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Apr 22, 2013

Grasses, Watermen & Bathymetry

By George

Today we're announcing a new cartography and storytelling project called Chesapeake Bay Grasses with the Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP), a partnership of federal, state, non-profit organizations and academic institutions dedicated to the protection and restoration of the Bay. Stamen has been working with the CBP to develop a visual story about the health of the Bay, based on a ton of scientific data that has been collected over the last 40 years or so.

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States. (An estuary is a body of water where fresh and salt water mix.) It's about 200 miles long, with a total surface area of about 4,480 square miles, an average depth of about 21 feet, and the Bay and its tributaries have a shoreline longer than the entire U.S. west coast. Thanks to its watermen, the Bay produces about 500 million pounds of seafood per year, despite increasing pollution levels. You can read lots more interesting facts and figures on the Chesapeake Bay Program website.

Here's a (west-facing) map of what it looked like in the 1600s.

Nova Virginiae Tabula.

And a more detailed view of the Bay created in 1840 by Fielding Lucas Jr. in Baltimore:

Explore the map in greater detail on

As you can see, humans have been interested in the Bay for ages. In addition to the fisherpeople, citizens and pirates (!) that live or have lived on its shallow waters, there is also a ton of scientific research going on, much of which is lead by the CBP. The Bay is home to some 80,000 acres of bay grasses, and bay grass density over time is a great indicator of the overall health of the system. We worked with CBP and, in particular, Dr. Robert Orth from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science to create a map that helps show grass density across the Bay from 1984-2012. There's a general challenge for scientists around the world to mine their gigantic research datasets for insight and stories, and this project is a first round at help the CBP do that.

a 2013 map of the Chesapeake Bay


Knowing that the project was focussed on a body of water, and not the land ended up being a strong influence on the cartography we designed. But first, we had to make sure we could "operate" the remarkably comprehensive bathymetry data that CBP has. Here are a few of Seth's first drawings, where we were trying to work out why there were odd "water-y alien crop circles" appearing in the middle of the bay:

Turns out that the alien-y circles are probably data artifacts (dartifacts?) from a long-term Bay soundings dataset that had been interpolated into a raster. Nathaniel ended up fixing this more or less by hand, cutting and pasting non-alien pieces back into the larger picture.

In addition to a bunch of public datasets online at, CBP partner, NOAA also has a selection of bathymetry datas available, if you're interested to experiment with it.

Here are some highlights of the bathymetry:

Washington DC


We gave the roads a very light-handed treatment because the water is the main feature of the map. There are enough roads to help locals find their way, and we labelled only a few of the major cities in the area, again to help people orient themselves, but never to overwhelm the water.

Tangier Island has been inhabited for years and years by fishermen and women. Crabs grow happily in the shallows around the islands, and you can see by comparing year on year, that the bay grasses where the crabs frolic have covered the area for the last 20 or so years. Dr. Orth explained it like this:

Tangier Island is home to one of the biggest grass beds in the Chesapeake Bay, and many island residents continue to make their livelihoods fishing and crabbing among the eelgrass and widgeongrass that grows here. While both of these species are typically found in high-salinity areas, they continue to thrive in the medium to low salinity of the region.


We're excited that the CBP now host the tiles themselves, and look forward to seeing this bathymetry used to help tell other stories with their data into the future.

Go have a look around!

Apr 17, 2013

Found on campus: a Stamen map of Palo Alto in tablecloth form

News flash: maps transform from paper things to digital things to things all over the map with maps all over them.

We were delighted to receive an invitation to the Stanford Cool Product Expo, a yearly showcase of innovative companies and products produced by Stanford's MBA students.

Stamen was one of 45 producers invited to show on campus, alongside Sifteo (fun game cubes), Node (modular sensing devices), Stealth HD (360 cameras), and Oru Kayak (a kayak that folds like origami into itself) (no really!). Not exactly makers of products ourselves (yet!), we invited collaborators Soft Cities and DODOcase to join us. More on that second collaboration coming soon. Promise!

We spent the entire day talking about maps. About why pretty maps matter. About how maps are for more than wayfinding and how data visualizations are also maps. About why people love maps and how they connect us. About how connects people to making their very own maps. About all of the places a map can take us, and all of the places where maps can go.

Like tablecloths.

You know this place? It's Palo Alto mapped with Toner on a tablecloth, inked by Nikki at Soft Cities for our expo table (as well as the table in the studio, above).(She can also make you one of Peoria, Paris or Phalaborwa with napkins to match.)

It's always inspiring to see people take Stamen's maps into the tangible world (see: sneakers and cupcakes) and something we'll be doing more in the future, as we have with projects like the Watercolor prints.

Watch this space! Where will the maps go next?

Apr 8, 2013

Parklets, private bus networks and open source have more in common than you think

Later today, I'll be joining a panel discussion at SPUR talking about how urban agents are changing our cities, with local design and infrastructure smarties like Raphael Garcia from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission & Nancy Levinson from Design Observer.

On my radar: welcome urban innovations like parklets, less-popular (or at least more controversial) private bus lines to Silicon Valley and how a new kind of practice is emerging that works with open source software and data to bridge the divide.

New actors are forcing change in from the edges, outside of traditional power structures and narratives and in ways that challenge our assumptions about what cities are for and how they should be run.

If you can't make it this afternoon (details here), I'll be posting the talk later on.

Apr 5, 2013

Pow! Thwok! Happy Monday.

Lock Batman, Hulk, Iron Man, Catwoman, a mercenary Snow White and antihero Bilbo Baggins in a room. Make 'em fight. Who wins? Our latest social vote project for MTV's 2013 Movie Awards gives a realtime window into this virtual bloodbath.


Leading up to the April 14 awards show, fans are casting votes for this year's best cinematic superhero by hashtagging photos on Instagram. The best pics—get out those cat ears and polish your power poses!—will be aired during the live awards show.

Since 2009, Stamen's been working with MTV to bring social to the small screen with real-time Twitter visualizations. Working with Mass Relevance the heroes project takes this one step further: user photos featured on the site get classic comic book captions in keeping with each character, and you can comment and vote on Instagram for your favorites.

Mar 27, 2013


Stamen has been working with 3d data from HERE for a few months now, and it's time to start being public about that.

You can skip to the good stuff by heading over to and explore for yourself, or take a look at what follows for some more details & rationale.

The Story:

Here, a Nokia business, has spent decades building a deep library of map data, and we've been given a broad remit to investigate how designers and developers can use that data to innovate and explore an ecosystem built around the idea of 'living maps.' The idea is: take a look at the broad range of data that drives the HERE product portfolio, help to figure out the best ways to release the right bits of that data to developers so that a healthy ecosystem can flourish around it, and build prototype projects on top of that platform to light the way.

As you can imagine, HERE has all kinds of data, from driving directions to base cartography to extensive LIDAR surveys of worldwide cities. We've looked under the hood at a variety of these, and evaluated them on several different axes: complexity, comprehensiveness, uniqueness, and accessibility. We tried to find, for the initial release of this work, a sweet spot where we could find (as we do) the next most obvious thing—a dataset that was right on the edge of being useful and interesting to a broader public, one that hadn't been widely used before, and that was accessible to us as new HERE partners. We wanted to be professional amateurs here; coming in from the point of view of a newbie developer without a lot of experience navigating corporate hierarchies who just wanted to make something cool without getting lost in this wealth of data, and see where we could end up.

The What:

It's taken us a little while, and we've had a number of false starts (we're talking about a lot of data here), but! I think we've found something lovely and potentially quite interesting in the data that's being used to run HERE Maps, which launched late last year. is an impressive accomplishment—full on 3d maps of multiple cities around the world, beautifully rendered and browsable everywhere—but as lovely as it is, developers and designers have yet to really take advantage of what's possible with all this content.

The exercise started with some code that our friend and former colleague Mike Migurski started playing with about a year ago to extract HERE data from their 3D tiles. Along the way several people at Stamen weaponized that code, HERE made their data available for us to play with, and we used it to build out maps of four global cities: San Francisco, New York, London and Berlin. We built a framework sitting on top of that that lets this data be embedded, linked to, layered on top of, and generally made internet-happy in a way that we hope will let a thousand flowers bloom.

And so!

For your viewing, embedding, linking, and otherwise internet-ing pleasure: is live today. It uses 3D data from HERE for San Francisco, New York, London, and Berlin to create city-wide 3D browsable maps, and it does this in the browser (though you'll need a WebGL-enabled browser to see it). As in many of our other mapping projects, the urls change dynamically depending on location and other factors, and the data conforms, more or less, to the Tile Map Service specification. What this means, among other things, is that it's not only possible to link to and embed these maps at specific locations and zoom levels, but that it's easy—and as we've seen with Citytracking, easy is good.

In the meantime we're starting on a round of design work that uses these in-browser 3D maps as the basis for what we hope will be a whole new suite of consumer applications and projects. For now we encourage you to poke around under the hood and think about doing the same.

One caveat: early days! In keeping with the philosophy that it's better to release early and release often than to wait until everything is perfect. It's a prototype, not a final release, so it's not entirely production-ready and may have some rough edges. Please send us feedback and we'll keep you posted as we kick things further down the road.

New York:

Starting with New York, because its downtown, from this perspective, looks like something out of Game of Thrones, which is awesome:

And! Once you've got this set up, flipping this one-line code switch in three.js:

{wireframe: true}

changes the material that covers each object and gets you a ghostly see-through wire model of New York (focused here on the New York Public Library's main branch at Bryant Park, made entirely out of the edges of things:

San Francisco:

Moving to our home town of San Francisco, we can pivot the Golden Gate Bridge around and give it a good look:

It's also fairly straightforward to bring other, publicly-available datasets into this environment and do things with them (this will come up again!). For example, pulling in the building footprints that the City of San Francisco makes public, showing only the outlines, and coloring them by height, gets you this business:

And! Since the data now uses the same syntax as the rest of the internet, it's possible to bring map data in from other services as well. Here we've got tiles from our watercolor maps project, draped over the 3d buildings model (savvy mapping nerd types will notice that both URLs end in #17/37.79560/-122.40091, which makes this possible and is in some ways the whole point of the exercise:

Again: rough! you can see some seams! but progress, and an object to think with.


In a spirit of play, we've left things a bit rough and funky around the edges, so that when you get too close to the Fernsehturm, things get a bit awkward:

(first person to post a picture of Sutro Tower from the inside gets a prize)

And Mehringplatz is just lovely:


By the time we get to London, this is pretty much just Mike Tahani showing off. The London Eye stands out nicely in wireframe:

Parliament looms over the Thames:

Tower Bridge rising up out of a faceted wire-Thames:

And Hyde Park has a kind of video game look about it because of the forced parallax that spreads the trees out around the edges:

OK. More cities, datasets and examples to come as they're available, but this for now: go play!

Feb 14, 2013

Questions from Webstock

As I've done before once or twice, I got excited enough talking about the projects we've been working on that I ran a bit over during my talk today and didn't get to the questions I wanted to ask the lovely audience at Webstock to help me answer. Suddenly there was a "0 minutes left" sign (woulda been nice if that were bigger and brighter, you guys), and boom! tIme to turn it over to Robin Sloan who said about the Big Black Mariah what I've had in mind for some time, of course much better than I ever could.

As I said, I've done this once or twice before, but these questions are important enough to me that I'd like to get them out in public so I take them seriously. So—bearing in mind that this was intended to be narrated by me, is super-early in their cogitation and public discussion—here's the question part of my talk in pdf format. For those not in a downloading mood, here are the basic questions, & some screenshots.

1. how things look: now & then

Mapping and data visualization today look a certain way. They look, in some ways, like early photography used to look, and here's why:

  • Both are all about the tech; you ve to be a nerd to do it
  • There's lots of talk around about what it is and what it isn’t
  • There's lots of talk about what it’s “really for”

Let's get specific: Twitter visualizations, pretty soon, are going to look as archaic as this picture of me in jail in 1895:

There's also Louis Kahn that I want to finally think about in public. "You say to brick: 'what do you want, brick?' And brick says to you: 'I like an arch.' And if you say to brick: 'look, arches are expensive, and I could use a concrete lintel over you - what do you think of that, brick?' Brick says: 'I like an arch.' " There's something here about digital media, especially as we get a better sense for what the form of the medium is like, moving out of the early days of photography/data.

So my question for this one is: Where else can this analogy go? I think Robin Sloan probably has a stack of answers and I hope we get to talk.

2. why do they things look the way they look: whose hands build them?

  • National Geographic maps: they look as if they were made by hand, and they are.
  • The DesignersRepublic: their stuff looks like it was made by computers, but isn't
  • Google Maps: looks as if it were done by a machine, but it isn’t.
  • Apple Maps: looks as if it were done by a machine, and was!
  • Watecolor Maps: looks as if it were done by a person, but isn’t

So my question for this one is: if our most salient work is made by hand with robots, what else is like that? What else will be?

3. what magic - literal magic - happens when you leave the cameras on?

In 2008 google maps revealed that all the cows face north. this had never been known before! It was because google left the cameras on and made them all available.

http:/ does this with the night sky: leaves the lens on, discovers planets. My question here is: what else gets captured when the camera gets left on? what else can we learn?

4. delight & utility: gardens, farms, beer

Beer comes before agriculture. Gardens too. There are too many generational steps involved between grasses in their natural form and wheat worth harvesting for agriculture to be the thing people were shooting for when they domesticated plants. Drugs and beer and pretty flowers, on the other hand, can be made from a single generation of garden from wildflowers.

We talk all the time about data visualizations and maps that are useful. We don't talk at all about data visualizations and maps that delight you and make you laugh. We should

For this one, I don't have a question so much as I want to say this in public: delight precedes utility. Cool is necessary before useful comes along.

And so

I know it's raw, but people asked. If you're in a talking mood, you can find me on twitter and people are tagging their responses with #webstock. OK!

Jan 17, 2013

</2012> <2013>

Calendars are, in many ways, maps of time. In paper versions, lines separate days and weeks, pages and pictures distinguish months. There is a certain joy in making the first mark on a fresh calendar, and similarly, there is joy in looking back at the dots and scribbles and sticky notes, missed appointments and completed tasks. All of these scrawlings are pins on our own map of time, and they tell a story.

Here's the work part of our story for 2012:


Google asked us to work with Enso and Blue State Digital to map voices in protest of the behind-closed-door meeting held by the International Telecommunication Union, in which they sought to increase censorship and regulate the historically open web. Over 3 million people added their voice to the map.

The City from the Valley

We deployed bike messengers and a team of counters to map the secretive bus routes used to transport San Francisco residents to their jobs in Silicon Valley. The project was a commission of the the 2012 Zero1 Biennial - themed Seeking Silicon Valley and was covered by the Wall Street Journal and on Marketplace.


On March 22, - a series of tools to empower people to create their own beautiful maps - went live! Part of a grant from the Knight News Challenge, the site offers three core map styles: Watercolor, Toner, and Terrain. Later in the year, we modified both Toner and Terrain to include layers with streets only, labels only, and background only, and added the Burning Map style. And since there is no rest for the wicked, we recently added the Map2Image feature, which allows anyone to create a 2000x2000 px image of these maps. People are using the maps all over the place!

Since launch, we’ve seen these map tiles used to create so many maps - even shoes with maps on them! The project has also sparked a collaboration with Jen Bekman for 20x200, made its way into the It's Nice That annual, and was featured in the July 2012 issue of Icon.

Facebook: Mapping the World’s Friendships + Friends + (Explosive!) Photo Flowers

This year, Facebook asked us to participate in a couple of projects as part of the Facebook Stories series. The first, Mapping the World’s Friendships illustrates how many Facebook friendships there are between countries.

The second project - Photo Sharing Explosions - visualizes how a small selection of George Takei’s images made their way through Facebook’s global web in a series of photo-sharing explosions, expressed in floral, fireworky shapes.

Famous Failures (referencing this image):

Abfab London 2012 (referencing this image):

Marvin the Martian (referencing this image):

Iterations for this project were beautiful in and of themselves. Here are some sketches:

Take a look at the complete process. Oh! Also take a look at this Fast Company Design article which lauds the work as one of the top visulizations of 2012. Thanks, Fast Company!

Field Papers

More mapping tools! Working with friends at Caerus Associates, we’ve created a tool called Field Papers, which allows anyone to make printable atlases of anywhere in the world, even if they have no experience with GPS or GIS software. By scribbling on these atlases, then scanning or photographing them, they can be added to a digital version to the map.

A Day of NASDAQ Trades

Here's a fun piece from last year - a visualization of a flurry of a data from a day of NASDAQ trades. The piece looks like it should be accompanied by Flight of the Bumblebee or something similarly speedy. Watch the video!

There’s so much information embedded in this work - it’s worth it to peruse the full breakdown here and here.

Yandex Maps

Russia's most popular search engine Yandex asked us to redesign their maps, and they launched in 2012! These before-and-after shots show our subtle changes:

More to come soon!

Energy Efficiency in San Gabriel Valley

With public service agency PMC, we mapped per capita activity data and greenhouse gas emmissions from the 27 cities that participated in the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments Energy Action Plan project.

Surging Seas

We all know we are losing our glaciers - what does the resulting rising sea level mean for the US coast? Created with Climate Central, interactive map Surging Seas illustrates how up to an extra 10 feet in the sea level would affect our shores. A few months later, megastorm Sandy hit and showed us, in reality, what raising the sea level by 13 feet looks like in real life.

Weather Channel

With all of the aberrant weather we saw in 2012, talking about the weather has never been so interesting (albeit somewhat disturbing). Luckily we had an opportunity to work on two weather displays with The Weather Channel, namely the Hurricane Tracker:

...and the Travel Planner.

Natural Earth v.2.0.0

Open-source mapping tool Natural Earth v2.0.0 was released by amazing dad-to-be Stamen Nathaniel Kelso. Natural Earth allows anyone to create maps of anywhere in the world (yay!), and the new release includes plenty of new features - like datasets including roads, railroads, ports, and airports - to connect the cultural landscape with the natural one. Says Kelso: “Natural Earth is not a map by itself. Instead, Natural Earth provides fine cartographic ingredients that allow map makers to tell more compelling visual stories instead of spending time hunting for data.” Try it out!

Shifting Demographics

Speaking of pet projects made by Stamens, Shawn Allen put together a lovely cartogram of 2010 and 2011 census data. The map was featured as the Infographic of the Day in Fast Company Design on Dec. 13.

Creepy Maps: Quarantine Your City

Using Modest Maps and Easey, Quarantine your City maps where fans of the Oren Peli thriller Chernobyl Diaries vote to see a special screening in their city. The idea behind the screening competition was that users could “quarantine” their city by voting for it on Twitter or Facebook, raising "quarantine" levels. After a few weeks, Warner Bros. picked the top 20 cities for screening. Why should New York and Hollywood get the only premiers?!

Twitter Trackers!

2012 was a year of more Twitter trackers, which are always fun. Continuing our work with MTV, we made one for the 2012 Video Music Awards (VMA): well as the 2012 Europe Music Awards (EMA):

...and for the 2012 MTV Movie Awards:

We also got to track tweets for 2012 Country Music Television’s CMT Awards:

...and to work with the fun, bold branding of LogoTV’s 2012 NewNextNow Awards, creating a punchy Twitter Tracker for them as well. This project also has a fun video showing the animated interface.


Early last year, Esquire asked a few designers to make a map of the state of the union in 2012 without referencing political parties. We answered with this map: Where Does the Money Go? The map mashes up 2009 data from the IRS with Open MapQuest route information, creating a county-by-county guide of where people are moving to and from. (Note to fellow map nerds: lovely process blog post here.) (Note to everyone: fun for clicking and learning!)

Where will 2013 go? Questions. So many questions. You'd think with all of this data we'd get some answers. Well, it's true that we get some, but so often there is so much more to learn, so much more of a story to tell. Perhaps that is one of the most beautiful things about data - it is an endless, ever-giving, question-making thing. For us, it is a lifelight.

Meanwhile, our once blank 2013 calendar is getting its first marks of the year. We're excited to see where the map takes us next!

Do you have an interesting project you'd like us to work on? Message us at

Jan 16, 2013

It's Nice That

Nice indeed for our watercolor maps to be included in the It's Nice That 2012 Annual. It's even nicer to receive a hard copy of the beautiful Annual in all its glory, and to see our work nestled amongst gorgeous, creative, dynamic work from around the world.

It's Nice That 2012 Annual It's Nice That 2012 Annual

There's always a lot of discussion about the future of our cities and this year was no exception with various fads hailed at one time or another as "The Future." But San Francisco studio Stamen have pretty much nailed how best to bring us closer to our urban environments - show us them in watercolours. Their city-tracking mapping project saw them render various cities in this eye-poppingly gorgeous watercolour tile, an undertaking of huge skill and patience but more worthwhile when you get the chance to look around your own transformed street. Technically masterful and aesthetically stunning - that's a combination we've got a lot of time for.

A couple of my personal favourites from the rest of the Annual include Lauren Marsolier's lovely constructed, fictional places and the "The Show That..." series including works by Jeremy Deller and Katharina Gross.

It's Nice That 2012 Annual It's Nice That 2012 Annual

Jan 14, 2013

Hi 2013

All right! It's 2013 & I have all kinds of new business to report.

Back in 2002, when I was first getting serious about Stamen, I got my first real gig: my friend Dane Howard (formerly of Quokka Sports) connected me with some friends of his at DesignworksUSA, who were looking for a way to visually describe the process by which design decisions got made at BMW, and build a system to manage how they communicated this to the board. I flew down to Thousand Oaks and somehow managed to convince DesignWorks that I was their huckleberry. Having some Flash experience, but also having no idea how to actually build the server side of such a thing, I turned to another friend, Darren David, for help. He recommended another friend and colleague, Mike Migurski, as the backend coder for the project. He started coming by my studio after his day job was done, and after a pretty short while we were off to the races, working on projects over the years from admin interfaces for BMW to early mappings of Flickr imagery to Google News visualizations to maps of crime in the Bay Area. Today we're making public that he's moving on from Stamen, on the very best of terms.

Would you hire this guy? I would (photo from 2003).

I learned some valuable lessons from the experience. The first was: get the job first, and figure the rest out later. If you think too hard, it'll pass you by. The most important thing—the most important thing—is to have the paid work that will keep things moving. If you don't have that, it's all about talking and worrying and managing unknown risks; it's vital for skin to be in the game. The second was: trust your first instinct, go for it, and don't worry too much. After a month or of working together in a heady cocktail of cigarette smoke and techno music, I gave Mike a desk and a key to my studio well before we'd sorted out any of the details of how we'd work together, because I knew he was good people and we'd figure it out as we went. Eventually he came on as a collaborator and a partner, and the rest is history.

Mike has since emerged as a vibrant and talented spokesman for our community (I encourage you to keep up with what he does next at; I certainly will), one of the foremost practitioners of open source tools in the service of making data more public that you'll find anywhere. It's been an incredible nine years of intense collaborative partnership—the most important of my professional life, and one I feel privileged to have been a part of. We've had quite a run, and all of this is very bittersweet: I wish him the best, I know he'll continue to do great things post-Stamen, I'll miss him, and that's the truth, Jack.

Stamen Design

Mike and I at the Digg V3 launch party in 2006.

2012 - this is why we could never agree on Stamen schwag

Welcome, new friends:

I also have some new Stamens to introduce to you, as part of the forwardsy-rolling epic adventure, Stamen and otherwise, that 2013 is already shaping up to be. It's new days around here, and I'm super excited to be able to tell you that Seth Fitzsimmons has come on as our new Director of Technology. A devotee of the Church of Allspaw (it's weird, considering how often I've heard that term, that there's so little on Google about it), he brings a focus on instrumentation and transparency to backend systems that I think is genuinely going to transform the kind of work that Stamen does from this point forward. We worked closely with him on a project for Oprah Winfrey last year and I'm really looking forward to the results of this new phase in our collaboration.

In another—is it OK to call this a coup?Mike Tahani has joined us as a hybrid designer/technologist of the type that we seem to specialize in attracting to our practice. Stamen alum Sha Hwang first called Mike to my attention last year with his work on - it was pretty obvious to me on first viewing (his cabspotting riff are wierd and beautiful) that this was someone I wanted to keep close so I could learn from what he was up to. We've had a great couple of months working on different projects, and I'm glad he's decided to come on board for reals.

We've also decided to take the plunge into some new territory for Stamen, one I've been interested in for some time now: Beth Schechter has agreed to come on to run Client Relations for the studio. As we've grown and the space of opportunity has expanded for us, I've increasingly found myself in a position where responding to new potential clients, and managing relationships with current clients, is harder to get to than I'd like. It's the lifeblood of what we do, and it needs someone to pay attention to it full time. Mike Montiero of Mule Design (who I asked for help with this—he knows his stuff) recommended we bring in someone to lovingly tend to this part of our business, and so: entre Beth Schechter, whose credentials include working the always-excellent Burning Man project, mapping work with Food Are Here, and managing projects for Stamen friend Zachary Coffin.

Ok, let's go!

Dec 20, 2012

Surging Seas is an Atlantic Favorite Map Of The Year

by Mike

Today, The Atlantic Cities published their favorite maps of the year, and our work with Climate Central on Surging Seas tops the list: “the most frightening, important maps of the year come from Climate Central's Surging Seas project, which offers an interactive map of all coastal areas of the Lower 48. In the discussion of potential sea level rise, these maps are the most alarming images out there.” The Atlantic has covered this project before.

While we could not have predicted the impact of Hurricane Sandy in October, our work with Ben Strauss and Remik Ziemlinski at Climate Central opened our eyes to the emerging behaviors of the world’s oceans on a warming planet and the risk to low-lying areas like New Jersey and New York. The ocean does not merely rise, it surges and bulges due to weather, seafloor topography and tidal forces. “The surface of the ocean bulges outward and inward mimicking the topography of the ocean floor. The bumps, too small to be seen, can be measured by a radar altimeter aboard a satellite.”

One way we communicated this impact was to refocus the map on the land that’s going to be underwater, and try to make it clear that this is the land that we're going to lose. We wanted to make it responsive and reactive, so we developed a map tiling method based on image sprites, a technique currently making its way from game development to web design.

Each 256 pixel map tile on the site is a tiny map sandwich, a stack of background and foreground images that combine public domain aerial photography from the US Government NAIP program and a custom rendering of data from OpenStreetMap. Using data calculated by Climate Central, we create a background “high tide” image that focuses attention on low-lying areas, and cover that with an image that’s ten tiles in one, an animated film strip of sea level rise from zero on up.

The resulting interactive map lets you quickly investigate the effects of different levels of water rise, something we might have described as “playful” during the development process, but merely terrifying and accurate now. The comparison of Red Hook and Gowanus in Brooklyn above shows one of New York’s hardest-hit neighborhoods.

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