Global Data Visualisations by CASA MSc students

Each year MSc students at CASA demonstrate their spatial data visualisation skills with a group project. The theme this year was ‘Global to Local’, and the class of 2022 has produced some particularly excellent work, experimenting with a range of visualisation tools and techniques.

Sustainability and Climate Change
Several groups interpreted the main theme in terms of global sustainability and climate change. These projects included investigating flood events, both locally and in terms of impacts on the UK; global heating in the Arctic and sea-level rise; and the effects of global temperature changes on the wine industry, with both positive and negative changes. Some interesting visualisation trends here included the use of high quality spatially detailed global datasets; using non-Mercator web projections (a recently added feature to Mapbox); experiments with animated data; and also use of 3D globes.

Global Flooding Events Map by Group 1 (Nina Fabsikova, Sangbin Lee, Murray Chapman, Xinyi Huang, Henry Song)
Global Temperature Change and the Wine Industry by Group 5 (Andras Gelanyi, Ruby Johnson, Haofu Wang, Shuyi Zheng, Kameliya Staneva)
Arctic Sea Ice and Climate Change by Group 3 (Nayomi Kasthuri Arachchi, Haisu Chen, Daphne Badounas, Tianyi Li)

Global Cultural Interactions
Taking a very different tack, several groups looked at Global to Local interactions in terms of cultural and culinary exchanges. One group used story-mapping techniques to show Chinese cultural diffusion, including the history of the Silk Road and Zheng He’s early voyages of discovery. Another approach was to look at global interactions through food, including creating a virtual kitchen as an interface to global food journeys, and mapping major food importers to the UK.

The Silk Road and Chinese global cultural diffusion by Group 4 (Rongrong Xue, Yuning Jiang, Zhonghao Li, Ce Hou)
The World to your Kitchen, global food study by Group 7 (Zicheng Fan, Jingran Ma, Hangjin Cai, Haotian Meng, Liyuan Dong)
Global food imports to the UK by Group 10 (Shengwei Deng, Zhenlei Gu, Jing Liu, Yujie Hu, Xinwei Kang)

Energy and the Cost of Living
Returning to the sustainability theme, several groups zoomed in on energy and affordability challenges that the world is currently experiencing. One group used some advanced D3 charting to tell the story of the UK’s varying energy imports and wider global affordability challenges (see image below). A different take was to chart the energy generation mix in major economies around the world. Another topical affordability challenge relates to housing in major cities, and one group mapped relative affordability of housing in major cities across the globe.

UK energy import dependency over time by Group 6 (Sunny Zhao, Elika Sinha, Val Ismaili, Ankur Shanker, Bolin You)

Global energy consumption by type by Group 2 (Jiani Gong, Jeonghwa Kang, Linhan Cao, Seren Shi)
House price affordability comparison in global cities by Group 8 (Mengjiao Luo, Jieqi Tan, Wei Wang, Siyi Cai, Yanpu Huang)

Covid-19 Visualisations
The aftermath of the pandemic is still with us, and tracking Covid-19 was another interpretation of the Global to Local theme. One group experimented with animation to track the spread of the virus. Another used graphs and interactive mapping to investigate how effective lockdown policies were in a series of case studies.

Global Spread of Covid-19 by Group 9 (Ian Liu, Peizhao Wang, Shirao Zhang,  Miaomiao Pan, Lin Sheng)
Global Covid-19 infections by Group 11 (Jikai Song, Lucia Zhang, Jianqiang Li)

Global Digital Divides
Finally, another interesting take was to think about online communities as interactions between global and local, including the changing geography of internet access and the division of the world into different online platforms by language and political and economic divides.

Global internet connections and the digital divide by Group 12 (Ruijie Chang, Maidi Xu, Zhiheng Jiang)

Here is the full list of project groups and websites-

  1. Delugeo Global Flooding-
    Sangbin Lee, Murray Chapman, Xinyi Huang, Nina Fabsikova, Henry Song
  2. Clean Energy Now-
    Jiani Gong, Jeonghwa Kang, Linhan Cao, Seren Shi
  3. 30 Degrees Rising-
    Nayomi Kasthuri Arachchi, Haisu Chen, Daphne Badounas, Tianyi Li
  4. Chinese Cultural Diffusion-
    Rongrong Xue, Yuning Jiang, Zhonghao Li, Ce Hou
  5. A Change in Climate, a Change in Taste-
    Ruby Johnson, Haofu Wang, Andras Gelanyi, Shuyi Zheng, Kameliya Staneva
  6. Why are energy prices rising?-
    Sunny Zhao, Elika Sinha, Val Ismaili, Ankur Shanker, Bolin You
  7. The World in your Kitchen-
    Zicheng Fan, Jingran Ma, Hangjin Cai, Haotian Meng, Liyuan Dong
  8. San Francisco: Global to Local-
    Mengjiao Luo, Jieqi Tan, Wei Wang, Siyi Cai, Yanpu Huang
  9. How does Covid-19 influence the world?-
    Ian Liu, Peizhao Wang, Shirao Zhang,  Miaomiao Pan, Lin Sheng
  10. From the Global to your Table-
    Shengwei Deng, Zhenlei Gu, Jing Liu, Yujie Hu, Xinwei Kang
  11. Did Lockdown really Stop the Virus?-
    Jikai Song, Lucia Zhang, Jianqiang Li
  12. Worldwide Digital Divides-
    Ruijie Chang, Maidi Xu, Zhiheng Jiang

New Paper- Online Interactive Mapping: Applications and Techniques for Socio-Economic Research

I have a new paper published in Computers Environment and Urban Systems- Online interactive thematic mapping: applications and techniques for socio-economic research. The paper reviews workflows for creating online thematic maps, and describes how several leading interactive mapping sites were created. The paper is open access so you can download the pdf for free.

Global Metro Monitor by Brookings-

The paper features web mapping sites by Oliver O’Brien (, Kiln ( and Alec Friedoff at Brookings ( Many thanks to these cartographers for agreeing for their work to be included in the paper, particularly Ollie O’Brien who also kindly provided comments on the paper draft. Also many thanks to Steven Gray at CASA who set up the hosting for the LuminoCity3D site.

Here’s the paper abstract-

Recent advances in public sector open data and online mapping software are opening up new possibilities for interactive mapping in research applications. Increasingly there are opportunities to develop advanced interactive platforms with exploratory and analytical functionality. This paper reviews tools and workflows for the production of online research mapping platforms, alongside a classification of the interactive functionality that can be achieved. A series of mapping case studies from government, academia and research institutes are reviewed.

The conclusions are that online cartography’s technical hurdles are falling due to open data releases, open source software and cloud services innovations. The data exploration functionality of these new tools is powerful and complements the emerging fields of big data and open GIS. International data perspectives are also increasingly feasible. Analytical functionality for web mapping is currently less developed, but promising examples can be seen in areas such as urban analytics. For more presentational research communication applications, there has been progress in story-driven mapping drawing on data journalism approaches that are capable of connecting with very large audiences.

And here are some example images from the mapping sites reviewed in the paper-

Datashine by Oliver O’Brien and James Cheshire-

LuminoCity3D by Duncan Smith-

The Carbon Map by Kiln-

Britain’s Fracturing Political Geography

[Post co-authored with Carlos Molinero]

The imminent UK General Election is fascinating for a host of reasons, not least because of the challenge to the long established dominance of the two main parties, Conservatives and Labour. Their share of the vote has been steadily in decline for over 50 years, from a high of 97% in 1951 to 65% in 2010-

ConLab_GEVoteShareGraphPolls for 2015 indicate that the two main parties are tied at around 33-34%. But the difference in 2015 is that the rise of the smaller parties is going to translate into winning seats, most spectacularly in Scotland with the SNP set to wipe the floor and become the third biggest party in the UK with 50+ seats. There are also likely to be gains for the right wing party UKIP, and possibly for the Welsh nationalists Plaid Cymru and the left wing Green Party. The political map of Great Britain will look very different and increasingly fractured, with a coalition or minority government inevitable and essentially becoming the new normal-

2015 General Election predictions from (left) and Guardian (right) in cartogram format.

How can we understand this changing political geography? There is a strong tendency towards spatial clustering of similar voting patterns, with votes for minor parties higher further away from the economic and political core of London. This relates to the nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but also to regions like South West England and coastal towns where UKIP and the Greens could pick up seats. There is also a strong geographical element to the division between Labour and Conservative seats, with Labour strongly urban and northern while Conservatives are dominant in more rural areas and in the South East.

In research at CASA we have been using percolation as a method of exploring urban regions at multiple scales, and have a new paper applying percolation to understanding Britain’s political geography (paper by Carlos Molinero, Elsa Arcaute, Mike Batty and myself). The paper proposes that voting patterns are fracturing along long-standing historic national and regional divisions in Great Britain, and seeks to test this proposition using percolation analysis. The percolation method defines regions by building clusters of road junctions according to a threshold distance, with the road network used as a proxy of population settlement and connectivity. At a threshold distance of 5km Great Britain is one giant cluster-

GBPercolation5000mWe can then reduce this threshold distance to see how Great Britain fractures. At a threshold distance of 1.4km Scotland fractures from England & Wales (although interestingly some of the Scottish borders remain part of the England & Wales cluster). Then at a distance of 900m the North and South of England split, as does the North East of England and North East of Scotland-


By 800m South Wales splits off from England, and the South West and East Anglia become separate regions. Finally at a distance of 300m, we are left with the core of large cities-


These various levels of percolation clusters can be viewed as a tree (below).

TreeDiagramOur question is then, do these regions generated through percolation analysis bear any relationship to voting patterns? We can test this by classifying parliamentary constituencies according to the composition of percolation clusters that fall within each constituency. Each of the parliamentary constituency groups is assigned an ‘average voting behaviour’ from the real voting behaviour in 2010, in terms of a vector of percentage votes for each of the parties. The average voting behaviour of each group can be compared to the real voting behaviour in terms of the percentage error. We can compared the percolation clustering outcomes against results using different datasets. Clusters created using the real voting data naturally produce the lowest error. It is interesting however that the percolation based results outperform clusters produced using common socio-economic data such as socio-economic class, age and education level.


Making Predictions for 2015
Finally the percolation clusters can also be used to try to make predictions about the forthcoming election using a universal swing method on the 2015 data (for full details see the paper). In the series of maps below we have (from left to right) the prediction using the real 2010 data and latest polls; the prediction using percolation clusters and occupational class data; the prediction using only percolation clusters; and the prediction using only socio-economic class data. The percolation based results appear relatively close to the prediction based directly on the real data. The percolation method is highly clustered spatially, leading to an exaggeration of regional divisions in the UK-


In terms of the total seats predicted, the results are not too far off current polling predictions. The percolation based method tends to exaggerate Labour’s predicted number of seats, as Labour benefit from a strong clustering of their vote in northern city-regions.


Overall the percolation method is very a promising approach for understanding regional divisions in the UK, and we continue this line of inquiry in further research. It remains to be seen whether the political geography of the UK will continue to fracture further along these regional lines. A key factor will be whether the rise of smaller parties raises the pressure for voting reform, as the First Past the Post System is becoming increasingly misrepresentative of the UK’s voting patterns and is failing to deliver the single party majority that is supposed to be the FPTP system’s main asset.

London 3D Augmented Reality Map

CASA hosted a very successful Smart Cities event last Friday, including presentations from Carlo Ratti, Mike Batty and Andy Hudson-Smith. The event premiered an interactive exhibition we have been working on, based on the theme of mixing physical and digital worlds. Some fantastic and fun exhibits have been developed by colleagues including George MacKerron, Steven GrayOllie O’Brien, Fabian Neuhaus, James Cheshire, Richard MiltonMartin de Jode, Ralph BarthelJon Reades, Hannah Fry, Toby DaviesPete Ferguson and Martin Austwick, who no doubt will be blogging about them all soon. Thanks to everyone who attended and contributed to a great day.

For my own exhibit I had a try at developing an augmented reality app to explore 3D urban data. The idea was to use iPads as the window into a 3D urban map of London, allowing the user to navigate around the virtual model to see different perspectives and focus on interesting parts of the data. Do we respond differently to data with a seemingly physical presence? Well this is one way to find out…

The app was developed in Unity using the Vuforia AR extension, and I was impressed with how accessible augmented reality technology has become using such tools. Firstly GIS data on urban form in London and air pollution was exported from ArcMap into Unity, and an interface to the data was developed. The core app without the AR capabilities can be viewed here (Unity web player required).

Next I followed the Vuforia iOS tutorials to add AR functionality. This approach uses a tracking image to position and scale the 3D model to the user’s viewpoint. Nice features of Vuforia include the ability to select your own tracking image, and that it can handle some occlusion of the image when the user moves to a particular part of the model, although a part of the tracking image must be in view of the camera at all times otherwise the model disappears from the user’s view. A large A0 poster was used as the tracking image, giving users greater flexibility in navigating the data.

The resulting app is very intuitive and delivered the desired ‘wow’ factor with many of the attendees at the conference. The AR aspect certainly encouraged users to explore the data, and identify patterns at different scales.

Adding more interactivity, animation and sorting out some issues with the target image (multiple smaller images would have worked better than one very large image) would all be nice for version 2. I’ll do a more detailed tutorial on the workflow developed later on if this is of interest.