The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How so many of the world’s people live in so little of its space

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There are all kinds of gorgeous maps out there that show population density. Beyond the straight-forward maps that illustrate the number of people living in a given area, maps showing things like noise levels, roads or night-time lights essentially capture population density, too.

As you look at these maps, one of the most obvious and surprising takeaways is that people really aren't spread out over the Earth's territory. Most of us are jammed together in a few densely populated areas, while vast and empty ocean, forests, fields and deserts cover the rest of the Earth.

It's a simple idea, but visual explanations of this point can be striking. The 12 maps below feature different ways to illustrate how so many of the world's people live in so little of its space.

1. Nearly 40 percent of Americans live close to the coast. 

This map by Jishai Evers of Dadaviz shows the coastal shoreline counties of the U.S., which are the counties that are directly adjacent to an open ocean, a major estuary, or the Great Lakes. According to 2014 Census data, 39.1 percent of the U.S. population lived in those counties, often within miles of the coast.

The next three maps are also from Evers, from another collection of maps based on Census data.

2. The same number of people live in the orange area as the red area. 

Fifty percent of the U.S. population lives in the country's 144 largest counties, while the other 50 percent lives in 2,998 counties.

3. America's two biggest counties have the same population as the 14 smallest states. 

The counties that cover downtown Los Angeles and downtown Chicago have the same population as all of the states in orange.

4. The population of those two counties is equal to the 1,437 smallest counties. 

Nearly 5 percent of America's population lives in the counties covering downtown L.A. and downtown Chicago, the same proportion as live in the country's 1,437 smallest counties.

5. Basically nobody lives in 47 percent of the land of the U.S. 

This map by Nik Freeman shows the nearly 5 million U.S. Census blocks where the reported population was zero in 2010.

6. The U.S. population is equal to 10 Canadas. 

Canada is the world's second largest country in terms of area, but its population is tiny. That's the lesson of this map, which comes via Ezra Klein and I Love Charts and shows the U.S. divided into Canada-sized population pieces.

7. Splitting America into equally populated states would make the map a lot different. 

That idea might sound obvious, but visually it's still quite cool. This map, created by Neil Freeman of Fake is the New Real, shows the United States redrawn as 50 states of equal population.

8. The blue and red regions contain the same number of people. 

Max Galka of the blog Metrocosm created this astonishing map, which shows two areas of equal population in red and blue. The blue region in the map above contains all or part of more than 60 countries, while the red region contains just two: All of Bangladesh, and the states of Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal in India.

"Notice that the blue region covers more than just uninhabited deserts and tundras. It encompasses several prominent, powerful countries, including Australia, Ireland, Canada, and Saudi Arabia," says Galka.

9. The world features expansive deserts of population. 

This unique map, created by James Cheshire, a geographer and lecturer at University College London, depicts global population density as if people were the mountains and deserts. Cheshire used data on global population density from NASA's Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center.

Cheshire, who is also a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and the author of the book “London: The Information Capital,” wrote that he was struck by how jagged the lines become throughout India, Eastern China, Indonesia and Japan in comparison to the West – “evidence we are firmly in the ‘Asian Century,’” he said. While Asia's population shows up like the Himalayas, other vast stretches of the map fade away as human deserts. Most of Siberia, the Sahara and Canada are blank on this map, as are Australia, the interior of South America and the Western U.S.

10. More than half of the world's people live inside this circle. 

Maybe you've seen this classic map from redditor valieriepieris. Even though this circle is mostly water and includes the sparsely populated country of Mongolia, there are more people living inside of it than outside of it.

11. Most of the world's people are in the northern hemisphere. 

That's one of the lessons of this cool map of the world population by latitude and longitude by André Christoffer Andersen. You can see the interactive version here.

12. The entire world population could stand in New York City.

Tim Urban of Wait But Why has a hilarious explanation of just how much room all the world's people would take up if they stood really close together. Based on his estimate that 10 people can stand in one square meter -- not incredibly roomy, but definitely possible -- he estimates that Central Park could hold the population of Australia or Saudi Arabia, and that everyone on Earth could fit into New York City.

Urban calculates that we could fit 590 million people in Manhattan -- that takes care of North America. We could fit 1.38 billion people in Brooklyn, equivalent to the population of Africa, South America and Oceania. Queens could hold 2.83 billion -- roughly the equivalent of India + China + Japan. 1.09 billion could fit in the Bronx, taking care of Europe, while 1.51 billion could fit Staten Island, making room for the rest of Asia ex-China, Japan and India.

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