Detailed ‘peak maps’ show the world’s population groups like never before

Determining the population of overcrowded megacities can be tricky, but a series of population peak maps has made the task much clearer.

These maps visualize population density as spikes, with the height of each spike representing the volume of people living in an area.

Alasdair Rae, a former professor of urban studies and planning at the University of Sheffield, used EU population density data and the Aerialod mapping tool to create the 3D maps.

Without borders between nations or states in the images, they provide insight into human migration and settlement.

Traditional population density maps are colored but flat, making it harder to know the density of one area versus another. Dr Rae’s maps help break down population density, where each peak on the world’s largest map represents two square kilometers while on subsequent maps each peak represents 1 square kilometer.

The placement of the largest population clusters is particularly telling, with maps showing the highest population densities along the world’s coastlines.

The US Northeast Corridor is home to 51 million people, or 15% of the US population

(Alasdair Rae)

The United States map shows that large population clusters are found along the eastern seaboard, particularly in the northeast corridor of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. The cities are home to a total of 51 million people, or 15% of the US population.

Clearly visible clusters also exist in Florida, Illinois, Georgia and Texas. The population westward is sparse, but Los Angeles and the Bay Area, both in the state of California, show peaks almost as high as New York.

93% of the Chinese population lives in the east of the country

(Alasdair Rae)

China and its surrounding neighbors exhibit massive clusters of urbanization. While the major centers of density around Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Shanghai are well known, cities such as Chengdu and Chonqing are part of massive population centers of 15-25 million people each.

The maps also show that more than 93% of the Chinese population lives in the eastern part of the country.

Spike maps can also tell us about the terrain

(Alasdair Rae)

The spike maps also give us new insight into the distribution of the world’s population, they only show part of the big picture.

They can also tell us a little more about the relief of a region. For example, the map of Africa shows a sparse area that makes up the Sahara Desert, while a light, curved strip in Europe shows where the Alps are.

While Dr Rae’s initial creation of the maps began due to time off during the Covid lockdowns, he hopes to continue to create more maps and present more detail on global demographic trends and geographic constraints.

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