Last month the New York Times covered a subject that you’d expect to be too technical for the general reader: NOAA’s efforts to recalibrate elevation data as part of its update to the National Spatial Reference System, expected in 2022 or 2023. The height modernization program corrects local elevation data—which was last updated in 1988—by using GPS and gravity mapping. The Times article looks at the real-world implications of this effort, which will have the greatest impact the further west and north you go (see map above), from bragging rights about mountain elevation to whether your community is in a floodplain. [MAPS-L]
This map showcases physical features—mountains, plains, rivers, lakes, etc.—of the 48 contiguous US states. Map colors reflect natural environments across the continent from the forested east to the snowcapped Rockies to the desert southwest. You will also find a smattering of cities and faint state lines for reference.
Emphasis on smattering: there are only enough human features—cities and borders—to orient the reader; the focus is on bodies of water and landforms.
It’s freely available and in the public domain: it can be downloaded, shared and modified.
This timelapse video showing 10 years of weather radar over the course of two hours is built from NEXRAD mosaic data at the Iowa Environmental Mesonet site. To be honest they could have gone even further back: the archived data for the U.S. goes back as far as 1995. But then you’d have a five-hour video, and who’d watch that? [Kottke]
The U.S. National Library of Medicine’s TOXNET, an interactive map that tracked pollution, chemical exposure, toxicology and other data, was shut down last month. The move has been criticized in the context of the Trump administration’s rollback of environmental protections, but the NLM insists that the decision was theirs. The data mapped by TOXNET is available from other sources, but, and this is the point, not as easily or centrally accessible. [The Hill, Newsweek]
Fall foliage maps, which show the best times and places to observe autumn leaves, have been a thing for a good long while. The Washington Post’s take on them is something earnestly next level, with a detailed explanation of the biology and satellite images showing the change in colour across the United States. (I don’t need fall foliage maps: I live on an acre of beech and maple forest and get all the fall colours right outside my window, though here in Canada the leaves are almost all on the ground by now.)
Even though there are different place associations that probably mean more to you as an individual, such as a neighborhood, street, or the block you live on, the zip code is, in many organizations, the geographic unit of choice. It is used to make major decisions for marketing, opening or closing stores, providing services, and making decisions that can have a massive financial impact.
The problem is that zip codes are not a good representation of real human behavior, and when used in data analysis, often mask real, underlying insights, and may ultimately lead to bad outcomes.
Zip codes, Matt says, are arbitrary: too many things going on at a local level can be missed if they don’t line up with zip code boundaries (such as the Flint water crisis). He does offer some alternatives: census tracts, spatial indices and good old fashioned addresses.
The HTC 2020 map is an interactive map of hard-to-count communities built for campaigns to increase participation in the United States’s 2020 census. Hard-to-count communities are populations that historically have a poor self-response rate: they return their census forms online or by mail at lower rates, requiring followup interviews by enumerators. The map shows response rates by census tract, and notes the demographics of each tract in terms of why the response rates might be low: lack of Internet access, or large numbers of people who are historically undercounted (poor, rural, people of colour). [NYPL]
The NASA Applied Sciences Program has partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create the first publicly available map of ultraviolet (UV) radiation for all counties in the contiguous United States. The dataset, which spans 2005-2015, is available on the CDC’s National Environmental Public Health Tracking network, which delivers information and data about health issues related to environmental factors. Public health officials, city planners, or individuals concerned about Sun exposure can learn how much ultraviolet radiation is falling over each county each month, which is an important step in helping reduce skin cancer risks.
The animated map above shows the monthly average UV dose in 2015.
Last month the Washington Post gained access to ARCOS, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s database of controlled substance transactions, which tracks the path, from manufacturer to pharmacy, of every pain pill in the United States. The Post’s initial analysis found that some 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills were distributed in the U.S. between 2006 and 2012, that only a few companies manufactured and distributed the bulk of the pills, and some regions of the country were utterly saturated with the pills. That’s where the maps come in: the Post has county-level maps of all this data.
Comparing county-level maps of opioid overdose deaths and pill shipments reveal a virtual opioid belt of more than 90 counties stretching southwest from Webster County, W.Va., through southern Virginia and ending in Monroe County, Ky. This swath includes 18 of the top 20 counties ranked by per-capita prescription opioid deaths nationwide and 12 of the top 20 counties for opioid pills distributed per capita.
During the 19th century, the United States expanded dramatically westward. Immigrant settlers rapidly spread across the continent and transformed it, often through violent or deceptive means, from ancestral Native lands and borderlands teeming with diverse communities to landscapes that fueled the rise of industrialized cities. Historical maps, images and related objects tell the story of the sweeping changes made to the physical, cultural, and political landscape. Moving beyond the mythologized American frontier, this map exhibition explores the complexity of factors that shaped our country over the century.
As usual, there’s a comprehensive online version, which is peppered with acknowledgements of the very white, very settler-colonialist perspective of the maps on display. Which are, of course, justified, but as far as I can see they’re asterisks and asides on an otherwise unchanged exhibit.
The Washington Post maps disasters in the United States, with a page that shows maps of flood warnings, tornadoes and hurricanes, extreme heat and cold (see above), wildfires, lightning, and earthquakes and volcanoes. In the wake of a natural disaster there’s usually someone suggesting that the victims are at fault for living in a disaster zone. The WaPost’s maps have an answer to that: “It turns out there is nowhere in the United States that is particularly insulated from everything.”