Saturday, July 21, 2012

More Mash-ups: Mapping A Century of Earthquakes

A recent posting on the AGU linkedin site drew my attention to a map tat plotted all magnitude 4 and above earthquakes that have occurred since 1898. The map in the Herald Sun clearly shows the distribution and the ‘hotpots’ you might expect around the Pacific ‘ring of fire’ as well as some intra-plate bursts of colour that suggest even the interior of continents are not immune from these hazards.
Although a nice image, the map represents a key trend that I mentioned in a earlier blog – mash-ups. The map was produced by John Nelson of IDV Solutions  a US software company specialising in visualising data. The maps combine data from the US Advanced National Seismic System and the United States Geological Survey to produce a map that spatially locates each piece of data. IDV Solutions understand the importance and power of such mash-ups and Deborah Davis published an article in Directions magazine (25th February 2010) on the importance of mash-ups for security. Although their observations about mash-ups are directed at security the observations in the articles are as useful for trying to understand and manage hazards and the risks associated with them.

Mash-ups provide a means of consolidating data from diverse sources into a single, comprehensible map and in a visual context that has some meaning for the observer. The map produced can be made relevant to the customer or user by ensuring that it contains additional information relevant to their interpretation of the information. A map of landslides combined with topographic data provides a context for helping to understand why the landslides might have occurred. Adding surface geology as another layer improves the context of interpretation for a landslide specialist, adding the road network improves the context of interpretation for a hazard manager. Once data has a context it is easier to spot relationships between phenomena. With this single, common map available to all parties there is a common basis for discussion and for decision-making. Having a common source of reference may even encourage discussion and debate. In addition, it may be easy to see where data is lacking and what other data these parties may require to aid their decision-making. The cost-effectiveness of such mapping should not be neglected either. Using existing data and producing a new product is very cost-efficient.

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