Posted by: Peter Black | April 21, 2008

Why to the Where

I’m a geographer. Always have been. Probably always will be. Fortunately for me, when I majored in geography at the University of Oregon (class of 96), and my folks asked me what I was going to do with such a seemingly useless degree, the world conspired to help. A convergence of knowledge and technology was happening, and I was in the right place at the right time. The emergence of geographic information systems on the personal computer was huge at the time. Shortly after college and some grad school at San Francisco State University, I was hired by the Environmental Defense Fund
as an intern to help with the Scorecard project. There, I was introduced to complex database backed websites for the first time, along with their marriage to geographic information. Apparently, Scorecard is still one of the most popular environmental websites out there.

10 years have now passed since I started with EDF, and I’m still there making maps, doing small scale GIS projects, and trying to stay current with technology. The advent of Keyhole’s software some 5 years ago led to a now well known revolution called neogeography. Keyhole was wisely bought by google, who has invested heavily in keyhole’s xml language to describe geographic data, called kml. kml is now an open standard. However, it has its limitations for describing data. Mostly, that limitation is file size based. Lots of geographic data is much larger than the 1mb file size limit. For example the Vulcan Project’s database describing CO2 emissions in the US is 12 gigabytes! So it is hard to capture a lot of interesting data on the google map platform simply due to complexity.

Fortunately, there are some people tackling this project. Notably, Brian Flood’s excellent extension for ArcGIS called Arc2Earth. This enables the creation of what are called tile layer overlays from ArcGIS databases that would otherwise be too complex to display on google maps. Once I saw Brian’s extension, I knew that it could potentially be the breakthrough needed for web publishing of complex data on the simplest, most ubiquitous platform available: google maps.

Towards that end, I began compiling databases and making tile layer overlays and publishing simple websites to demonstrate aspects of climate change that people perhaps were’s aware of. Soon enough, I came up with the idea to make an online atlas or collection of maps all bound around the topic of climate change.

I’m not certain many folks understand how climate change may affect them, in their locale. Nor do many people know how people near them and around the world are coming up with amazing solutions to this problem. The goal of the climateatlas is to help change that. Maps help us visualize information in an intuitive way that can hold the interest of the audience longer than raw data or charts.  Hopefully, the initiation of this blog and the maps will help us all keep tabs on what’s going on out there.

Please feel free to submit ideas, constructive criticism, and blog posts. I’d love to hear what you got to say. I’m no web programmer nor a designer, so forgive the rudimentary web elements. I’m trying to be a minimalist though I would love some design help. I figure that I’ll try to focus on what I do well, which is to create compelling content from complex information.


  1. brilliant work peter black! by using maps and the “blatlas” tool you’ve created, people can easily see how their communities will be affected by climate change in various scenarios. bravo! bravo!

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