Archive for the 'News' Category

Lights Out in DC

The power is out all across downtown Washington, DC this morning resulting in major commuter delays, traffic accidents, and stranded workers.  These problems are being compounded by a pair of probably unrelated fires on DC’s Metro system.  Even the White House is running on emergency generator power.

The Washington Post has produced a map of the affected area, above.  The scale of the outage is enormous–approximately 40 blocks according to some reports.  Every subway line in the city has stations in the affected area.

Click here or on the picture above to see a larger map of the outage.

Introducing “Mondays with Minard”

There are few features on this site that have garnered as many positive responses as the works of Charles Joseph Minard, the 19th Century French economic geographer, cartographer, and civil engineer.  Minard produced dozens of fascinating maps of economic, military, and social trends.  Two of his maps–a chart of Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia, and a map of international immigration in 1858–have previously been featured on this site.  Now, I am introducing a weekly feature where, each Monday, I will present another of Minard’s excellent maps.

Toward the end of his life, Minard donated a complete set of his maps to the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées, the French national academy of bridges and roads, where he had served as the superintendent.  As far as I know, this is the only complete collection of Minard’s maps; but several others are held in collections around the world.  One relatively small but high-quality collection is held by the Library of Congress, here in Washington, DC.  Others have been reproduced in English- and French-language books on thematic mapping.  I’ve done my best to draw on as many sources of Minard maps as possible to present them here.

Many of the maps that will appear over the next several weeks are not available elsewhere on the Internet.  All of them are unequivocably in the public domain, however, so feel free to reproduce and circulate them, though we here at Cartographia would appreciate attribution. 

The first post of the series begins below…

Cluster Bombs

Cluster bombs have been in use since the Second World War, but have developed into formidable weapons through years of technical and tactical refinement.  But like other many other weapons, cluster bombs have additional deadly consequences for nearby civilian populations, sometimes long after the conflict has ended.  Now, ongoing talks in Ireland seek to ban the weapons because of the harm they can cause to noncombatants. 

The map above shows the relationships of countries around the world to cluster bombs.  Some countries produce the bombs, while others stockpile them or have used them in combat.  Other unfortunate countries have been on the recieving end of these weapons.  The interactive map allows users to sort the world map by countries that produce, use, stockpile, or have been affected by cluster bombs.    Click here or on the picture above to see the full map.

As a quick glance will show, nearly every major country in the world either produces or stockpiles these weapons.  The major military powers are major producers of the weapons, along with some countries in the developing world.  The bombs are stockpiled by nearly ever industrialized country on earth, from Peru to Finland to Mongolia.  But most of the countries affected by cluster bombs are in Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans, and Southeast Asia, where they have been used in civil and international conflicts such as the Angolan Civil War, the Iran-Iraq War, ethnic conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, and the Vietnam War.  Russia has used these weapons in its conflict with Chechen separatists.

When fired, these weapons separate into hundreds of tiny “bomblets” that each falls and explodes independently, creating the potential for large-scale destruction over a wide area.  This potential for destruction makes them desirable weapons for militaries around the world.  However, all the bomblets do not always explode on contact, and some remain on the ground still live and armed .  As with landmines, these unexploded bomblets can cause civilian casualties long after the warring parties have made peace.

The Economist produced this map as part of its coverage of a series of international talks that seek to ban the use of cluster bombs.    The talks have some high-level American supporters, as demonstrated by this article’s description:

“There is no doubt that cluster munitions have some military utility. You could say the same of land mines. I suppose you could say the same of poison gas. But we do ban some weapons,” said U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, who has led American efforts to outlaw cluster munitions and provide support to their civilian victims.

“Weapons that are inherently indiscriminate, whether by design or effect, should have no place in the 21st century,” said Leahy, who in February led a successful push to ban U.S. exports of cluster bombs.

The current round of talks is occurring in Dublin, Ireland though the 30th of May.  Although over 100 countries have signed on to the attempt to ban cluster bombs, several leading military powers–Russia, China, Israel, Pakistan, India, and the United States–have not participated in the talks, suggesting that any treaty will have at best a limited effect.

The Phoenix Goes to Mars

Exciting news from NASA–their long-awaited Phoenix Lander is scheduled to touch down on the Martian surface on Sunday, nine and a half months after leaving Earth.  The Phoenix is another NASA mission sent to look for evidence of life on the Red Planet.  Unlike previous missions, the Phoenix will touch down in the far Martian north–approximately equivalent to northern Canada or Alaska on Earth.  In the Martian winters, this region is covered in ice; but during this Martian summer the region will have thawed out and the lander can explore the ice and dirt for signs of life.

The map above was produced by the New York Times to show the Phoenix Lander’s final destination–a flat area of lowlands by the Heimdall Crater in the Vastitas Borealis region of Mars.  These arctic plains are barren and generally free of boulders or chasms that could endanger the lander.  Click here or on the picture above to see the full map.  You can read the full Times article here.

Previous Mars missions such as Pathfinder, and more recently Spirit and Opportunity, have focused on the planet’s equatorial regions.  And as rovers, they have moved and explored large areas of the Martian surface.  Not only is Phoenix going to the frigid Martian north instead of the relatively balmy tropics, but it is also a simple lander, not a rover.  Where the Phoenix lands, it stays, just as NASA’s Viking landers operated back in the 1970s.

The Phoenix is a remakable instrument.  Just to get to the surface safely it will have to perform a sequence of stunning aerobatic maneuvers, including a booster-slowed free-fall to the planet surface.  Here is a video from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the Phoenix descent:

Once on the surface it will use a robotic arm to scoop up soil and ice. The lander even has a set of small ovens to bake its samples to high temperatures, allowing its instruments to examine the liquids and gasses that form.

NASA expects to know by about 8:00 pm Eastern Time on Sunday if the lander arrived safely.
 

A “Terrible Responsibility”

The June issue of Popular Mechanics has a brief article on one of NASA’s safety features for the Space Shuttle program.  Apparently, should the Shuttle malfunction during a launch, NASA has the ability to destroy the vessel and its crew by remotely detonating charges in each of the Shuttle’s solid fuel boosters (the smaller white rockets on each side of the Shuttle during a launch).  This “terrible responsibility” falls to a flight safety officer sitting at the “flight termination” panel. 

The explosive system is officially known as the Range Safety System (RSS).  It was last used during the January 1986 launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger.  But although NASA ordered the activation of the Challenger’s RSS 110 seconds after liftoff, the charges likely did no damage becuase the Shuttle and its rocket boosters had already disintegrated.

The article includes a map of the official “launch corridor” showing the dangers involved in a malfunctioning Shuttle launch.  As the Shuttle blasts off, it ascends into orbit over the Atlantic Ocean.  But if the vessel begins to malfunction and veer off course, it only has a short time before it comes over land again, creating the possibility for significant casualties on the ground should the Shuttle and its massive quantities of fuel strike a populated area.  Click here or on the picture above to go to the full map.

The map shows two lines–one solid and one dotted.  Under no circumstances can the Shuttle cross the solid line until it is safely in orbit, and it cannot cross the dotted line unless it is functioning normally.  These lines follow the North American coastline from Nova Scotia down to the bottom of the Lesser Antilles, protecting coastal cities from the threat of a Shuttle crash.  If the Shuttle crosses the solid line before reaching orbit, or if it crosses the dotted line while malfunctioning, the safety offer is required to flip the switch to detonate the charges in the boosters.

Sichuan Province Earthquake

Most of you have probably heard by now about yesterday’s large earthquake registering 7.9 on the Richter Scale in China’s Sichuan province.  As casualty reports continue to mount, several organizations have released maps of the affected areas.  The map above is a “shake map” showing the percieved shaking and potential damage throughout the area of the epicenter.  The star indicates the epicenter of the earthquake.  The scale at the bottom of the map also shows the percieved rate of movement of the ground during the earthquake.  The red area around the epicenter experienced ground moving at over than 3.8 feet per second. 

This map is part of a series available from the U.S. Geological Survey, including population exposure and historical seismicity.  The New York Times has also released an interactive map of the affected area, overlaying photographs, population figures, potential damage, and a couple of the most major incidents.  CNN has also released this more limited interactive map, overlaying a few significant events and statistics over a broader map of China.

Coming on the heels of Cyclone Nargis in Burma, this is a second major tragedy for Asia in less than two weeks.

Mapping the Mortgage Crisis

Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, made a speech on May 5 at Columbia Business School where he laid out some of the repercussions of the mortgage crisis affecting the US economy.  A large portion of his speech focused on the geographic distribution of foreclosures and other components of the crisis, including housing prices.  To quote Bernanke:

On the principle that a picture is worth a thousand words, Federal Reserve staff, using detailed, county-by-county information on mortgage performance, have developed a series of “heat maps,” which summarize the incidence of serious mortgage delinquencies across the nation as well as some of the key drivers of loan performance.  As the examples will make clear, the figures (with the exception of one map depicting house price changes) use warmer colors–orange and red–to show counties for which the factor being considered has a higher value or change.  Lower values or changes (again, with the exception of that one map) are indicated by shades of green.  Yellow indicates areas where the factor under consideration has a moderate value or change.

Bernanke included seven maps with his presentation: Mortgage Delinquency Levels by County for 4th Quarter 2004; Mortgage Delinquency Levels by County for 4thQuarter 2007; Change in Mortgage Delinquency by County Q4 2004-Q4 2007; Unemployment Rate Change by County (2004-2007); Change in House Price Index by County  2004-2007; Non-Owner Occupied Home Purchases by County 2005-2006; and Percentage of Home Loans with Piggybacks by County 2005-2006.  As Bernanke mentioned, each map uses colors to demonstrate the lowest through highest quintiles of the data.

Even a brief glance at the maps indicates what anecdotal evidence has already confirmed–the impact of the mortgage crisis is being felt differently in different parts of the country.  The Southwest has suffered severe increases in foreclosure rates and decreases in housing prices.  Every county in both Nevada and California has seen its average home prices drop to 2006 levels or below.  Similarly, the Midwest–particularly Michigan–has also suffered, as has Florida, and parts of New England.

Other states have different problems.  The 2004 foreclosure rate map indicates that Southern states like Mississippi and South Carolina were were already suffering from disproportionately high foreclosure rates, and that those rates have not diminished (though they have also not increased).  Some counties in Indiana that already suffered high foreclosure rates, however, have seen their rates increase dramatically.

In the Thursday edition of the Economist, this article also referenced Bernanke’s mortgage maps, point out a significant limitation in the data:

Mr Bernanke’s maps use figures from the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO)…OFHEO’s figures include only houses financed by mortgages backed by the government-sponsored giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. They leave out the top and bottom of the market—where prices rose fastest during the bubble and where the mortgage mess was most severe. Thus OFHEO’s figures probably understate the scale of the housing mess.

The Economist helpfully provides this additional chart of housing prices, comparing the OFHEO numbers against more “representative” figures that are indeed worse.  The article above also recreates one of Bernanke’s maps in a design and color scheme that is easier to read.

All seven of Bernanke’s Federal Reserve maps are presented in a slideshow at the bottom of this page.  Additionally, the Fed has provided a breakdown of all the counties by quintile here

I found the Fed data for this post via Calculated Risk.  And thanks again to Alex for another recommendation!


Welcome to Cartographia

Cartographia is a blog about how we use maps to represent the world around us, and how people interpret maps today and throughout history. Please feel free to send any questions, comments, or recommendations directly to me at cartographia.blog@gmail.com.