Tag Archives: map

rome empire map

What the Roman Empire looked like at its prime in one glorious map

Click or Tap for a full-size view of the map. Credit: Sardisverlag.

Stretch above is one of the most interesting maps of the Roman Empire ever made, all carted in detail using modern computational techniques. It shows what the great empire used to look like during its period of maximum expansion under the reign of  Septimius Severus, about 211 CE. As you can notice, the Romans’ domain covered much of Europe, from the Atlantic to the Ural Mountains and from modern day Scotland to the Sahara or the Arabian Gulf.

At the height of imperial power, Rome had 55 to 60 million subjects — that’s if you count the women, slaves, and other classes of people under Roman rule who weren’t technically considered citizens. Overall, that’s 15% of the world’s population at the time.

Most of the population of the Roman Empire lived within easy reach of the Mediterranean, and the imperial government promoted and protected sea-trade and naval communications between the various parts of the empire. The map made by Sardis Verlag, a publishing house in Germany, elegantly illustrates some of the most used sea trade routes. Not incidentally, they all join at some point with Rome. The phrase ‘all roads lead to Rome’ was definitely rooted in history.

Although it could be relatively dangerous, sea-transport was much faster than over-land carriage. There had been sea-borne commercial empires in the Mediterranean Sea for well over two thousand years before Roman domination but the Romans worked to keep the sea clear of pirates and built lighthouses, as well as large and sheltered harbors for the great commercial cities maintained by that trade. One might go so far as to say that the existence of the Roman Empire depended on the unity of the Mediterranean or, as the Romans called it, Mare nostrum, “Our Sea.”

After Septimius Severus died, all four emperors that followed were assassinated in short succession. Rome at the time became a monster too big for its own good. Corruption had eroded the empire and it would culminate with the Crisis of the Third Century, which saw the empire almost obliterated at the hand of civil war and foreign invaders.

Here are some more tidbits from the map below.

  • Legend in English, German, French and Italian,
  • All nations and provinces with accurate borders and their respective capitals,
  • Independent non-urban tribes and peoples in the vicinity of the Roman Empire,
  • In addition to the capitals, the map contains the locations of over 870 Roman cities and settlements within the Roman Empire and more than 90 cities and settlements outside of the Empire,
  • The headquarters of all 33 active legions,
  • Linear barriers, such as Hadrian’s Wall and the Limes Germanicus,
  • The 28 main and auxiliary bases of the praetorian and provincial fleets,
  • Roman road network totaling more than 120.000 km,
  • Caravan and trade routes,
  • Major sea routes, including traveling times in the Mediterranean Basin,
  • 90 exporting quarries and 130+ mines,

First geological map of Titan reveals varied, intriguing geology

Different infrared views of Titan. Image credits: NASA / JPL.

Titan’s atmosphere is dense and hazy, just like Earth’s. The satellite also features intricate, stable bodies of liquid on its surface. But that’s where the similarities with the Earth end. Titan’s liquid isn’t water, but hydrocarbon (mostly methane). It’s atmosphere — 97% nitrogen, the rest methane and hydrogen.

Titan’s remarkable features make it extremely interesting for astronomers and geologists alike. It may not have water or oxygen, but aside from Earth, Titan is still the only body in the solar system to have an atmosphere and hydrologic system, which has a significant impact on its surface and evolution. However, its hazy atmosphere hinders our view of the surface, and it has been difficult to obtain a global vision of Titan’s geology.

Even after Titan was examined by both Voyager 1 and 2 in 1980 and 1981, respectively, it remained a mysterious object — a large satellite shrouded in an atmosphere too thick to enable observation.

All that changed with the Cassini mission. Armed with state of the art technology and perfectly equipped to deal with the planet’s rough conditions, Cassini revealed Titan in unprecedented detail.

Rosaly Lopes from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and colleagues used data gathered with infrared and radar instruments aboard Cassini to reconstruct and map Titan’s surface, including its poles. They identified six major geological forms, describing their approximate age and distribution around the globe. While Titan’s geology has been mapped before, this is the most comprehensive map of its kind.

Titan’s main geological features. Image credits: Lopes et al.

Titan’s geology depends strongly on latitude. Most of the satellite is covered by featured organic plains, which are widespread at mid-latitudes. But around the equator, young dune fields and hydrocarbon lakes dominate the landscape. These dunes, most of which measure 80-130 meters high, are the second-most extensive unit on Titan. Another important feature is the hummocky landscape — rocky mounds that are exposed as isolated peaks or ranges, gently undulating from mid to high latitudes, generally aligned east-west. These structures may have formed through tectonic activity, early in Titan’s history.

Titan also features lakes and seas, either dry or liquid-filled. The polar regions alone contain over 650 lakes, the majority being in the northern polar region.

Titan isn’t a static environment. Its surface has been changed by several geological processes, including impact cratering, precipitation, tectonism, as well as erosion. Given its hydrocarbon-rich surface, Titan is also riddled in organic material. This material is constantly eroded, shifted, deposited, and transported. All these interactions make Titan’s geology much more difficult to understand — which is why a geological map comes in handy.

These observations demonstrate the extent to which Titan is shaped by its methane cycle — just like the Earth is shaped by the water cycle. The polar areas are humid enough to keep liquid bodies of methane, whereas the arid equatorial climate keeps wind-shaped dunes intact.


Researchers unveil the most comprehensive atlas of coral reefs to date

A new research effort from the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation and the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science created an atlas of the world’s coral reef — the body of data contains maps of over 65,000 square kilometers (25,097 square miles) of coral reefs and their surrounding habitats.


Image via Pixabay.

Scientists now have a new tool at their disposal to accurately map large areas of coral reefs — much cheaper and faster than any time before. Traditionally, coral reef surveys are expensive, slow, and limited in scope. The main problem was that they relied on highly-trained divers swimming through the reefs, gathering data. Using the new model, however, researchers can now create detailed coral reef habitat maps at a regional scale without having to survey the entire reef in person.

Mapped reef

“In order to conserve something, it’s imperative to know where it is located and how much of it you have,” said Sam Purkis, professor and chair of the UM Rosenstiel School Department of Marine Geosciences, and the study’s lead author.

“Developing such an understanding for coral reefs is especially challenging because they are submerged underwater and therefore obscured from casual view. With this study, we demonstrate the potential to use satellite images to make coral reef maps at global scale.”

The atlas is the product of the 10-year long Global Reef Expedition by researchers from the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation, who traveled to over 1,000 coral reefs in 15 countries. They surveyed the reefs down to a one-square meter scale in a bid to help us better understand coral health and resilience. Many of the reefs they surveyed had never been studied before, the team notes.

The survey gathered data on shallow marine habitats such as fore and back reefs as well as associated habitats such as seagrass beds and mangrove forests for key reefs. These associated habitats are key components of tropical coastal ecosystems, the authors explain, which filter water, protect coasts from storms, and support fish populations. Coastal development, overfishing, and climate change impact these associated habitats as they do reefs.

Mapping extent.

The location of sites visited by the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation Global Reef Expedition. Red polygons show the extent of mapping activity and encompass a total area of 65,000 sq. km of habitat situated shallower than 25 m water depth. Accompanying site names in red also.
Image credits Sam J. Purkis et al., (2019), Coral Reefs.

Data collected by divers of the Global Reef Expedition was analyzed and — using ultra-high-resolution satellite imagery –extrapolated across entire reef structures. The team used video footage taken with cameras dropped at precise coordinates along the reef to validate the accuracy of their mapping method. The resulting maps are publicly available on the World Reef Map, an interactive coral reef atlas that anyone can use to explore all of the coral reefs and shallow water marine habitats mapped by the Global Reef Expedition.

“Benthic habitat maps are an essential tool in coral reef conservation as they provide a snapshot of where reefs are located and the status of their health,” said Alexandra Dempsey, the director of science management for the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation and a co-author of the paper.

“Scientists will use these habitat maps as baseline data to help track changes in reef composition and structure over time.”

Although the maps do not cover every reef in the world, they do include a meaningful portion of global reefs, the team says. As it was constructed with data recorded over the last 10 years, it also offers a unique baseline of coral reef health prior to the massive 2017 bleaching event. The team hopes that the publicly-available atlas will help governments, as well as conservation organizations, to protect and restore reefs. It is estimated that 50% of the world’s reefs have been lost in the past 40 years due to climate change and human activity, the paper also writes, underscoring the need for conservation and restoration efforts.

The paper “High-resolution habitat and bathymetry maps for 65,000 sq. km of Earth’s remotest coral reefs” has been published in the journal Coral Reefs.

The new Antarctic topographic map. Credit: REMA.

New map of Antarctica is the most detailed out of all continents

The new Antarctic topographic map. Credit: REMA.

The new Antarctic topographic map. Credit: REMA.

Antarctica is now officially the most well mapped out region, or continent for that matter, in the world. Drawing upon hundreds of thousands of images collected by polar-orbiting satellites between 2009 and 2019, a consortium of scientists has released the first version of the Reference Elevation Model of Antarctica (REMA).

Few people have set foot on Antarctica, one of the most inhospitable places on the face of the Earth. Luckily, our eyes in the sky have recorded the surface of the continent in excruciating detail so we might see what it looks like without having to put boots on the ground.

The new map covers approximately 98% of Antarctica to a latitude of 88 degrees south — just a small area right near the South Pole is missing due to a lack of satellite coverage. The resolution is a mind-boggling 2-8 meter — it means we can now see objects down to the size of a car, and even smaller in some areas.

In order to assemble the map from thousands of stereoscopic pairs of images into a huge topographic map, the scientists fed the data into a supercomputer and had to develop the software from scratch. The map’s total size is a staggering 150 terabytes.

“Up until now, we’ve had a better map of Mars than we’ve had of Antarctica,” Ohio State University glaciologist Ian Howat, who led the mapping effort, said in a press release. “Now it is the best-mapped continent.”

The same region seen with prior available surface imaging (left) and REMA (right).

The same region seen with prior available surface imaging (left) and REMA (right).

The project is important for a number of reasons. Now that they know the height of absolutely every feature on Antarctica, scientists can make far better forecasts for ice sheet collapse and glacier melt. With a narrower range of uncertainty, we can now come up with better estimates for sea level rise and improve climate change projections.

The Antarctic peninsula. Credit: REMA.

The Antarctic peninsula. Credit: REMA.

“If you’re someone that needs glasses to see, it’s a bit like being almost blind and putting on glasses for the first time and seeing 20/20,” Howat told The New York Times.

Researchers will continuously update the map with new data, which will help researchers all over the world with investigations from changing snow cover to the thinning of glaciers to changes in volcanic activity. And, not the least, scientists can now plan field expeditions to unexplored regions of the continent.

Researchers create the ‘crop hotspot’ map of Mars so we know where to settle

We may not be on Mars yet, but new research has made sure that when we get there, we’ll know exactly where to settle.

Mars Map.

You don’t know this yet but those blue areas? They mean food!
Image credits Wieger Wamelink, Line Schug / Wageningen University & Research

What would life be without food? Well, for starters, really short; but also quite unpleasant. Precisely because of that, colonists going to Mars in the future will need to settle in a place that’s good for agriculture — as good as can be, on a planet with almost no atmosphere.

To their aid comes a study from the Wageningen University & Research, which has identified the areas on Mars which are favorable for the growing of plants. Even though the crops will be grown indoors, local factors still play a part — chief among them being the presence of regolith and ice deposits, both of which will be used to sustain the crops.

Mars’ cropspots

In order to estimate which areas of the planet would be most suitable, the team combined data on Martian geography and geology to create a 3D, Mars-wide landing map, showcasing the best spots for agriculture. The datasets included information about mineral content — relating to calcium and heavy metal content in the soils, for example. Other important element ‘maps’ were those for potassium, chloride, iron, and silicon. The team also mixed in data pertaining to climate, terrain altitude, and radiation exposure.

That’s a lot of data, and several scientific bodies — including the JPL, the Arizona State University, and NASA — pitched in.

“Without them this endeavour would not have been possible”, says Wieger Wamelink, one of the two researchers who created the map.

That’s because each of these elements has a hand to play in the suitability of each area for agriculture. They needed all this data to control for as many factors as possible — and any missing piece could have drastically reduced the work’s applicability. All the maps were merged and, based on the data each contained, were used to calculate a ‘score’ for every area — with high scores marking the best sites, just like in a video game.

Some factors, naturally, were more decisive than others:

“High levels of heavy metals in the soil and strong radiation make a location unsuitable for establishment,” explains Line Schug.

The map revealed that the Mars Pathfinder and Viking 1 landed at ‘hotspots’ for colonies, while the MSL Curiosity and Viking 2 crafts landed on less favorable spots.

The research is part of the larger “Food for Mars and Moon” project unrolling at Wageningen. It aims to develop a sustainable agricultural system that we can take with us to space. The most important element it relies on is the presence of soils and water, both on Mars and the moon.

The first experiments in the project started in 2013. Researchers used soil simulats supplied by NASA — from a volcano in Hawaii (Mars) and a desert in Arizona (moon) — to try and grow crops. At first, the results weren’t very encouraging. But today the team can grow over a dozen crops. The only species that has stubbornly refused to take the plunge to space-soils is spinach. Chemical analysis showed that the plants are safe for human consumption, but there were fears that the plants would accumulate heavy metals more readily than in Earth soils — that’s why this factor was given more importance when creating the agricultural potential map of Mars.

After they were tested, the veggies were cooked and served to those who supported the project via its crowdfunding campaign. I imagine the attendees considered the food to be “stellar” and “out of this world”.

Fishing areas.

In 2016, fishing ships cast their nets on over 55% of the ocean surface

Fishing now extends to over half the ocean surface on Earth, a new study shows — and some areas are surprisingly busy.

Fishing areas.

Each dot represents the average hours of fishing activity within an area of 10,000 square kilometers (3861.022 sq mi).
Image credits A. Kroodsma et al., 2018, Science.

Oceans cover more than two thirds of our planet’s surface, which is why we affectionately call it the Blue Planet. It might be time for us to seriously consider changing that name to the Fishing Planet, as industrial fishing occurred across more than 55% of overall ocean area in 2016, new research has found.

To put that into perspective, only 34% of the planet’s land area was used for agriculture or grazing in 2016.


Previous attempts at tracking and quantifying global fishing activity haven’t been very successful, mostly because of the data they worked with — a mess of data drawn from electronic monitoring systems on some vessels, logbooks, or even onboard observers on others.

Over the last 15 years, however, almost all commercial-size ships have been outfitted with AIS, or automatic identification system, transceivers. These instruments track the ship in real time and are meant to help ships avoid collisions at sea. The team drew on this cache of data for their study. They examined 22 billion AIS positions, recorded between 2012 and 2016. Using machine learning, they identified over 70,000 fishing ships based on these positions and then recorded their activity.

Most fishing, they report, took place in countries’ exclusive economic zones (EEZs), which isn’t that surprising. EEZs are ocean regions roughly within 370 kilometers of a nation’s coastline, within which the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea grants states special rights to explore for and exploit marine resources.

However, there were also hotspots of fishing activity further out in the open ocean, the team adds. Such spots included the Northeastern Atlantic Ocean and the areas of nutrient-rich upwellings off the coasts of South America and West Africa. Just five countries — China, Japan, Taiwan, Spain, and South Korea — accounted for roughly 85% of all fishing outside of any EEZ.

Tracking fishing efforts over space and time can help guide policy on the matter, to make sure fish stocks are harvested in a sustainable manner. The data can also help tailor marine environmental protections and international conservation efforts for fish, which are having a really hard time surviving. In the face of rising sea levels, and an increase in human activity at sea, both of these tasks could become central talking points in geopolitics, and would have a direct impact over consumer quality of life.

The paper “Tracking the global footprint of fisheries” has been published in the journal Science.

10 Amazing Sights Discovered Over Google Earth

I’ve really loved the Google Earth/Maps technology ever since it’s first rolled out of the Silicon Valley giant many years back. The prospect of having my own digital satellite at my fingertips has been simply mind-blowing, keeping me constantly fascinated by how easy it is for me to reach far away places. Thanks to Google Earth I can now physically see where I need to go, what routes to take or even my cousin’s car in front of her flat in The Village. The possibilities are incredibly wide, as well as the privacy issues…but that’s a story for another time.

Along the years Google Earth hasn’t just been a source of geographical information, but also a valuable tool in spotting remote places and making surprising findings. It helped find a forest packed with undiscovered species, early mammal fossils or even a huge cannabis plantation (sure beats finding crop circles), and much, much more. Bellow, I’ve listed a few truly amazing sights captured with Google Earth, that are either fun, odd or simply mind blowing captured by people with waaay too much time on their hands.

1. Arizona <3 Oprah

Oprah Crop Circle

Throughout this list you’ll see a lot of crop circle ‘art,’ but this one can be considered by far one of the weirdest, not because it foretells of the arrival of an alien master race to enslave us all, but rather because it’s a really clear example of how far obsession and cult-like personality can go. Above captioned is the portrait of famous talk-show host Oprah Winfrey carved in a 10-acre crop by an Arizona farmer. Now that’s a fan! [see it on Google Maps | Coordinates: +33° 13′ 33.18″, -111° 35′ 48.32″]

2. The Jet Plane Inside a Parking Lot


Talk about a smooth ride! We’re used to using jet planes either on air stripes or in the sky, where they belong, not in a residential parking lot in a Parisian suburb as is the case in the above photo. Weird as heck! [see it on Google Maps | Coordinates: 48.825183,2.1985795]

3. A Farmer Who Hates Internet Explorer


Back in 2006, the Oregon State University Linux Users made this huge Mozilla Firefox logo in a corn field to celebrate the world’s most favorite web browser’s 50 millionth downloads. I can really say I get the man… as can anyone who’s used Internet Explorer lately. (See on Google Maps | Coordinates: +45° 7′ 25.39″, -123° 6′ 49.08″ ).

4. The Huge Bunny In The Woods


Built by a group of artists from Vienna, this huge 200 feet bunny rabbit thingy was built in Prata Nevoso, Italy a few years back. Quite cute. (See on Google Maps | Coordinates: +44° 14′ 39.38″, +7° 46′ 11.05″)

5. The Bloody Iraqi Lake


This lake’s colour, located outside of Baghdad, Iraq, has been puzzling people for a lot of time now. Most likely, the reddish colour is a product of pollution or a water treatment facility (which might explain the corrosive colour). Then again, this might as well had been the dumping pool for Saddam’s enemies. (See on Google Maps | Coordinates: 33.39845000,44.48416800 )

6. Building A Brand, Can By Can


What’s quite possibly the largest logo on Earth (if not, it’s definitely the biggest Coke logo), this is what advertising enthusiasts drool about. This huge Coke ad, 50m tall and 120m wide, was built using 70,000 empty coke bottles in northern Chile near Arica desert. This veritable Coke monument was meant to mark the anniversary of 100 years since the brand’s inception, as one can see in the photo (“100 años” – 100 years). Don’t worry, tree huggers, the Aniro desert is one of the most barren places on Earth. (See on Google Maps | Coordinates: -18° 31′ 45.21″, -70° 15′ 0.07″)

7. The Noble Clay Indian


This is one of the most famous Google Earth photos to have circulated on the web. Dubbed the Badlands Guardian, this eroded valley very much resembles the face of a man, and if you take a closer look at the tip of the head, you might notice something like the feather head-piece decoration native Americans used to wear. NOW, if you take an even closer look, you might notice what may seem like a pair of iPod headsets. Pretty funky, right? Unfortunately, it’s just a road with an oil rig at its end. (See on Google Maps | Coordinates: +50° 0′ 37.76″, -110° 7′ 0.86″ )

8. African Zoom


Google Earth is great, but it’s hard to tell a lot of things apart at low res, this wonderful piece of African life, however, depicting a herd of elephants on the move, is one sweet exception. You can even see details in the grass! Simply wonderful. (See on Google Maps – be sure to zoom… a lot! | Coordinates: +50° 0′ 37.76″, -110° 7′ 0.86″)

9. The Highest Place … In Your Living Room


Peeking at 8,848 meters  or 29,029 ft, Mount Everest is the highest place on Earth. Let’s face it, neither of us will ever get to climb it, but thanks to Google Earth, we now have an incredible view of the mountain from the high-up. When I first found it, I was simply stunned by its beauty. Be sure to scroll around it when viewing it – the perspective of it all will undoubtedly send a few shivers up your spine. So serene, yet to deadly! (See on Google Maps | Coordinates: +27° 59′ 9.12″, +86° 55′ 42.38″)

10. Stunning Victoria Falls


One of the tallest and, at the same time, most spectacular waterfall in the world, Victoria Falls never ceases to amaze people. This true spectacle of nature should be on everybody’s must-see/go-to list, but until you book a flight to Zimbabwe, Google Earth should do the trick. (See on Google Maps | Coordinates: -17° 55′ 31.84″, +25° 51′ 29.60″)

Note: Use the coordinates for inputting into Google Earth. If you’d have the software installed, you can use Google Maps as an alternative. It’s not even half as fun, but still pretty incredible.


This might be the most accurate map of the world

Here’s the thing: all maps of the world you’ve ever looked at are fundamentally flawed. We know this, and it’s widely accepted. The reason is deceptively simple – the world is a 3D round-ish thing, and 3D things are extremely difficult to represent in 2D. Don’t believe me? Just pick an orange peel and try to make it flat without distorting it, you’ll start to understand why after. Now, a Japanese architect and artist may have found a better solution.

This might be the most accurate map ever.

World maps are notorious for messing things up. For example, Africa is way bigger than it looks, and Greenland is much smaller than it looks. In fact, Africa is fourteen times larger than Greenland, but on most maps, they look more or less similar. This happens because of the Mercator projection, a cylindrical map projection presented by the Flemish geographer and cartographer Gerardus Mercator in 1569. Because 3D things are so hard to present in 2D, we use projections, and this particular one, although developed during the Middle Ages, is still widely used (with some adaptation). The main drawback is that it makes things around the poles look bigger, and things around the Equator look smaller.

This new design, developed by Hajime Narukawa, is so good that it got Japan’s most prestigious design award – the Good Design Award. It looks pretty weird at first glance, but it’s probably just the orientation. The map works by dividing the globe into 96 equal regions and then transferring those dimensions from a sphere to a tetrahedron, and then, generating the map from those tetrahedra.

This shows how the world map was designed.

“This original mapping method can transfer a spherical surface to a rectangular surface such as a map of the world while maintaining correctly proportions in areas,” says the Good Design Award description.

“AuthaGraph faithfully represents all oceans, continents including the neglected Antarctica. These fit within a rectangular frame with no interruptions. The map can be tessellated without visible seams. Thus the AuthaGraphic world map provides an advanced precise perspective of our planet.”

Of course, this also isn’t perfect – and because the North isn’t necessarily up, it’s probably less than ideal for navigation. But it’s really damn close, and could likely be improved in the future.

“The map [needs] a further step to increase a number of subdivision for improving its accuracy to be officially called an area-equal map,” the Good Design Award description reads.

Detailed new map of human brain reveals almost 100 new regions

The human brain is one of the most complex phenomena known to man and despite extensive research, scientists have yet to fully understand it. Although a complete grasp of the nature of the human brain is still far-off, a new study by researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine brings us closer to this goal in the form of a detailed new map of the outermost layer of the brain, revealing almost 100 new regions.

The detailed new map of the human brain's cerebral cortex. Credit: Matthew Glasser and Eric Young

The detailed new map of the human brain’s cerebral cortex. Credit: Matthew Glasser and Eric Young

The outermost layer of the brain, referred to as the cerebral cortex, is a layer of neural tissue that encases that rest of the brain. It is the primary structure involved in sensory perception, attention, and numerous functions that are uniquely human, including language and abstract thinking.

In the new study, the team divided the cortex of the left and right cerebral hemispheres into 180 areas based on physical differences such as cortical thickness, functional differences and neural connectivity.

“The brain is not like a computer that can support any operating system and run any software,” said David Van Essen of the Washington University School of Medicine and senior author of the paper. “Instead, the software – how the brain works – is intimately correlated with the brain’s structure—its hardware, so to speak. If you want to find out what the brain can do, you have to understand how it is organized and wired.”

Matthew Glasser, lead author of the study, spearheaded the research after he realized that the current map of the human cortex – created by German neuroanatomist Korbinian Brodmann in the first decade of the 20th century – just wasn’t cutting it for modern research.

“My early work on language connectivity involved taking that 100-year-old map and trying to guess where Brodmann’s areas were in relation to the pathways underneath them,” Glasser said. “It quickly became obvious to me that we needed a better way to map the areas in the living brains that we were studying.”

Using data from 210 healthy young adults, both male and female, the team took measures of cortical thickness and neuronal cable insulation and combined them with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the brain at rest as well as during simple tasks.

“We ended up with 180 areas in each hemisphere, but we don’t expect that to be the final number,” Glasser said. “In some cases, we identified a patch of cortex that probably could be subdivided, but we couldn’t confidently draw borders with our current data and techniques. In the future, researchers with better methods will subdivide that area. We focused on borders we are confident will stand the test of time.”

In the future, such cortical maps could be created on an individual basis and help in the diagnosis and treatment of neurological or psychiatric illnesses such as dementia and schizophrenia.

Journal Reference: A multi-modal parcellation of human cerebral cortex. 20 July 2016. 10.1038/nature18933

population growth

Our species’ journey to 7 billion people, in one map

population growth

Some 2,000 years ago, there were only 170 million people in the whole planet. Most were concentrated around the Italian Peninsula and Central Europe, the Indian subcontinent and south-east Asia. In the Americas, only a couple million people were alive during this time. Fast-forward today, and we can find 7 billion people with only a couple areas like the Sahara, the Arctic , the Amazon basin or Australia’s wasteland spared from our expansion. In between this time, the rate of growth was more or less constant with a couple of ups and downs, following periods of prosperity or, oppositely, great misery (wars, black plague etc.). It wasn’t until the industrial revolution sparked the motors of progress that things really took off.

In only 100 years, population skyrocket from 1 billion to 7. By 2050, it is expected to reach 9.7 billion. This great video shows how this growth took place, all tuned to the soundtrack of a heart beating. Each yellow dot represents one million people concentrated in an area.

The world already consumes 1.5 Earths each year (more resources than can be regenerated), and as population increases the stress will become higher. Not even WWIII would stop a furious growth that will see 10 billion people living on this planet by 2100. Though in some parts of the world growth will stabilize or even follow a negative curve (Europe), some have a potential for a rapid growth like Africa where half of the population growth is expected to happen. Can the world sustain 10 billion people? Not if they live like the wealthiest 1 billion today. We’ll need to eat less meat or none at all, exclusively use renewable energy, cut waste and use smart farming practices. Then, the world might even sustain 20 billion. We just need to tune to the planet’s beat. What it can provide, we’ll accept gladly. But nothing more.

via Vox

Scientists reveal the first ever digital geologic map of Alaska

Scientists working at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) have released the first ever digital geologic map of Alaska. This map (Part 1 – the western part of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands, and Part 2 – the eastern part of Alaska and the list of map units) is a completely new compilation.

Image via USGS.

“Covering the entire state of Alaska, it reflects more than a century of work by a host of geologists and almost two decades of compilation work,” the scientists said.

Alaska is easily the largest state in the US, but it’s one of the least populous in the country. Its geology is also one of the most complex in the US and over 750 scientific references were used to digitize this map, some as old as the early 20th century. Scientists have worked on this one for over 20 years, but the results are finally in and they’re definitely worth it.

“This map is the continuation of a long line of USGS maps of Alaska, reflecting ever increasing knowledge of the geology of the state,” said USGS research geologist Dr Frederic Wilson, who is the lead author of the new map.

Alaska is also not only one of the richer states in natural resources, but it’s also one of the more hazardous.

“The data contained in this digital map will be invaluable. It is a great resource and especially enhances the capacity for science-informed decision making for natural and cultural resources, interpretive programs, and visitor safety,” added National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.

“A better understanding of Alaska’s geology is vital to our state’s future,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. “This new map makes a real contribution to our state, from the scientific work it embodies to the responsible resource production it may facilitate. Projects like this one underscore the important mission of the USGS, and I’m thankful to them for completing it.”

All in all it’s a remarkable contribution

A new, beautifully detailed geological map of Mars

Geological maps can be awesome here on Earth, but when we have geological maps of extraterrestrial bodies… that’s when we get really excited.

Astrogeology is about as exciting as a science can get, and in recent years, we’ve been spoiled with thrilling announcements, from water on Mars to plate tectonics on Europa to Pluto’s surprising geology. But once in a while, it’s nice to step back, look at all the data you have and put it all together – and what better way to do that than a map?

Humans have been studying the surface and geology of Mars through telescopes for over 400 years, but it was the Mariner 9 mission and the Viking Orbiter missions that first gave us a global view of the Red Planet and enabled us to create the first geological maps outside of the Earth-Moon system.

But things have gotten even better after that, thanks to The Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey, Mars Express and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter missions; with a myriad of sensors, they’ve gathered more and more information about the surface of the planet and the characteristics of the minerals that make it.

“These data have provided morphologic, topographic, spectral, thermophysical, radar sounding, and other observations for integration, analysis, and interpretation in support of geologic mapping,” USGS writes. “In particular, the precise topographic mapping now available has enabled consistent morphologic portrayal of the surface for global mapping (whereas previously used visual-range image bases were less effective, because they combined morphologic and albedo information and, locally, atmospheric haze). Also, thermal infrared image bases used for this map tended to be less affected by atmospheric haze and thus are reliable for analysis of surface morphology and texture at even higher resolution than the topographic products.”

The map is one of the several revisions that the USGS is doing, including for two of Jupiter’s moons, Ganymede and Io. If you want to see a (much) higher resolution version, with a color scale and explanations, check out this link.

Geopicture of the Week: Brilliant new high-resolution maps of the Moon released

If you’ve ever wanted to plan a hiking trip on the Moon, now you have the perfect opportunity: a gorgeous pair of new lunar maps – the Image Mosaic and Topographic Maps of the Moon – is now available online for everyone to see and download.

The full Image Map of the Moon showing an image mosaic created from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Wide Angle Camera aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. Photo Credit: USGS/NASA/ASU

This figure is a close-up of the Image Map of the Moon showing the Apollo landing sites and some other successful landed missions near them. Copernicus crater, a 96 km diameter crater, is on the left. The figure is centered at about 11° east longitude and +9° latitude. Photo Credit: USGS/NASA/ASU

To me, it’s mind blowing that we have so high quality maps of the Moon – it’s the perfect thing to print and put up on your wall, I’ll definitely do one too (as soon as we fix the printer, that is). They were constructed using images and topographic (elevation) data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which has been orbiting the Moon since 2009. The first map is an image mosaic based on data from the Wide Angle Camera (WAC), a camera onboard the LRO.

“Images from the LRO Camera have greatly advanced our knowledge of the Moon,” said Dr. Mark Robinson, the principal investigator for the LRO Camera and professor at Arizona State University. “High resolution images have revealed very young lunar volcanoes ten to 100 million years old, contrary to conventional wisdom which suggests that lunar volcanism ceased between one and two billion years ago.”

The second map is based on topographic data from the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA), another instrument onboard the LRO.

The full Topographic Map of the Moon showing a derived colorized shaded relief map from the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. Photo Credit: USGS/NASA/ASU

“The LOLA data are a foundational dataset to be used in multiple types of studies for years to come,” said Dr. Erwan Mazarico, a co-investigator for the LOLA instrument. “The exceptional quality of the topographic map is a direct result of the large amount of data LOLA has collected over several years.”

The map has been colorized and indicates the elevation of different areas of the Moon’s surface, with the blue shades indicating low elevation areas, white indicating moderate elevation areas, and the gray to black shades indicating high elevation areas.

Interestingly enough, the highest point on the Moon is 6,358 feet higher than the summit of Mt. Everest, the highest point on Earth. Viewers can find the highest point on the map, which is 35,387 feet above the Moon’s average elevation, near the crater Engel’gradt.

“One of the last NASA published global maps of the Moon was NASA’s 1979 Lunar Chart (LPC-1), and this new public release product updates the Lunar ChartQ in several important ways,” said Brent Archinal, a scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center.


Map of Ocean Acidification Paints Dire Picture

Pollution talks are often about the atmopshere, but we tend to foger that the most part of the pollution goes into the oceans. About a quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted by humans ends up in the seas, which causes them to become more acidic, significantly altering the oceanic environment on which corals, fish, and ultimately, we depend on.

A global look at ocean pH reveals that the water is more alkaline (basic) in the open ocean than in many coastal regions. The more alkaline the water is, the better poised it is to resist ocean acidification.
Credit: Ifremer/ESA/CNES

Ocean acidification is the ongoing decrease in the pH of the Earth’s oceans, caused by the uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. An estimated 30–40% of the carbon dioxide released by humans into the atmosphere dissolves into oceans, rivers and lakes. Unfortunately, that type of pollution is easier to miss, because we live on land – not in the ocean.

You might tend to think that the CO2 spreads evenly throughout the oceans, but that’s not really true. Ocean acidification is not even, and it can be quite hard to measure and map it. In 2014, Taro Takahashi, a geochemist at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory published global acidification maps and showed that we are causing huge damage to the planetary oceans. He also established a standard for future measurements.

“We have established a global standard for future changes to be measured,” said Takahashi, who published the maps with his colleagues in the August issue of the journal Marine Chemistry. The maps provide a monthly look at how ocean acidity rises and falls by season and geographic location, along with saturation levels of calcium carbonate minerals used by shell-building organisms.

Five years of global sea-surface salinity from space. (Image by European Space Agency)

Now, researchers at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom have tried a different approach – measuring the ocean acidification via satellite measurements. Previous measurements relied mostly on in-situ measurements – taking samples from several areas in the world and interpolating the data. Analyzing the samples and operating the vessels for acquiring the samples is very expensive.

“We are pioneering these techniques so that we can monitor large areas of the Earth’s oceans, allowing us to quickly and easily identify those areas most at risk from the increasing acidification,” study leader Jamie Shutler, a senior lecturer in ocean science at the University of Exeter, said in a statement.

This new approach also allows relatively easy measurements of areas which are hard to access. This technology has the potential to become the easiest and most efficient way of quantifying oceanic acidity – especially as satellite sensors continue to develop. Dr Jamie Shutler from Geography at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall who is leading the research said:

“Satellites are likely to become increasingly important for monitoring ocean acidification, especially in remote waters. We are pioneering this data fusion approach so that we can observe large areas of Earth’s oceans, allowing us to quickly and easily identify those areas most at risk from increasing acidification.”

The results of the study are pretty dire: the pH at the ocean’s surface become 30 percent more acidic since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Open regions of the ocean show this resilience, while many coastal regions appear less alkaline. The northeastern United States looks particularly vulnerable – a finding which confirms previous studies.


The most obese countries in the world

It’s painfully true by this point that we have a global obesity problem. Over the past 20 years, obesity rates have more than doubled, now including over a billion adults. The World Health Organization (WHO) has now released its global report card on obesity. See what countries are “in red” below:

obesity map

Obesity Map for Women


The first thing you see on this map is that there’s a lot of red – the US, Canada, Russia, Australia, the UK, northern Africa, the Middle East and most of South America all have very high obesity rates. This is the map for obese women, and red areas have over 25% of adult (over 18) women suffering from obesity.

“Obesity increases the likelihood of diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer. Worldwide, the prevalence of obesity has nearly doubled since 1980. In 2014, 11% of men and 15% of women aged 18 years and older were obese. More than 42 million children under the age of 5 years were overweight in 2013. The global prevalence of diabetes in 2014 was estimated to be 9%”, the report reads.

Interestingly enough, men are doing a bit better than women. The WHO released a different map for men – one that’s not as red as the other one.

obesity map

World Obesity Map for Men

Overall, the US is doing the worst: an estimated 61 percent of the population is overweight, whereas South-East Asia is at the other end of the spectrum, with only 22 percent of its population overweight. South-East Asia is also one of the poorest areas in the world.

Obesity is technically defined as a medical condition in which excess body fat has accumulated to the extent that it has a negative effect on health. Obesity increases the likelihood of various diseases, particularly heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, certain types of cancer, and osteoarthritis. Medics are still debating whether or not obesity is a disease, though the stronger arguments seem to suggest that it can’t really be considered a disease, since the causes are rarely medical; most often, obesity sets in as a result of excessive food energy intake and lack of physical activity.

You can read the full report here.

Making sense of the world in 14 Maps

Each color has 1 billion people

Global map

This is the world divided into seven sections – each with approximately 1 billion people. That’s right, both the Americas and Australia together have just as much population as that red strip in South-East Asia or the orange bit in and around India. But if you think this is a shock…

This may surprise you

World population

Population on Earth is not distributed evenly, to put it mildly. India and South-East Asia are very densely populated, so more people live inside that circle than outside it. That’s also where most of the world’s population growth is happening. Also, it’s not just population that is divided unequally…

The world’s income levels

As you can see, we still live in a segregated world — economically. The rich areas are in Europe (except for the eastern part), the US (and likely Canada), Japan, Australia and some parts of Arabia. Africa is still predominantly extremely poor, while Eastern Europe, South America and some parts of Asia are still in a transition phase. Financial and social inequality is still a problem for mankind.

Countries with which England has never fought (in white)

England wars.

The biggest colonial empire in the world, Great Britain has left their mark on mankind and made a lot of enemies along the way. As it turns out… they fought with almost everybody. Sweden gets an honorable mention for being so close to England and yet not fighting the Brits.

Violent conflicts in 2013

Do you live in an area without conflict? Then you can consider yourself lucky! Much of mankind lives in areas riddled with conflicts, often in a constant state of fear. This is just a map of the subnational conflicts, with national and international conflicts adding a lot to the problem.

Countries not officially using the metric system

There are just three countries which haven’t adopted the metric system: Liberia, Myanmar and of course… The United States of America. No comment here.

The Nemo Point – farthest away from any land

Nemo point

This is the Nemo point – if you’d be there, you’d be surrounded by almost 23 million square km (9 million square miles) of water. It’s pretty much the most inaccessible place in the world.

The longest continuous distance on land

This is the longest distance you can travel between any 2 points on Earth without crossing any ocean or sea. Interestingly enough, it passes through some of the most dangerous places on Earth – from Western Africa (currently plagued by an Ebola epidemic) to Sahara and Northern Africa, through Gaza and the Saudi desert and deep into the Islamic State in Irak, through Afganistan and the Himalayas – the highest mountains on the planet.

The Law of the World

world law

Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals that decide individual cases, as opposed to statutes adopted through the legislative process or regulations issued by the executive branch. Civil law (or continental law) is a legal system originating in Europe whose most prevalent feature is that its core principles are codified into a referable system which serves as the primary source of law. Sharia Law means the moral code and religious law of a prophetic religion.

Countries where tap water is safe – according to the CDC

This is actually one of the maps I don’t agree with. Much of the red areas have perfectly good drinking water… but this how the CDC sees things. People in central and eastern Europe, for instance, would have no problems drinking tap water.

Countries that recognize Palestine vs. countries that recognize Kosovo – almost complete opposites

Palestine and Kosovo have pretty much nothing to do with each other, which makes this contrast extremely interesting. Also noteworthy is Greece’s lack of decision in both cases – despite geographical proximity.

The blonde map of the world

If the picture is too small here, the text reads: Natural lighter colors occur most often in Europe and less frequently in other areas. The hair color gene MCIR has at least seven variants in Europe giving the continent a wide range of hair and eye colors. Based on genetic research carried out by Japanese Universities, the date of genetic mutation which resulted in blonde hair emerged only 11,000 years ago, during the last ice age.

World map of difference between solar time and clock time

Different areas have different local times… but the times rarely actually coincide with solar activity, as you can see from this map. Fun little fact: The small Afghan-Chinese border is the largest jump in timezone in the world. (3 and a half hour difference on each side).

A pale blue dot… a world

This stunning picture was taken from the International Space Station by NASA astronauts onboard the Expedition 7. The world is incredibly cruel and magnificently beautiful… let’s cherish it, and make it a better place!

All maps via Imgur and Reddit.

People of color: the majority of Americans by 2042

According to a recent research published by Policylink, an US research institute which aims ‘to advance economic and social equity’ in the nation,  the majority of the American population in 2050 will be of color. In the report, dubbed Prosperity 2050, the authors outline how the startling increase in discrepancies between wealth and social status between demographics could pose dire consequences in the future for the nation.

To better illustrate their point, the paper’s authors collaborated with the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity and released a time-lapse map, showing the country’s rapidly changing demographics, in which they predict that by 2042 “people of color will be the new Majority“.  The time-lapse map can be viewed below.

Other aspects covered in the publication are “Promoting Growth Through Equity”, “Rising Productivity, Stagnant Wages”, “Growing Wealth Gap”, among others. It’s a good read, which I recommend.

Map of countries officially not using the metric system

Prepare to be amazed:

Countries without metric system.

Image via Wiki Commons.

That’s right — the three countries which are not using the metric system are Liberia, Myanmar and of course… the United States of America. Why is the United States so keen on preserving the imperial system? In short, it’s not because Americans hate the metric system — it’s because they hate change, just like the rest of world. But in an ever-connected world, can the US afford not to line up to a standard that everybody else seems to adhere to? As we’ll learn, this resistance to change comes at a cost but at the same time, change also has a cost.

Why the US uses the imperial system

Because of the British, of course. When the British Empire colonized North America hundreds of years ago, it brought with it the British Imperial System, which was itself a tangled mess of sub-standardized medieval weights and measurements. By the time America proclaimed its independence in 1776, the former colonies still had trouble measuring uniformly across the continent. In fact, the forefathers knew this well and sought to address the problem. The first step was granting Congress the power “to coin Money … and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures,” as stated in Article I, Section 8 of the newly formed Constitution. In 1790, secretary of state Thomas Jefferson made an analysis of the matter and felt reluctant to stir his country towards the decimal-based metric system — at the time still a fledgling standard born in France.

Metric or Imperial, it’s still science and we love it. Do you? — join our community!

America’s icy relationship with France didn’t help too much, either. The proclamation of the metric system was made on June 22nd, 1799 in Paris with the storage in the Archives of the Republic as the physical embodiments of the standard. The prototype meter and the prototype kilogram, both made of a platinum alloy, were witnessed by representatives of the French and several foreign governments, as well as some of the important natural philosophers of the time. However, France snubbed the U.S. when it invited dignitaries from foreign countries to travel to Paris to learn about the metric system.

It’s important to note, however, that even if US representatives had traveled to Paris, they most likely wouldn’t have returned with favorable news. In 1821, after studying the various units of measurement used by the 22 states, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams determined that the U.S. Customary System was sufficiently uniform and required no changes. Most people actually believed that the metric system wouldn’t survive Napoleon’s rule. They were wrong, however, and by the time the American Civil War ended, most of Europe had turned metric — other than the proud British of course.

In 1866, an act of Congress signed into law by President Andrew Johnson made it “lawful throughout the United States of America to employ the weights and measures of the metric system in all contracts, dealings or court proceedings.” The act, however, was merely an act of recognition, which didn’t necessarily translate into practical use.

Following WWII, the world started a cycle that’s still continuing today: globalization. As America was importing and exporting more and more goods, it found itself in a predicament when trading with other countries, as most of them were using the metric system. American companies had to make twin labels, train workers and students on both systems and re-purpose thousands of machines across various industries. The costs were, and still are, enormous. With this in mind, some Congressmen proposed the US finally switched to metric. In 1971, the U.S. National Bureau of Standards issued a report titled “A Metric America” recommending that the U.S. transition to the metric system over the course of 10 years. In response, Congress enacted the Metric Conversion Act in 1975 to commence the conversion process. However, the implementation was extremely lacking — someone had the bright idea to strip out the 10-year deadline and make the conversion voluntary — and, of course, no one wanted to willingly change to metric.

Why the US doesn’t use the metric system

metric vs standard

“The metric system is the tool of the devil! My car gets fifteen rams to the hogs head and that’s the way I like it!” – Abe Simpson.

So, America really tried to switch, but it failed miserably. Frankly, it’s easy to see why. Switching to metric is, in a sense, like switching to another language. If you’re not American, picture this: how would you feel if your government enacted a new rule that forced you to switch to the imperial system? Yes, the metric is simpler and uses fewer units, but rational reasons aside, you’d be furious simply because you’d have to change the frame of reference you’ve been using to all your life. The UK switched to metric in 1965, and this happened only because the industry forced it. UK companies were simply having too much a hard time trading with European countries. Even 50 years later, many Britons still refuse to move entirely to metric. Distances are still measured in miles, yards and inches, weight in pounds and stones; liquids in pints and gallons.

However, the US isn’t pressured by the same trading problems as the UK. You don’t need the metric system to measure one car made in Japan, or one iPad from China, or to license an SQL Server to Germany. Most of the food and drinks are made and used within the US. As far as science and industry go, nowadays most work in SI units. So, at least for now, Americans are still fine without the metric system though sometimes problems and confusions surrounding the conversion can cause disasters. For instance, one conversion error between US and metric measurements sent a $125 million NASA probe to its fiery death.

“The use of two different unit systems was the cause of the loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter in 1998. NASA specified metric units in the contract. NASA and other organizations applied metric units in their work, but one subcontractor, Lockheed Martin,  provided thruster performance data to the team in pound force seconds ainstead of newton seconds. The spacecraft was intended to orbit Mars at about 150 kilometers (93 mi) altitude, but incorrect data probably  caused it to descend instead to about 57 kilometers (35 mi), burning up  in the Martian atmosphere.” – Wikipedia

In the U.S. Customary System, a.k.a. the inch-pound system, more than 300 different units exist to measure various physical quantities. Many of those units use the same name but have very different meanings. On the U.S. Metric Association Web site, contributor Dennis Brownridge identifies at least nine different meanings for the unit we know as a “ton”: short ton, displacement ton, refrigeration ton, nuclear ton, freight ton, register ton, metric ton, assay ton and ton of coal equivalent. This is downright confusing even for Americans!

It seems that the conversion of the US to the metric system is more of a “when” than an “if”. After all, Myanmar (formerly Burma) recently announced it plans to switch to the metric system soon, leaving the US in the fine company of Liberia as the only two countries in the world who haven’t switched to metric.

Metric or Imperial, it’s still science and we love it. Do you? — join our community!

Extremely rare 400 year old map shows China as the center of the world


Well despite what many people might think, Hollywood isn’t and never was the center of the world (hopefully, it won’t be in the future either). But on this map (and probably, not only there) China is depicted as the center of the world, while the Americas are also sketched, Florida being represented as the “Land of Flowers”.

It was drawn by an Italian Jesuit missionary called Matteo Ricci, who was the first to visit today’s Beijing in the late 1500s (he’s also the guy with the silkworm in the cane legend). Among numerous things he did (bring western science to China, hygiene notions to the west, start some catholic missions, etc), he also studied geography. While I don’t believe this was hist top specialty, he does note some quite amazing things, though personally I don’t find it anywhere near as spectacular as the Piri Reis map.

He described Africa as having the highest mountain and the longest river, notes that there are numerous bisons and wild horses living in North America and even gives a short description of the discovery of the americas.

“In olden days, nobody had ever known that there were such places as North and South America or Magellanica. But a hundred years ago, Europeans came sailing in their ships to parts of the sea coast, and so discovered them.”

There are only two copies of this map, which makes it extremely hard to find (which is why it earned the nickname of ‘impossible black tulip or cartography’. A copy was purchased for no less than 1 million dollars, making it the second most expensive map ever.