Climate change, rising sea levels, global population – all significant topics, and our environment sits at the helm of it all. Join us as we explore an aptly named data set, Last of the Wild, and how GIS has shifted storytelling for the better.

The Environment is one of the most prolific topics of this generation. With rising sea levels, diminishing ice caps, increased global population and greenhouse gas emissions; climate change is a topic our modern civilisation simply can’t ignore.

At Pufferfish we strongly believe in telling these globally significant stories, and in giving complex global data sets an engaging visual identity. We want to help people interact with topics bigger than themselves, and with information that might be otherwise unimaginable.

With in-house GIS capabilities, telling these stories is not only a passion for us, but an obsession; and paired with our spherical display technology, these stories can be told and explored in their inherent format. With many projects on the go at Pufferfish HQ, we felt it would be worth shining a light on one in particular that echoes the importance of giving environmental phenomenons a visual identity to motivate positive change.

Entitled Last of the Wild, it showcases the impact of human influence on ecosystems around the world. And the results… well see for yourself.


For many, NASA is a name synonymous with Space exploration, Astronomy, and Planetary Science. But another key facet to NASA is Earth Observation, and the data imagery they produce allows Cartographers the glory of piecing these hugely complex data sets together. This is how we came across Last of the Wild, an archive of data sets presented by NASA’s Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC), a Data Center in NASA's Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS).

Showcasing ‘human pressure on the environment’ as a ‘global driver of ecological processes on the planet, on par with climatic trends, geological forces, and astronomical variations’; Last of the Wild explores data curated over a 25 year period of ‘built-up environments, population density, electric power infrastructure, crop lands, pasture lands, roads, railways, and navigable waterways, which then allows for analyses of change over time.’ (SEDAC)

Below are data visualisations modified by our in-house expert Heiko Lang, showcasing how Last of the Wild's complex and meaningful information can come alive on our interactive, intuitive PufferTouch® technology. With this world view, key data becomes a powerful story of our planet and its journey through recent decades.

DATA SET 1: Ecosystems

Exploring the human impact on global ecosystems.

From changes to ecosystems through landscaping, settlements, changes to infrastructure, etc the more intense the colour red is on the map, the more impact on ecosystems these activities are having. An honest representation of our relationship with the Planet, and how our human influence is changing these global ecosystems. The varying shades of red make it possible to interpret (and engage with) our influence on the environment, with the hope that positive change can follow.

With global climate marches happening just last week, our climate is a topic no-one can ignore, and these clear visualisations give evidence as to why it should be a conversation we are all a part of.

DATA SET 2: Wildest Parts of Earth

Exploring the wildest parts of Earth.

The green areas of the map represent the 10% wildest areas in each biome, or in other words the most untouched by humans. With the darker green areas also representing areas with greater biodiversity.

This world view gives us a clear perspective of global biodiversity and explores our connection with wildlife as humans. A discussion then magnified when explored on our non-planar displays.

DATA SET 3: Urban Population

Exploring the spread of urban population by the year 2030 - provided by Seto, Guneralp & Hutyra 2015.

The more intense the colour pink is on the map reflects the most human influenced areas by 2030. This could be through urban life settling (or re-settling), new cities being developed and/or infrastructure being built; but the heavier the influence of humans, the more it is visualised in pink.

While the colour map tells a subtle story, by seeing the visualisation on a global scale it gives data an understandable identity. This data set is a clear representation of how our world is interconnected, and how we each have an influence on Planet Earth through urbanisation.

Last of the Wild is just one story, but these visualisations give a whole new perspective to global data. Data that we don’t see with our own eyes day to day, and data that when seen can ensure information is used, viewed, and understood in a whole new way. GIS and data mapping ensure environmental changes we’re all experiencing can be easily absorbed, and with real potency.

In making complex information accessible, the storytelling possibilities are endless. We can facilitate global conversations, on a global scale, and with real world data; and in turn, find answers and make positive change.


“The work I do allows people to see global phenomena with a totally borderless view. People can see fluctuations, movements and life as data sets move through time, meaning they can’t ignore that this world we inhabit is alive. It gives people a whole new perspective on these global topics, and it’s such a powerful thing to be able to help communicate these stories.”

Heiko Lang, GIS Cartographer

For more on GIS, content development, and how you can tell your global stories on our PufferSphere® or PufferTouch® technology, don’t hesitate to get in contact with us - and see our ‘Work’ tab for more.

Thanks to Heiko for sharing his expertise for this Lab, and for all the great work he does. We can’t wait to see what you do next!

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