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Day 30 – Reflecting on the #30DayMapChallenge

What is the #30DayMapChallenge?

Since 2019, each November has been host to the annual #30DayMapChallenge. The challenge was started by Topi Tjukanov as a way to get the cartography and GIS communities to come together and share maps, exchange ideas, and start conversations about mapping and spatial data. Since then, this friendly competition has grown, with thousands of maps being made and shared by map-makers from all over the world, and from a wide range of experience levels. 

Kate B created this map entirely out of lego pieces (1500 total!) She shared this map on Day 15 – “Map made without using a computer”. See if you can spot the different shapes, symbols, and even video game characters that are hidden in the ocean sections of the piece.

The rules are simple: A specific theme is assigned to each day of November and the goal is to create a map each day that matches that day’s specific theme. Most important of all, this is a friendly challenge! The idea is to have fun, share maps with the carto-community, and hopefully learn something in the process! Here at Avenza, the challenge meant an opportunity to get together as a team and challenge ourselves to try something new. We have map-makers from all experience levels try their hand at making some maps, and we shared our favorites on the Avenza Twitter feed.

Erik shared this beautiful map of Mountains and parks he plans to visit on an upcoming trip to the Canadian Rockies. He shared this map for Day 21 – “Elevation”

Today marks Day 30, and the end of this year’s challenge. The theme for today is “Metamapping”, with the objective being to reflect on the overall experience and discuss what we mapped, what we enjoyed, and most importantly, what we learned. We’ve collected some thoughts from a few Avenza Team members who participated by asking them a simple question: “What did the #30DayMapChallenge mean to you?”

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“An opportunity to get creative” – Rebecca B

I love making maps, and when the #30DayMapChallenge came around this year. I knew I had to participate in some way. I’ve spent a lot of time making maps with Avenza software, and some of my favorites were turned into tutorial articles on the Avenza Resources blog. You can see a handful of them here and here

My first challenge was to create a map that fit the “red” theme. Of the three color-based themes in this year’s challenge, red spoke to me the most. Perhaps it’s because it’s a color not prevalent in nature (blue and green make me think of water and vegetation), meaning I could create something that stands out a bit more. For me at least, red immediately makes me think of apples, so I set out to create a map showing apple production worldwide. As is so common with map-making projects, oftentimes the hardest part is finding good-quality data. Luckily for me, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization houses some fantastic datasets on global food production. Using the Join Table tool in MAPublisher, I could link this tabular data to a polygon layer of countries I had imported into Adobe Illustrator. Finally, I used MAP Themes to create an appropriate red stylesheet to visualize my data, and just like that, I was done! 

Rebecca B created this fantastic map showing global apple production for Day 6 – “Red”

Next up, I took a shot at making a historical-themed map for Day 24 of the challenge. Now as a self-proclaimed history buff, I’ll never turn down an opportunity to do some research on the ancient world. For this theme, I chose to map out the mythical route of Jason and the Argonauts. If you’re from Toronto and you think “Argos” you probably think about the football team, but these are the original Argos. I actually started this map long ago for another project, but the #30DayMapChallenge got me inspired to revisit it and see it to completion. The route was all hand-drawn in Adobe Illustrator after meticulously cataloging and plotting the different locations in the legend. I was able to easily create map labels using MAPublisher LabelPro and overlaid the map layers onto a Natural Earth shaded relief base layer. While the map is physically the biggest part of the artboard, the story is what really drove me to create the map.

Looking back on this challenge, it’s a wonderful opportunity to get back into map-making. The #30DayMapChallenge is a great outlet to reignite that spark of love for cartography.

Rebecca B manually digitized the path of Jason and the Argonauts for her Day 24 – “Historical” map

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“A chance to learn a new skill” – Chelsey

Not all of us at Avenza are experienced map-makers! In fact, even though I often use maps in my everyday life, I haven’t had many opportunities to make a map myself. For me, the #30DayMapChallenge was an opportunity to learn, try new things, and (hopefully) create my first map!

I was fortunate that the Avenza team included several experienced map-makers who were willing to sit down with me and teach me the basics of cartography. After a short crash course on “projections”, “coordinate systems” and the “fundamentals of working with spatial data”, I felt confident I could take my first steps in the world of cartography. Using some of the great tutorial workflows in the Avenza support center, I was able to get my first map dataset imported with MAPublisher. With a bit of help from my Avenza teammates, I was able to get a population dataset showing population counts for Tasmania. Something I quickly learned is that population data needs to be adjusted to account for variation in the size of each area of measure. I used the attribute expressions tutorial to create an expression that calculated the population density for each region rather than the raw population value. Finally, apply a MAP Theme to give the map some color, and add a few remaining stylistic elements with the native Adobe tools, and voila! My very first map is complete!

For me, the #30dayMapChallenge offered me a chance to learn some great new tools, and take a crack at making my very first map. I learned that making maps doesn’t have to be hard, and in fact can be quite fun! Being able to go from never made a map to “I made a real map!” in a matter of hours was incredible, and I can’t wait to try out these newfound skills on some other map projects!

Chelsey got a crash course in beginner map-making with MAPublisher, allowing her to create this neat map of population density in Tasmania for Day 12 – Population

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“Not all maps have to be serious” – Spencer

This year was my second time participating in the #30DayMapChallenge and once again, it was incredible to see the map-making community come together to share some really cool maps. I enjoy these types of challenges because they encourage new and experienced map-makers alike to try out new tools, learn some new techniques, and work on maps in a friendly, non-intimidating environment. For me at least, it was an opportunity to just have fun and try out some maps that were less serious in nature. Too often maps are only the result of intensive analytical processes or a product of complex data visualization. While these types of rigid workflows are still quite interesting to work on, it’s also good to step back and just have fun with the process instead of focusing on every detail in the workflow. For Day 4 – “Hexagons”, I did just that and put together a simple map documenting the “Sharknado Risk” across the US. I even wrote a tutorial blog about how I did it!

Spencer made this not-so-serious map of Sharknado risk by creating a custom Bivariate-risk index in MAPublisher. He shared this map for Day 4 – “Hexagons”

What I enjoy most about open-ended map challenges like #30DayMapChallenge is that they allow one to explore topics or datasets that they might not use in their normal day-to-day work. As many cartography and GIS folks know, the most challenging part of ‘making a map” often comes from deciding on a theme, and finding good data. This is especially true when you are restricted to a very specific mapping result or must adhere to strict design considerations. The #30DayMapChallenge removes some of these obstacles and provides an environment that encourages creativity and gets back to the real reason so many of us got into the industry – because we enjoy making maps.

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Some of the Map created by the Avenza Team for #30DayMapChallenge

Map-making for the #30DayMapChallenge: Day 4 – Hexagons

Yesterday was Day 4 of the #30DayMapChallenge, with the goal being to create a map using “Hexagons”. In the spirit of the challenge, we took a not-so-serious approach to create a fun map of “Sharknado Risk” based on the 2013 film “Sharknado” using MAPublisher tools and a really neat hexbin dataset for the United States. This map was in part created for NACIS 2021, and you can see how we created the map by watching the full video presentation included below. This blog also includes a few supplementary notes if you wish to follow along.

What exactly is a Sharknado?

A sharknado is a fictional meteorological phenomenon that occurs when a large tornado scoops up some sharks, transports them some distance, and finally disperses across a populated area. Generally speaking, if a given area is close to potential shark habitats (be it an aquarium, a zoo, or even the ocean) and has a high frequency of tornadoes, the area is more “at-risk” of experiencing a sharknado. To that end, we gathered some great open datasets to help us map this risk. We collected a shapefile documenting point locations for every single tornado in the country dating back to 1950. With this dataset, we can determine the relative frequency of tornadoes for a given area. From OpenStreetMap, we estimated potential locations for sharks by collecting point coordinates for every aquarium, marine park, aquatic zoo, and ocean-facing beach. We used Overpass Turbo to query and extract these points to a spatial dataset and imported them into Illustrator using MAPublisher. Check out this great tutorial (produced by Steve Spindler!) that covers techniques for importing Overpass Turbo data into MAPublisher. The tutorial was part of our ongoing Mapping Class series, a video-focused series that provides helpful tips, techniques, and workflows from real-world cartographers.

Aggregate data with Spatial Join

Since the challenge of the day is hexagons, we needed a way to get our messy point data into our clean “hexbin” format. The Spatial Join tool allows us to aggregate our point data (Tornado and Shark Locations) into a single hex-grid polygon dataset.

Credits to Daniel Huffman’s projectlinework.org for making this dataset available!

The Spatial Join tool includes several different options for “spatial relationships” that will determine how our point data is joined to the new hex-grid. We can also specify how the tool will aggregate the attribute information for our joined data. In this case, we join our Tornado point data based on a “contains”  spatial relationship. This will aggregate all tornado points that are “contained” within a given hexbin. We also specify that the tool should aggregate the attribute information for all “contained” tornados by tallying up the number of tornado points within each hex. Since we know the dataset spans a 69-yr period, we can easily calculate the average annual tornado frequency for each hexagon.

We apply a similar technique to our shark location data, this time specifying a “near” spatial relationship. We used some back-of-the-envelope math to estimate that a Sharknado (as it appears in the film) lasts substantially longer and travels farther than a normal tornado, meaning sharks as far away as 150 miles still present a potential risk. We can specify a search range of 150 miles and this will be applied to our spatial relationship as a cut-off distance. 

 

Edit attributes with expressions

We assumed that Sharknado risk is highest when a given area is prone to tornadoes and also has a high concentration of potential shark locations. Given this, we came up with a basic equally-weighted, bi-variate risk index to assign a “Sharknado Risk” score based on these two variables. To calculate this score for each hexagon in our hexbin grid, we applied some custom expressions using MAP Attributes. First, we assigned a Tornado risk score from 1 to 6 based on the low to high frequency of tornadoes. We assigned a similar score for “Shark proximity” based on the concentration of potential shark locations. Finally, we combined these values into 36 unique scores to evaluate sharknado risk.

Stylize maps easily with MAP Themes

The final step is to stylize our map and create a layout. With MAP Themes, we can create rules-based stylesheets to easily stylize our map data in no time. MAPublisher comes with a great selection of built-in MAP Swatches, including several color brewer-based swatches that work great for choropleth-style maps like this. We used these swatches to create a custom, bi-variate swatch group to visualize each score of our “Sharknado Risk Index”. The MAP Themes tool also provided a neat data distribution viewer, which also allows us to inspect a histogram of our dataset. Although we used discrete categories for each of our risk scores, the data distribution viewer is very useful when working with continuous datasets since it allows you to see how your bin-widths will affect the display of colour on your choropleth.

The final touches

With stylization complete, Day 4 of the #30DayMapChallenge is almost in the bag. We can create a north arrow, and a scale bar and create a custom legend to facilitate easy interpretation. Since we are still within an Illustrator environment, we can use all the powerful native illustrator tools to add graphical design elements, text, and artwork to create a fun, infographic-style map. Although we were happy to call the map finished at this point, the great thing about making maps is there is also room to add more. For example, we might try using LabelPro to create custom labels that mark high and low-risk areas, or we could create insets to highlight specific regions of interest. The possibilities are endless!

We had a great time putting together this fun map for the #30DayMapChallenge, and we are excited to see what we can do for the remaining themes on the calendar! For those of you who are also making maps for the challenge, a reminder that the Avenza Map Competition is still accepting submissions. Share your map, compete with other map-makers in the community, and win some great prizes!

See a PDF version of the map here.