, online programs, such as Google Earth, or by buying it from the same companies supplying Uncle Sam.

It’s a remarkable turn, given the warnings that security experts in the USA and worldwide raised a few years ago about giving the entire planet — terrorists and rogue states included — access to high-resolution satellite photos once available only to superpowers.

Last month, the most powerful commercial satellite in history sent its first pictures back to Earth, and another with similar capabilities is set for launch in mid-2009. The imagery provided by those and other commercial satellites has transformed global security in fundamental ways, forcing even the most powerful nations to hide facilities and activities that are visible not only to rival nations, but even to their own citizens.

Although no one disputes that commercial imagery poses threats, it has been embraced in ways few predicted.

“It’s created a lot of opportunities to do things we couldn’t do with (classified) imagery,” says Jack Hild, a deputy director at NGA, which provides imagery and mapping for defense and homeland security operations.

Pictures from government satellites are better than commercial photos, but how much better is a secret. Only people with security clearances generally are allowed to see them. Using commercial products, intelligence agencies can provide imagery for combat troops, which wasn’t possible before because of the risk of it reaching enemy hands and even international coalition partners.

Federal agencies use commercial imagery to guide emergency response and inform the public during natural disasters, such as this year’s Hurricane Ike. It’s also used by government scientists to monitor glacial melting and drought effects in the Farm Belt.

When commercial satellite photos first hit the market, “the gut reaction was, ‘We can’t allow this imagery to be out there because someone might do us harm with it,’ ” Hild says. “Are there still bad things that people can do with commercial imagery? Absolutely … but we think the benefits far outweigh the risks.”

Other nations share the sentiment. U.S. and foreign government contracts provide critical income for commercial imagery companies, such as Digital Globe and GeoEye — both of which supply photos for Google Earth.

“Most of our revenue (is) from governments,” says Mark Brender, vice president of GeoEye, which got half its 2007 revenue from the U.S. government and 35% from foreign governments. “They have a core competency in understanding how to use this technology — and a national security imperative to do so.”

In August 2006, the Islamic Army in Iraq circulated an instructional video on how to aim rockets at U.S. military sites using Google Earth.

Posted on a jihadist website, the video showed a computer using the program to zoom in for close-up views of buildings at Iraq’s Rasheed Airport, according to an unclassified U.S. intelligence report obtained by USA TODAY. The segment ended with the caption, “Islamic Army in Iraq/The Military Engineering Unit — Preparations for Rocket Attack.”

The video appeared to fulfill the dire predictions raised by security experts in the USA and across the globe when Google began offering free Internet access to worldwide satellite imagery in 2005. Officials in countries as diverse as Australia, India, Israel and the Netherlands complained publicly that it would be a boon to terrorists and hostile states, especially since the pictures often provide a site’s map coordinates.

Indeed, some terrorist attacks have been planned with the help of Google Earth, including an event in 2006 in which terrorists used car bombs in an unsuccessful effort to destroy oil facilities in Yemen, according to Yemeni press reports. Images from Google Earth and other commercial sources have been found in safe houses used by al-Qaeda and other terror groups, according to the Pentagon.

Many security experts say commercial imagery does little to enhance the capabilities of such organizations.

“You can get the same (scouting) information just by walking around” with a map and a GPS device, says John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a research organization specializing in defense and intelligence policy. The imagery “may give someone precise coordinates (for a target), but they need precise weapons … and their ability to target discrete parts of a particular site is pretty limited. People who think this gives you magical powers watch too many Tom Clancy movies.”

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