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  • Writer's pictureHeather Swienton

The Arctic

This week's post is all about the Arctic: its varying boundaries, surprising amounts of urbanization and the dynamic processes that create and sustain our north pole. Thanks to the work of the research team made up of Ali Fard & Ghazal Jafari back in May of 2013, these maps showcase and bring light to a place many of us overlook through highly aesthetic and modern visualizations.

Let's talk shape.

I always love a good use of circles. The beauty behind this simple shape sends a message of minimalism and creative use of space. The designer's use of two side-by-side gives a balanced feel and a lateral direction. Both maps carry equal weight in terms of shape and size, though the colors used on the map to the right grab my attention a bit more, sneaking in a hint of visual contrast. What I also like about this pairing is that the map on the right gives spatial meaning to the map on the left; the map on the right shows the continent in white (bordered by the ocean in gray) allowing us to infer that the map on the left shows the same location to the same extent, without having to actually show the land. The blue line (major marine navigation route) also seems to outline the border of where the land would be, confirming that the maps show the same area without having to have the same basemap.


Shown above is the Arctic visualized in four different way based on the boundary type: the arctic circle, high/low/sub arctic, tree line, and the 10 degree July isotherm. I love that this visual shows you one thing from four different perspectives, from climatologists to socio-environmentalists, expressing the adaptability and varying nature of the Arctic. It is wonderful to visualize how these boundaries are anything but static, how the tree lines will change based on the season, or even how people move across the land in nomadic urbanization patterns and, especially, accessing natural resources like petroleum, as the map below shows.

A different but very similarly styled map from the first image, this map shows the impacts of the global tensions on the Arctic as it deals with geopolitics of oil. As you can read in the article that discusses this topic at great length (, the flow of this natural resources (specifically within the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System) extends beyond US boundaries, which begs the questions: "If urbanization is to be understood through operational processes, where does urbanization end? If the flow of Alaskan oil is manifested in highways, airports, high-rises and the urban fabric of cities such as Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco, where does the Arctic boundary lie?"

Well, in my opinion, Ali Fard & Ghazal Jafari visualized this with grace and beauty. There are a few other visuals within their article that I didn't include here that are worth a look, but the map above is a detailed, thorough and clean approach to looking at the geography of urbanization, oil flow, and conceptual boundaries.

The Map

The colors are modern and bright, and provide a great visual hierarchy and contrast to the grayscale layers beneath. There are multiple types of symbols, from dots, lines, clip art, polygons, gradient scales, and even textures. The lines are thin and the polygons and transparent, allowing for great layering to be done; everything works well together. The beauty of the graphic representation seems very intentional and creative, showing a lot of information without feeling cluttered.

Big picture: simplicity at its finest, a cut shaped map with a floating legend and perfectly utilized white space. Small picture (is that a thing?): the effort is clear in the details, specifically in how each element is layered and each color and symbol chosen.

My favorite thing about the designers? Their style is consistent in everything they create. Take a look at what I mean in this bonus map of theirs below!

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