Magazine article Geographical

Information Overload: In This Extract from His New Book of Data Visualisations, Alastair Bonnett Presents Four Previously Unimagined Ways of Looking at How Our World Is Affected Both by Man-Made Enterprises as Well as Natural Phenomena

Magazine article Geographical

Information Overload: In This Extract from His New Book of Data Visualisations, Alastair Bonnett Presents Four Previously Unimagined Ways of Looking at How Our World Is Affected Both by Man-Made Enterprises as Well as Natural Phenomena

Article excerpt

AIR TRAFFIC

Here is a world woven over with lines of flight. They knot themselves in dense, bright tangles in some places, only to be teased out into yawning black holes in others. Irrespective of recession, taxes and terrorism, the number of flights keeps on growing. Global passenger numbers were up over six per cent in 2016, and have been rising at about or above that rate for years. Industry forecasters confidently predict growth all the way to 2030. The weave will get tighter and evermore brilliant. And the gaps in the fabric will start filling up.

In fact, what is striking about this map is just how many empty zones there still are. Africa has barely two per cent of the world's air traffic (equated with revenue-paying passengers multiplied by distance travelled). At 31 per cent, Asia has more than Europe, but as it is a continent that is so vast and populous, that's a low figure. Certainly its skies aren't laced with contrails like those of Northwestern Europe. So what at first glance looks like a very contemporary vision of the world turns out to be oddly backward-looking. The rise of the Asian economies and the shift of world industry to the East has not yet been mirrored in air traffic terms.

So what's going on? Air traffic is an expensive way of transporting goods, the majority of which go by sea. And the swelling middle classes of China and India, nations with a billion-plus people each, have yet to gain access to mass air travel. This is about to change. Here is a map on the brink of becoming a historical curiosity. The big growth in air traffic is coming from those holes in the weave: from Asia, Latin America and the fast-growing economies of Africa.

PANGEA ULTIMA

This isn't the world that was; it's the world that is to come. Pangea is the name that has been given to an ancient supercontinent, one that existed 300 million years ago. It broke up, and the continents we know today came into definition. But the movement of the great plates upon which the oceans and land sit hasn't come to an end. Based on our knowledge of past movements of these plates, we can roughly predict where we are headed, and it appears that is straight back to where we came from. It's a place called Pangea Ultima.

In about 300 million years' time, our continents will have moved together again. If our very distant descendants are there to enjoy it, they will have the freedom to walk in a continuous trail from what was once Antarctica, up through Australia and Asia and down to the tip of South America, a journey that will afford many fine views over a vast inland ocean.

This speculative supercontinent is not the only possibility. Amasia and Novopangea are the names given to other contenders, but they all predict a return to a Pangea-like single mass. This amount of plate collision would produce considerable uplift, with new mountain chains being created in the areas where continents collide.

Beyond Pangea Ultima there will be a continuous cycle of the breaking-apart of supercontinents, then the combination and collision of their parts into new Pangeas: the back-and-forth, squeeze-and-relax of a dynamic--perhaps the right word is 'living'--planet.

TWITTER RELATIONSHIPS

Despite being limited to 140 characters (for some lucky few now increased to 280), Twitter messages have become a barometer of world opinion. This map looks at a particular species of tweet: the retweet, in which users forward a tweet to which they want to draw attention. …

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