Ice Age Mapping as a Case Study: Interactive Cartography and Big Open Data in Paleoecology
Online interactive mapping interfaces are valuable tools in paleoecological and global change research, because these maps demonstrate key ecological concepts such as species moving through time and space and the effects of changing climates, ice sheet extent, and other factors. However, the efficacy of these maps in education and science communication remains poorly understood. Here, I extend the geoscientific thinking framework (spatial thinking, temporal thinking, complex systems, field observations) by adding a fifth component, data science. I then conduct a needs assessment and interactive map functionality analysis for Ice Age Mapper and Pollen Viewer, two data visualizations of past changes in species distributions, to evaluate the visualizations’ efficacy in supporting research, education, and science communication in these five domains of geoscientific thinking. I contextualize this work by reviewing the history of spatial data visualizations in paleoecology, including site maps, proportional symbols, isopoll, isochrone, postage stamp, and taxa range maps, as well as current developments in building open community databases and mapped visualizations. Pollen Viewer, now defunct, served the needs of different user communities through its relatively constrained interface that still included easy sharing of the animations and some functionality for more advanced users. Ice Age Mapper is a new interactive, online mapping interface that visualizes the site-level distributions of pollen, vertebrate, diatom, and other kinds of paleoecology data through time and enables data exploration with a variety of filters. For Pollen Viewer, the most useful widgets identified by users were taxa selection, playing/pausing the animation, and overlaying sites, and the least useful were switching between the Latin and common names of taxa, jumping to the animation’s beginning/end, and reversing the animation direction. For Ice Age Mapper, the most useful widgets were the search bar, map-sharing via a link, the mouseover of site names, the adjustable time bin, the age bar chart and filter, and the ice sheet overlay, and the least useful widgets were the investigator pie chart and filter, the record type pie chart and filter, and the altitude, the investigator, and additional site notes, as listed on site panel. The design recommendations for Ice Age Mapper are to make the search bar the primary method to add data, add an animation button, add additional overlays to the map and time bar, add links to download individual datasets, and only open the map and time bar when data is added. These recommendations seek to improve the interface’s usefulness for the five domains of geoscientific thinking using emerging cartographic interaction techniques and reflect the necessity of balancing interface flexibility and constraint to meet the divergent needs of research, education, and science communication audiences. The geoscientific thinking framework can guide the design and development of online interactive science maps; the interface should have a foundation of field observations and features that support spatial, temporal, and systems thinking, which come together to provide training in data science, an increasingly-useful skill for geoscience researchers, educators, students, and the general public.
Ice Age mapping
Big Open Data
Spatial data visualization
Ice Age Mapper