And now for something completely different!
I’m kidding, it’s more maps.
I’ve been wanting to make a map of the polar regions for a while–it’s a fun perspective that you don’t see very often (and everyone loves a good circle!)–but I didn’t have a dataset that would lend itself well to being mapped that way.
Luckily, wrecksite.eu popped up on Reddit a couple weeks ago, and I happily paid $35 to get the locations of 180,000+ wrecks across the world.
Add in Daniel Huffman’s excellent shaded relief tutorial to make some 3D terrain, and you get a good–though deeply sad–weekend mapping project.
Let’s Get Mapping
I sourced my data for this project from a number of places.
- Shipwrecks: wrecksite.eu
- Topography: ArcticDEM
- Sea ice extent: NSIDC
- Ice shelves (for Antarctica): Berkeley Geodata
Once I got everything downloaded and cleaned up, I aligned all my layers using QGIS. From QGIS, I exported nicely aligned PNGs which I then prettified and labelled in Photoshop.
Advancing from choropleths made in R to a real, grown-up GIS software feels like I’m making progress in amateur cartography. I never expected to like making maps so much, and I also never realized how much work those nice, National Geographic-style maps really are.
I hope my efforts won’t be judged against Nat Geo, though, but as an amateur excited to try out new techniques!
I’m really pleased with the aesthetics of these maps, but I do think I failed in my primary mission: to show shipwrecks, especially those of historical interest, in the Arctic.
I got too caught up in the excitement of 3D terrain rendering and ended up with maps that are fun to look at, but don’t really provide a ton of analytical information. The Arctic one in particular suffers from too much busy detail and not enough data.
If I were to do this again, I might consider omitting the fancy frills and going for a more stripped-down approach. I’d highlight wrecks of historical interest, perhaps via color or symbols (though I could make that change to the maps as they stand). It’d also be interesting to color wrecks by year to see if there’s been any pole-ward trends as the icecaps have melted.
I am pleased with my decision to add in ice extent contours, though, as they add a ton of much-needed context. The muted color palette also reminds me of the sun-bleached Nat Geo maps I had on my wall as a kid*.
For a weekend project, though, I’m ultimately OK with what I produced, especially when I view it as a learning experiment.
*Side rant: I’ve always loved maps, even as a kid. I had a faded map of Spain and Portugal above my bed for years. In a unit on geography, my 5th grade teacher asked the class to name a peninsula. I triumphantly shouted out, “the Iberian Peninsula!”
My teacher looked at me and scoffed, “that’s not a peninsula.”
Well, I’m back, 20 years later, to state that it most definitely is a peninsula, and she maybe shouldn’t have been teaching geography.