Two New Maps that Could Change the World

By Matt Artz, Esri

Maps have long been used by people to help navigate and understand our world. Early maps guided early humans to basic necessities such as food and water.

Today, the world is changing rapidly, and it’s difficult for traditional maps to keep up with the pace of that change. To help us keep pace with our evolving planet, we need something better. We need new, more comprehensive maps.

Esri has developed two new maps — the most detailed population map in the world and the most detailed ecological land unit map in the world — to help address the challenges we face and make our world a better place.

A New Map of World Population

Esri has compiled a human geography database of demographics and statistics about all countries in the world and has mapped this data using a new, innovative methodology.

Advances in technology are changing the type, quantity, quality, and timeliness of information available. The ideal human geography database would include uniform social and demographic information about all human populations on the globe. It would include population, household, housing unit, business, and economic information that would allow determination of societal characteristics at any scale from macro to micro.

Esri has developed the most detailed population map in the world.

Esri’s new world population map takes advantage of this new information to track and estimate populations to support better decision making. This new model of world population will allow comparative studies and accurate depiction of statistics to ad hoc areas. Population is modeled from imagery, road networks, and populated place locations to create an urbanization likelihood score.

“The global model is currently complete for approximately 130 countries, allowing for detailed reporting that will show the demographics for any desired geography such as a watershed, drive-time area, or an area affected by a disaster,” said Earl Nordstrand, Data Product Manager, Esri. “Additionally, the likelihood surface has been used to create a global population map by obtaining the latest census population data for the remaining areas of the world.”

A New Map of World Ecology

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Esri recently announced the publication of the most detailed global ecological land units (ELUs) map in the world.

“The Global ELUs map portrays a systematic division and classification of the biosphere using ecological and physiographic land surface features,” notes Roger Sayre, Ph.D., Senior Scientist for Ecosystems, USGS.

Esri and USGS have developed the most detailed global ecological land units (ELUs) map in the world.

This exciting new global content provides a science platform for better understanding and accounting of the world’s resources. Scientists, land managers, conservationists, developers and the public will use this map to improve regional, national and global resource management, planning and decision making.

“The ELUs provide an accounting framework to assess ecosystem services, such as carbon storage, soil formation, as well as risks such as, environmental degradation,” said Randy Vaughan, Manager of Content Engineering, Esri. “The ELUs also lend themselves to the study of ecological diversity, rarity and evolutionary isolation. For example we can identify whether the most diverse landscapes in terms of proximity to the most unique ELUs are protected. Understanding diversity can point the way to conservation and preservation planning.”

While ELUs do not definitively characterize ecosystems at multiple scales, they do provide information and pointers to the ecological patterns of the globe. “They will be useful for constructing research agendas and for understanding global processes such as climate change,” added Sayre. “For example, the data will be important to the study of environmental change. The automated approach to the objective classification of ELUs means that the mapping can be updated as better or more current input layers become available.”

Working Together

Separately, these two maps are important, and can be used in a variety of ways to address important local, regional, and global issues. Used together, these two new maps can give us an even better picture of the links between the human and natural components of our evolving world. “Population density and distributions are important indicator of both the demands and impacts on landscape,” said Vaughan. “As such, population data can be used as another parameter to infer and understand the environmental processes expressed in the ecological land units.”


Matt Artz joined Esri in 1989. In his current role as GIS and Science Manager, he helps communicate the value of GIS as a tool for scientific research and understanding. He writes extensively about geospatial technologies, manages the GIS and Science blog, and is the editor of GIS.com. Prior to joining Esri he worked as an Environmental Scientist at a large science and engineering consulting company, on such diverse projects as highway noise modeling, archaeological impact assessment, and chemical weapons disposal. His educational background includes an M.S. degree in Environmental Policy and Planning and a B.S. degree in Anthropology and Geography.

Originally published at gisandscience.com on December 11, 2014.

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