ArcGIS Online is rapidly emerging as the platform of choice for the creation and dissemination of authoritative geographic data content. This Living Atlas of the World is a highly active network of contributors and curators whose output is accessed billions of times weekly. This chapter explains how this unique data ecosystem works, how to access its data, and how to contribute your own piece to the global GIS puzzle.
The Living Atlas of the World is a treasure trove of information, a dynamic collection of thousands of maps, datasets, images, tools, and apps produced by ArcGIS users worldwide (in conjunction with data curation and creation by Esri and its partners). It is the foremost and largest collection of global geographic information used to support critical decision-making. Think of it as a thematically organized, curated subset of the best available ArcGIS Online content, created and maintained by the GIS community. This deep and definitive catalog of information awaits your exploration and discovery. And that’s the big idea of this chapter, that you can combine content from this repository with your own data to create powerful new maps and apps. And it’s a two-way street: you can use the Contributor tools to add your own data to the Living Atlas.
The Living Atlas represents the collective work of the global mapping community—the people who use the ArcGIS platform as the system of record for their work. As such, it is fast emerging as the most extensive and authoritative source of geographic information on the planet.
Hunting down good data used to involve a lot of work just to get a GIS project started. These days, using ready-made basemaps and authenticated data from ArcGIS Online, GIS analysts are able to spend more time thinking analytically, which really gets to the heart of what makes global GIS work.
All GIS organizations have a core mission, a reason to exist, in support of their mandate and area of focus. As part of this work, these organizations are committed to building key authoritative data layers to support their core mission. This work includes the compilation of foundational data layers as well as standard basemap layers and operational data for their geographies and applications.
For such organizations—and they are innumerable in local, regional, state, and national levels around the globe—this information serves as the basis for all their comprehensive GIS applications. In the early days of GIS, the creation of these data layers from scratch was, in fact, job number one for these GIS organizations.
As accurate new authoritative geospatial data is developed, GIS users have been able to leverage their information resources in all kinds of GIS applications by extending their own work and helping their constituents.
The result is that all these different agencies have created data that is considered the official system of record maintained to support their mandated domain. The pace of migrating this data into Web GIS is increasing exponentially, and we now see many contributions coming online that fill in gaps for the entire world. The result is a continuous coverage of geographic information worldwide—the GIS of the world.
Imagery layers enable you to view recent, high-resolution imagery for most of the world; multispectral imagery of the planet updated daily; and near real-time imagery for parts of the world affected by major events, such as natural disasters.
Tokyo Station is in the center of the Japanese capital. This imagery layer is useful, and its metadata (resolution, age, and source) is but a click away.
Many places are logically defined by a boundary. These map layers describe areas at many levels of geography, including countries, administrative areas, postal codes, census boundaries, and more.
Boundaries and Places are the bread and butter of vector GIS. Basically anything that can be depicted as point, line, or polygon features is found here. This web app features hiking trails in Idaho, a line feature.
Demographics and lifestyles maps—of the United States and more than 120 other countries—include recent information about total population, family size, household income, spending, and much more.
This story map is a gateway to daytime population data for the entire United States.
Basemaps provide reference maps of the world and the context for your work. Built from the best available data from the GIS community of reliable data providers, these maps are presented in multiple cartographic styles provide the foundation for GIS apps.
This basemap provides a detailed representation of the world symbolized with a custom street map style that is designed for use at night or in other low-light environments. (Lower Manhattan is shown here.)
These are the maps and layers that describe the systems that people use to move between places. They include a variety of global, national, and local maps on various topics from infrastructure projects to rest areas. Some of these layers are dynamic, such as the live World Traffic map, which is updated every few minutes with data on traffic incidents and congestion.
In places where high automobile and truck traffic exist, daily traffic counts reveal highly impacted patterns. (Los Angeles is shown here.)
These maps and layers are collected from sensors on the ground and in space. They describe our planet’s current conditions, from earthquakes and fires to severe weather and hurricanes.
Whether you want to know how much snow fell in the Alps yesterday, or the current water temperature off the coast of Japan, these observations are available through ArcGIS.
These layers depict data about human activity in the built world and its economic activities and include such things as utility infrastructures, parcel boundaries, 3D cityscapes, housing, and employment statistics.
3D buildings, often in high detail, are being integrated into the Living Atlas.This is a scene of Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
This collection includes scanned raster maps and dynamic image layers. These layers can be viewed individually as a basemap or displayed against a current basemap for comparison purposes.
The David Rumsey Map Collection in ArcGIS Online features some of the most popular maps from the complete historical map collection, which focuses on rare 18th- and 19th-century North American and South American maps.
A basemap provides a reference map for your world and a context for the content you want to display in a map. When you create a new map, you can choose which basemap you want to use. Change the basemap of your current map at any time by choosing from the basemap gallery or using your own basemap.
The evolution of basemaps has quietly changed the way of life for the everyday mapping professional. They make it easy to create most maps. Billions of ArcGIS maps utilizing these basemaps are created and shared every week. The examples seen here link to the detailed descriptions pages where each can be read about, and then opened in a live window.
These basemaps are multiscale, continuous, and provide global coverage:
This means that as you zoom into or out of a map, the features and detail that you see change. The ArcGIS basemap collection is continuous in scale. Zoom from the entire planet into the details of your neighborhood and down to a single parcel.
The extent of the map never stops; basemaps wrap around the surface of the earth.
These maps cover the entire surface of the earth. Basemap coverage and levels of detail are improving each day as more data is added to the system.
World Imagery provides satellite and aerial, cloud-free imagery in natural color, at one meter or less, of many parts of the world and lower-resolution imagery worldwide.
With exactly the same imagery as the World Imagery basemap, this map includes political boundaries and place-names for reference purposes.
This comprehensive street map includes highways, major roads, minor roads, railways, water features, cities, parks, landmarks, building footprints, and administrative boundaries overlaid on shaded relief.
This basemap shows cities, water features, physiographic features, parks, landmarks, highways, roads, railways, airports, and administrative boundaries overlaid on land cover and shaded relief for added context.
This dark basemap supports the overlay of brightly colored layers, creating a visually compelling map graphic that helps readers see the patterns intended by allowing your data to come to the foreground.
Like its dark counterpart, this basemap supports strong colors and labels against a neutral, informative backdrop. The canvas basemaps leave room for your operational layers to shine.
This reference map details the global transportation system with a street name reference overlay that is particularly useful on top of imagery.
The Oceans basemap (showing coastal regions and the ocean seafloor) is used by marine GIS professionals and as a reference map by others in the oceans and maritime community.
New in the fast-drawing vector format, this basemap features elevations as shaded relief, bathymetry, and coastal water features that provide a neutral background with political boundaries, and place-names for reference purposes.
OpenStreetMap is the open collaborative project to create a free editable map of the world. Volunteers gather location data using GPS, local knowledge, and other free sources of information.
This set of maps provides a useful basemap for a variety of applications, particularly in rural areas where topographic maps provide unique details and features from other basemaps.
This composite topographic basemap of the United States by USGS includes contours, shaded relief, woodland and urban tint, along with vector layers, such as governmental unit boundaries, hydrography, structures, and transportation.
This data about populations includes the basics, such as age and ethnicity, but also more sophisticated attributes such as people’s wealth and health, their spending habits, and their politics. ArcGIS includes many hundreds of demographic variables (globally) that are accessible as maps, reports, and raw data that you can use to enrich your own maps.
The idea of data enrichment means that you can associate or append demographics to your local geography. This ability to combine your existing data with demographic variables specific to the problem being studied has opened a whole new avenue for everyone, not just consumer marketers, but epidemiologists, political scientists, sociologists, and any professional who wants to better understand a certain segment of the human population.
Demographers want to understand populations not only currently, but into the future. How will a given population group change over time? The art of forecasting current-year estimates on the basis of the decennial US Census, for example, is something that is carefully conducted by the demographic experts at Esri. One end product of this work is manifested as Tapestry Segmentation, which comes to life in the app below.
Accurate current-year estimates and five-year projections for US demographics, including households, income, and housing.
Census and American Community Survey (ACS) data used to analyze the impact of population changes on services and sites.
Detailed descriptions of residential neighborhoods, including demographics, lifestyle data, and economic factors divided into 67 segments.
Data about products and services consumers are buying. Includes apparel, food and beverage, entertainment, and household goods and services.
Includes thousands of items that consumers want. The Market Potential Index measures consumer behaviors by area compared with the US average.
Direct comparison between retail sales and consumer spending by industry. Measures the gap between supply and demand.
Business Locations and Business Summary data from Dun & Bradstreet. Provides sales, employee information, and industry classification.
Statistics for thousands of major shopping centers, collected by the Directory of Major Malls. Includes name, total sales, and more.
Statistics about major categories of personal and property crime. Includes information about assault, burglary, and more.
Peak and low traffic volume of vehicles that cross a certain point or street location. Contains more than one million points.
Recent demographics about total population, family size, household income, education, marital status, household type, unemployment, and more.
Total amount spent and amount spent per capita for categories such as food, clothing, household, medical, electronics, and more.
This atlas shows how population is changing—growing in some parts of the United States, and shrinking in others.
Open Data allows organizations to use the ArcGIS platform to provide the public with open access to their geospatial data. Organizations use ArcGIS Online to create their own website and specify Open Data groups to share specific items. The general public can use Open Data sites to search by topic or location, download data in multiple formats, and view data on an interactive map and in a table. Here are some examples.
The ArcGIS Open Data community provides direct access to tens of thousands of open government datasets from thousands of organizations. These numbers are growing daily.
At the most basic level, imagery is simply pictures of the earth. Imagery can be immediate or taken across multiple time spans enabling us to measure and monitor change. Every image contains massive amounts of information and can be one of the quickest ways to collect data.
When it’s integrated with GIS, imagery encompasses a broad collection of data about our world in the form of pictures from above—taken by satellites from space, aircraft flying over our cities, and collected by other sensors. Imagery represents the earth in digital pictures composed of millions of pixels. Satellite and aerial images are georeferenced pictures that overlay focused areas of our planet.
Because imagery sees the earth in unique ways, this enables us to both view and analyze our world using multiple perspectives. Depending on the satellite’s sensors, imagery can provide access to both visible light as well as invisible aspects of the electromagnetic spectrum. This enables us to interpret what we can’t see with the naked eye. We can visibly observe the presence or absence of water, classes of land cover and urbanization, the occurrence of certain minerals, human disturbance, vegetation health, changes in ice and water coverage, and a multitude of other factors. Imagery even enables us to automate the generation of 3D views of our planet.
Because the imagery collection is immediate, it enables us to monitor and measure change over time. For much more information about imagery and GIS, check out Chapter 8 of this book and The ArcGIS Imagery Book.
Aerial photography, historically on film, has gone digital. Still and video imagery from drones is on the rise. After this May 2014 Oklahoma tornado event, updated imagery for the scene appeared online within 24 hours.
The use of satellite imagery to study the earth has seen a recent explosion thanks to the increase in the numbers of new imaging satellites and improvements to visualization and analysis software.
Electronic sensors in satellites and planes detect more than the human eye—information in the form of spectral bands. Once a band is captured as an image by a sensor, invisible bands can be displayed using the colors we see.
Landscape analysis underpins our efforts to plan land use, engage in natural resource management, and better understand our relationship with our environment. Esri has taken the best available data from many public data sources and provided the content in an easy-to-use GIS collection of datasets.
The map layers in this group provide information about natural systems, plants and animals, and the impacts and implications of human use of those resources that define the landscape of the United States and the rest of the world.
There’s a notion that “the more you put on the map, the better the map,” but there’s a case where the opposite is true. Put two patterns together, and you’ll discover a third. Pile on too much, and you can’t discover a pattern at all.
The simple phrase “understanding precedes action” was an off-the-cuff remark I made that resonated as a truism, so the phrase stuck. Here’s an example that illustrates why it’s an important idea.
As cities incur more traffic, they add more freeways and highways. Yet does that actually solve the problem? Or does it spur the purchase of more cars, further crowding our freeways, while we consume fuel and generate more pollution? Adding more lanes only invites more traffic. The problem wasn’t understood, but action was taken anyway.
Understanding precedes action. This is at the heart of the Urban Observatory, a longtime dream recently realized with the help of my friends at Esri. It’s a simple idea. Yet simple is not necessarily reductive or dumbed down. In fact, it can be edifying. That’s how I see it. And GIS is the key to this kingdom. It transforms mapping into a universal language and gives you the opportunity to ask questions and find answers visually. In fact, GIS allows us to ask better questions.
ArcGIS includes a Living Atlas of the World with beautiful and authoritative maps and layers on hundreds of topics. These maps are shared by Esri, our partners, and members of the ArcGIS user community. The Living Atlas is curated so you, and others, can count on finding high-quality information for your ArcGIS apps.
Contribute to the Living Atlas You can help enrich the Living Atlas by sharing your maps and apps. To share your content items with the ArcGIS community, simply nominate your publicly shared ArcGIS Online maps and apps for review by our curators.
Landsat sees Earth in a unique way. It takes images of every location in the world to reveal hidden patterns in everything from volcanic activity to urban sprawl.
Large-scale map layers add context and increased usability to basemaps. This story map details these map layers, features, and select contributor sites and provides examples of applied use.
You are the marketing manager for a chain of high-end beauty salons in the Ottawa, Canada, area. The owners recently opened a new location, and revenue isn’t yet matching expectations—you need to create a new, loyal customer base! At a recent Women’s Show convention, you held a drawing at your booth and collected a large amount of new contact information. You want to streamline this list to identify people who might realistically become new clients at the new salon, and send them a special promotional package to entice them to book an appointment.
To do this, you’ll use ArcGIS Maps for Office to visualize salon locations on a map in Microsoft® Excel. You’ll also add the locations of the new, potential customers and enrich the customer data with demographic information to ensure that you’re pursuing more affluent customers. You’ll analyze the data to determine which potential customers are within a reasonable driving distance from the new salon. Then you’ll filter the analysis results to select only those particular customers so you can create a customized mailing list for your promotional package. Finally, you’ll add a dynamic map slide to a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation to show your findings to your boss