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The Intersection of Population and Elevation Examined

A map showing the estimated number of people in 2010 living at different elevation levels across several Southern Asian countries.
The map and bar chart above depict the estimated number of people in 2010 living at different elevation levels —ranging from less than 5 meters to greater than 5000 meters above mean sea level— across several Southern Asian countries. The bar chart presents a snapshot of how the distribution of people at various elevations differs between countries. For example, in both Afghanistan and Bhutan a large proportion of the population (nearly 55 percent) resides at elevations higher than 3000 meters, whereas the entire population of Bangladesh lives at less than 100 meters. This simple summary enables comparisons and highlights contrasts between population distribution and topography for various countries.

This map is one of several from the recently released collection, The National Aggregates of Geospatial Data Collection: Population, Landscape and Climate Estimates, Version 3 (PLACE III), produced by the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) operated by the Center for International Earth Science Information Network. PLACE III summarizes population counts and land areas in relation to the environmental characteristics of their location, and provides the results in table form. Population estimates are available for 1990, 2000, and 2010. The PLACE III data have been prepared as a service to those familiar with tabular data applications such as Microsoft Excel, but who lack specialized geospatial training or software.

Screenshot of various filters in the PLACE III database.
Screenshot of excel database for Population and Land Area ( PLACE III) data set showing filters for the number of low-income urban people in West Africa living in the mangroves biome.

PLACE III is organized so that users can quickly find the specific data they are interested in. The database may be downloaded as an Excel spreadsheet or as a comma-separated file (CSV), able to be opened by any text editor. Users of the spreadsheet may filter population estimates by country and by a variety of themes, including biomes of the world, climate classifications and predictions, elevation levels, distance from the coast, and population density zones. New in this version are estimates for urban versus rural populations.

The PLACE III database makes it possible to compare populations in various contexts in different countries, for example, examining populations by geoRegion (a geographic entity defined by the UN, similar to continent); by geoSubregion (regions smaller than continents but higher than countries); by income group; and by lending category according to a World Bank global classification of  lending attractiveness. For example, to obtain information on income levels along the Urban/Rural divide in West Africa, a user can filter by geoSubregion (West Africa), then select the Urban category and choose an income group (in this case, Low-Income). The results include both the estimated percentage and population counts of low-income urban people in West Africa.

Drilling down further, a user might activate the thematic filter for the Mangrove Biome, providing an estimate of how many low-income, urban West Africans reside in this vulnerable ecosystem. Population estimates in the PLACE III database may be used to help answer a variety of questions useful for research, for example, approximately how many people live within 10 kilometers of the coastline in South American countries; roughly how many rural Algerians live in deserts and xeric shrublands; or how populations are distributed by elevation in southern Asia.


This map and commentary is part of the Map of the Month blog series produced by the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN). Development was led by research staff assistant Allison Lacko and geographic information specialist Kytt MacManus, in conjunction with senior staff associate Sandra Baptista, geographic information specialist Tricia Chai-Onn, and communications coordinator Elisabeth Sydor.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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