Most famous maps capture a snapshot in time. Mercator’s Projection, Blaue’s Atlas Maior, John Smith’s Virginia — they all signal the cartography of an era. These geographies trumpet discovery and location. They welcome ornamentation. But they do not invite interaction. And they never change.
The blessings of technology today mean that maps now breathe in constant updates. The ability to track global changes and inform visual displays in real-time turns children and adults into earth monitors. Interactive geography provides unprecedented access to world data streams, such that humanitarian and ecological crises can be pinpointed in exact, colorful, dynamic degree.
The following resources have been painstakingly and brilliantly assembled by dedicated activists and educators. Each visual tool allows teachers, students, and viewers to explore past, present, and future conditions based on a host of critical criteria.
Flint Water Map
The Flint Water Map, by Loveland Technologies, provides a searchable database of 6000 residential lead samples from this hard-hit Michigan town. The relevant, valuable interface combines a color-coded visual field with a detailed, house-by-house catalog of lead testing results. The tool is easy to use for both Flint residents and interested students who are concerned about the state of localized health. It is a model of geographic action for public purpose.
|Source: National Geographic|
National Geographic has once again produced a stellar interactive about history and geography. This scrolling motion graphic traces the idiosyncrasies of California's water supply. It pinpoints the causes of the state's current drought, and it highlights the importance of groundwater, snowmelt, reserves, and cultivation in managing the pipeline to the people.
Global Forest Watch
|Source: Global Forest Watch|
The highly customizable map by Global Forest Watch melds multiple data sources into one terrifically educational (and at times terrifying) survey of tree cover, land use, conservation, and population. The options are too many to list here, but they include Google Earth resolutions, specific country statistics, timeline progressions, and zoomable analyses. This is a great first landing site for teachers and students interested in displaying how the world's forests are changing over time.
World Air Quality Index
|Source: World Air Quality|
This index by World Air Quality employs an understated map of colored tags to let data be the star. Every flag reveals vital statistics for a global locale: the air quality index (AQI), air pollution level, health risks, and cautionary statements. Together, these figures furnish a revealing look at how atmospheric pollution can have concrete effects on the well-being of cities and citizens.
Unnatural Coastal Floods
|Source: Climate Central|
"The Human Fingerprints On Coastal Floods," by Climate Central, is a compelling article that includes a clear interactive graphic about the flooding of American cities. The clickable map projects graphs of year-over-year increases in sea levels. For example, since 1950, parts of the Chesapeake Bay have seen water levels rise by a foot, directly due to human influence.
Climate Time Machine
The Climate Time Machine from NASA is beguilingly simple at first glance. Upon deeper digging, though, the different interactives prove their complexity. The high-octane maps reveal historic transformations in sea ice, water levels, carbon emissions, and global temperatures. The site is a data gold mine of evidence to rebut those who claim that climate change is just unproven fear-mongering, rather than an immediate cause for concerted global action.