UD students competed in the 2021 geospatial data visualization and map design contest

A map showing the vulnerability of Wilmington residents to sea level rise in 2100 under multiple projected scenarios has won this year’s University of Delaware Student Competition for Geospatial Data Visualization / Map Design, co-sponsored by the Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences and the Data Science Institute.

Loonibha Manandhar, who received her master’s degree in geography from UD in 2021, combined projected sea level rise and projected population distribution to create a map showing the varying risk to people in different areas of Wilmington from sea level rise. The data underpinning the map combines three different projected sea level rise scenarios (illustrated in different shades of blue) and three different projected population growth scenarios (illustrated as different shades of red dots for exposed population and brown dots for unexposed population).

This year’s winner of the annual UD Student Competition for Geospatial Data Visualization uses dot density to symbolize population density, where 1 dot = 150 people. People exposed to sea level rise are shown as red dots, and unexposed brown dots. The saturation of the dots shows the probability of exposure. Places with higher densities of darker red dots are the most vulnerable, because there are likely a higher number of people who might be exposed to inundation hazards under multiple scenarios. The map can be used to estimate the number of people, their locations, and likelihoods to be exposed to coastal floods at the end of the 21st century.

“I was working on this map as a part of the cartography class, and I really enjoyed bringing all its elements together over the spring. It was a very fun project. I was eager to share it with others,” Manandhar said. “As someone who doesn’t have much of an artistic inclination, I was kind of nervous about doing well in this class. However, the way Dr. Gao’s cartography course was structured was really helpful. She does a great job with building a solid foundation for making a clean and accurate map while giving space to explore creative examples and clever techniques for map making.”

Jing Gao, assistant professor affiliated with the College of Earth, Ocean and Environment and the Data Science Institute, teaches “Cartography: Art and Science of Mapping Data” to both undergraduate and graduate students. The competition grew out of the class in 2020 as Gao looked for a way to boost morale during the coronavirus pandemic. But from the beginning, she made the contest open to anyone, just like the class. In this second year of the contest, even more people from outside the class and in different majors competed.

“The biggest thing for me is to see the excitement in the students,” Gao said. “The competition serves a different role in our geospatial data science education. You want people to learn through a variety of ways.”

The competition evaluated both the aesthetics and the science being represented in the maps. Gao noted that the science has to be primary, with well-done analysis of good data sources that have been appropriately documented. Once a project has come up with high-quality findings, displaying them in a way that is not only attractive but also simple to read is a key to a map’s effectiveness in communicating those findings to others. Gao said Manandhar’s map analyzing different possible risks in Wilmington at the end of the 21st century due to sea level rise achieved all of those goals.

“It is showing all three sea level rise scenarios and all three population scenarios all at once, and it is not confusing or too busy,” Gao said. “It is an elegant and effective visualization of a lot of data.”

Manandhar said the map was well received as part of her portfolio when she applied for her current job as a GIS technician in the location intelligence department at the commercial real estate firm CBRE.

Anthony Chan, a senior double majoring in gis science and environmental data analytics and computer science, was named runner-up in the competition for his entry showing the potential idle time of UD shuttle buses based on data about a random day in spring 2021. His map showed potentially lengthy idle times primarily at the ends of shuttle routes, such as STAR and Laird campuses. Chan undertook the project because idle times can be a source of preventable air pollution, but noted that he had not confirmed whether the shuttle buses are allowed to idle during the down time on their routes or must be turned off.

Two mapmakers received honorable mentions: Doctoral student in climatology James Blount for a map of Haunted Delaware and wildlife ecology master’s student Matthew Hardy for a map of the overlap between wintering waterfowl and poultry on Delmarva. See all four maps and learn more on the competition’s website. The winners were announced at the University of Delaware’s 2021 GIS Day, held online.

Submissions for next year’s map competition will open in September, but the 2022 contest will accept any maps created in the 2021-22 academic year. Gao’s class, “Cartography: Art and Science of Mapping Data,” is being offered during the spring semester of 2022.

Article by Mark Jolly-Van Bodegraven | Photo illustration by Tammy Beeson | Photo courtesy of Loonibha Manandha | January 18, 2022