data visualizations

The Power of Data Visualizations on Maps

You no longer have to be a geographer or a hiker to know the value of maps.  We hold geographic displays in our hands every day when our smartphone helps us plan a road trip or find a restaurant’s location.  But geographic data and data visualizations can be used for so much more as most features we see can be displayed on a map. Examples are: waterlines, wildfires, and weather. Because technology has advanced far beyond the days of paper maps and globes, digital maps are prevalent in representing data. Creating data visualizations from maps is how we make better decisions since they are easily interpreted.

Why should data visualizations and maps be used together?

The data visualizations people tend to see in daily life are things like pie charts, bar charts, or line graphs. An important principle of data visualization is recognizing that different types of data call for different forms of representation. So when your data deals with location, quantitative charts may not be the best way of visualizing it. If location is an important component of your data, using geographic information systems (GIS) to create map visualizations is often the way to go. Below are three excellent examples of map data visualizations in action.

Mapping COVID-19 cases

First, check out this COVID-19 Map from Johns Hopkins University that keeps track of all daily COVID-19 cases, deaths, and vaccinations worldwide. It’s both detailed and informative, without being too overwhelming. Using the size of red dots to represent the number of COVID-19 cases in each location makes it easy to recognize the scope of the pandemic and the lives it’s affected. It’s a great reminder that we all need to continue doing our part to get through this pandemic.

Mapping changes in polar ice caps over time

Another way that data visualizations on maps are used can be seen in these polar ice cap maps that represent the impact of global warming. The site allows you to toggle between the months of March and September, as well as different years, and shows the size of the polar ice caps in that given month in two different maps. By changing the months and years, we can compare the size of the polar ice caps in 1979 versus 2018.

Maps like these are great for illustrating the extent of the ice caps shrinkage that is caused by global warming in the past decades. With the earth currently losing 1.2 trillion tons of ice each year and  rising sea levels, it’s clear that much needs to be done to address climate change.

Mapping crime 

Crime maps are often used to visualize the crimes that occur in a specific location. The NYC crime map, for example, visualizes the number of crimes per 1000 residents that occur within each of its precincts. The map uses color for each precinct to represent the proportion of crime in that area. You can also filter by different crimes. Police forces often use these types of crime maps to analyze criminal activity, investigate patterns of crime, and inform the actions they take to address crime.

The promising GIS career field

The cases listed above are only a few examples of the applications of map visualizations in real life. Combining data visualizations with maps makes your location-based information easily understood, and enables people to make better decisions based on what they learn. Map visualizations can be applied to a broad number of fields, which has produced the popular career track of being a GIS analyst, with a growing salary.

A GIS analyst knows how to collect, analyze, visualize and serve geographic data.  They do this as a career within virtually every discipline such as healthcare, business, and environmental science. For example, geographic information systems were critical for also mapping wildfires in the 2020 fire season. If you’re interested in diving into geospatial information systems, see the GIS certificate at Bootcamp GIS that can teach you skills quickly to gain entry into this growing industry.

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