MapCarte 214/365: Breathing Earth by John Nelson, 2013

Animation in cartography can be a difficult beast to tame. Usually we use animation to show some sort of temporal change but as we animate we introduce cognitive load and complexity for our readers so we should be mindful to strip back the content to compensate. That often makes the map less purposeful as a result. When used effectively, animation can bring to light a pattern that might otherwise not have been evident and this is the impact John Nelson’s breathing earth has here.

It’s a matter of fact that global snow and ice cover changes annually but how do you show it? Nelson does several things well in this work. He uses a simple dataset…cloud free satellite imagery, one for each month. He picks the right projection (a polar azimuthal) which gives us focus for the content being mapped. He keeps everything simple and gives us a moving, pulsing legend to keep track of the month.

The results are great. Simple concept, simple product but anything but simple thinking about design and cartography.

Further details about the map and several alternatives can be found here.