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A wonderful new web mapping service from our colleagues at NASA SEDAC (the Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center) and CIESIN (the Center for International Earth Science Information Network, a research center within the Earth Institute at Columbia University) provides the educator and researcher with an incredibly valuable, easy-to-use, and fascinating tool to examine the distribution and demographic characteristics of the world's population.  I have been a great admirer of the folks at SEDAC and CIESIN since my days at the US Census Bureau, and write about them frequently in our data blog, and this population service is the latest in a set of data and tools that can be used in multiple ways and at many educational levels and settings.  It also makes use of some innovative Esri technology.


Once you access the web mapping application--(see my video for some guidance) - available without logging into anything, and available on any browser or device, you can examine global population distribution.   Through toggling the maps on the right between country boundaries, roadmap, and terrain, you can examine the relationship between the distribution of population at scales from local to global and the relationship of the population density and amounts to terrain, landforms, climate zones, river systems, coastlines, and more.  You can also view a layer called "settlement points" (which come from  You also have the option to dive deeper into the population data by accessing the polygon, circle, or point tools on the left side of the map, as shown below.  Note that for 2010, you have even more detail on the age breakdown.  


SEDAC CIESIN population web mapping service


The point buffering tool allows you to obtain population data for circular areas of the exact radius you choose, as I do below for Mumbai, India.  I obtained the latitude and longitude for Mumbai by accessing ArcGIS  > Map > and using the Measure--Point Location tool.


SEDAC CIESIN population web mapping service


The results of my point buffer are shown below.


SEDAC CIESIN population web mapping service

I can run the same procedure for other parts of the world, or simply use the polygon or circle tool, and the map holds all of my areas until I clear them.  With these areas, I can then compare the number of people, age of the population, and change over time.  Which areas of the world contain the fewest people? Is it southern Algeria in the Sahara, as I investigate below, or is it northern Siberia or central Australia?  Why are some areas experiencing a high rate of population, growth, while other areas are experiencing slower rates, and still others are decreasing?  What are the implications of growth and decline for those areas?


SEDAC CIESIN population web mapping service

There is still more!  One of my favorite tools as a geographer is population age pyramids.  This mapping service provides these as well.  For example, see the older population predominating on the Great Plains of Colorado.  


SEDAC CIESIN population web mapping service


This same pyramid is shown at right, below.  But at left is the data for roughly the same geographic area in the southeast part of the Denver metropolitan area.  The numbers in metro Denver are much higher (thousands in each age category vs. only a few dozen on the Great Plains), but also the age structure is much different--with 30- to 50-somethings raising kids, and not as many people over 65 or 20 year olds.  What do these neighborhoods look like?  You can change the base map to imagery, zoom in, and find out. 



SEDAC CIESIN population web mapping service


Where are the 20-somethings?  Look at neighborhoods near light rail lines in central cities, or college towns, or, in the case below, military bases. Here I am examining Fort Riley, Kansas, a large military base; note the age structure and also the slightly higher number of males than females (though they are fairly similar in number!) 


SEDAC CIESIN population web mapping service


One of the key concepts when teaching with web mapping applications such as this is helping researchers and students get into the habit of examining the metadata.  The values for this mapping service are calculated using Zonal Statistics on 1km rasters from the Gridded Population of the World (GPW4) data, described here:   The GPW data has been refined, curated, and is updated with the highest attention to quality and detail with an expert staff of statisticians and rigorous methods.  The age data specifically references the Basic Demographic Characteristics Dataset here:  Another way to focus attention on the data and methods is to examine the Mean Area of Geographic Units on the right side of the mapping service.  This clearly shows that the data collection units are different for central Kazakhstan than for, say, Vietnam.  Note that the settlement points layer referred to above are there for reference and are not used in the Zonal Stats Calculations.


This web mapping application fits nicely into the other web mapping applications that I describe here.  Use these to teach about the key issues of our 21st Century world--population, natural hazards, oceans, climate, energy, water, and much more. 

Many educators, researchers, students, and analysts regularly want to examine changes-over-space-and-time with imagery and GIS.   Recently, 81 different dates of historical imagery for the past 5 years were placed inside ArcGIS via the World Imagery Wayback service.  For more information, see this essay.

This imagery is accessible in ArcGIS , ArcMap, and ArcGIS Pro.  The best place to start is the World Imagery Wayback app.  This app, available simply through a web browser –  - can be used by way of introduction in a university or community college course, or all by itself in a primary or secondary school.  A fascinating and an incredible resource for examining land use and land cover change, the wayback image service covers the entire globe.  That means you can examine coastal erosion in England, deforestation in Indonesia, urban sprawl just about anywhere, reclamation of mine lands, changes in water levels in reservoirs, agricultural expansion in Saudi Arabia, glacial retreat in Alaska, and much more. 

Plus, in keeping with the theme of being critical of the data in GIS in education, and the focus of our book and blog The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, this app and imagery create a useful "teachable moment."  The dates shown on the left side of the app represent the update of the Esri World Imagery service, fed by multiple sources, private and public, from local and global sources.  Thus, the date shown does not mean that every location that you examine on the image is current as of that date.  I verified this where my own observations in my local area show construction as of June 2018, for example, but that construction does not appear on the image.  In addition, several other places I examined from wintertime in the Northern Hemisphere were clearly “leaf-on” and taken during the summer before.  Therefore, as always, get familiar with what you are working with.  Despite these cautions, the imagery still represents an amazingly useful resource.


Sample from this imagery set for 30 July 2014 (top) and four years later, 27 June 2018 (bottom) for an area outside Denver, Colorado USA. 

How can the use of the Wayback image service be extended for education and research purposes?  One way to do so is by creating a web map in ArcGIS  from the Wayback app.  Doing this will thus enable the user to use all of the functions in ArcGIS  with the imagery, such as adding additional map layers (such as hydrography, land use, ecoregions), saving and sharing, using the measurement tools, and creating web mapping applications from the map.  To do this: 


  1. Go to the app:
  2. Navigate to an area of interest.
  3. Check on Only updates with local changes.(shown below)
  4. Click the cloud icon to “add to cart." (shown below at right).
  5. Click the clear all icon top left to create a web map (shown below at top left).
  6. Save the web map.


Wayback imagery tool

Done!  Open your web map.  Now you can add layers to your map, including additional Wayback layers.  To add the historical wayback imagery to this existing web map, you cannot at the moment add it from a URL as a WMTS layer, but you can use ADD DATA and search in ArcGIS  (not Living Atlas), as follows:


 Wayback imagery

The default sort order is relevance, but you can change it to sort by title or by oldest/newest.   See my resulting map with 3 historical layers in it, along with the current image as a basemap, below.


Wayback imagery


Another way to dig deeper into change-over-space-and-time analysis with the Wayback image service is to create a swipe map.  A swipe map is a type of story map application that is perfect for examining change, because it allows the map user to swipe across a map that has, in our study, images with 2 different dates.  To create a swipe map, in ArcGIS  > Share  > Create a web mapping application > choose Swipe map.  Select one of the historical image layers for your swipe map, and make sure the basemap is Imagery or Imagery with Labels.  The swipe layer (the historical image) will appear on the right with the more recent image on the left. 


But let's say your goal is to have the left side be the older imagery, and the right side be the newer imagery.  Is that possible?  Yes!  The swipe map template only allows you to swipe one layer, which by default is the right side.  So, you need to make the left side, the basemap, a historical image rather than the default new imagery basemap.  To do this, go back to your ArcGIS  map and Add > Add from ArcGIS  > enter "Wayback" > choose a historical image (in my case, I chose 2014) > Add as basemap.  Save your map.  In the configuration panel for your story map, change the settings so that you are swiping one of your newer image layers.  I did so, and my swipe map is shown below.  Here is the URL of the swipe map.


Swipe map from Wayback Imagery

Many other possibilities exist for the use of the Wayback imagery, including using it in 3D scene for a historical perspective on the landscape, using them in a tabbed series story map, using them as a base for advanced analytics in ArcGIS Pro (see my colleague's blog post here about bringing the data into Pro), and in many other ways.  


I hope that these ways I describe above encourage you to use and think creatively and spatially with this amazing set of images.

I would like to announce a poster session and competition for the 2019 American Association of Geographers annual meeting focused on:

Innovative Applications of Esri GIS Technology

For more information, and for the 5 categories that will serve as criteria, see:


Cash prizes will be awarded, but even more importantly, this is an opportunity for your students and colleagues to showcase the innovative things they are doing with Esri GIS technology to help understand and solve the most pressing local-to-global problems of our time.


Please consider entering a poster, or encouraging a student or colleague to do so. 


--Joseph Kerski

We often get asked about the differences between My Esri and ArcGIS Online accounts in educational settings, and how the two are related. We wanted to document a few items to keep in mind - indeed, they are two different accounts, which could bring confusion.


My Esri - portal to manage your customer account information:

  •      Update contact and account information.
  •      Review order history and maintenance status.
  •      Access license information and generate provisioning files for users.
  •      Access software downloads.
  •      Create technical support cases.
  •      Manage conference registrations.
  •      Add users with customizable access levels, including adding users for Esri Training and GeoNet access (though not necessarily recommended to add students/faculty/staff for purpose of providing access to Esri Training, GeoNet, etc., more below).
  •      Your My Esri account is your identity to My Esri – this is your customer record.


ArcGIS (ArcGIS Online or ArcGIS Enterprise) named user account:

  •      Your ArcGIS account is your identity in the organization/portal, it is how you get access to ArcGIS Online and are provided various privileges and capabilities to work with ArcGIS, depending on your role (User, Publisher, Administrator, etc.).  
  •      If you enable Esri Access for an ArcGIS Online account, users can access Esri Training and GeoNet with their ArcGIS Online credentials. Hopefully those are enterprise accounts – i.e. your organization in Educational setting has enterprise logins enabled (SSO).
  •      If you are an Administrator, this ArcGIS account is used to grant entitlements for SAAS products (apps, ArcGIS Pro, etc.), also to enable Esri Access, and a number of other functions.
  •      This account stays with your institution, however, you may transfer any Training History to a personal (or other) account by reaching out to Esri Customer Service.


A few additional facts:

  •      If you already have Esri account for training, enabling Esri Access on ArcGIS Online account is not going to link that ArcGIS Online account to any existing Esri account (and to the training history, support, event registration, etc. associated with it)
  •      An individual could have Esri account tied to a personal email address, so that they can retain their training history after they leave the institution.
  •      If you are a student or faculty/staff, you can be linked to your institution’s My Esri (customer record). Note that we don’t necessarily recommend this, unless this individual will be helping with management of downloads files, generation of provisioning files, calling Technical Support, and other similar functions.
  •      If you have purchased a license from Esri (Personal Use, Student Use), you will have your own Esri organization.
  •      Therefore, you may have multiple Esri accounts.
  •      A single email address may be tied to multiple ArcGIS Online accounts, but to only one Esri account (Exception: ".edu" and "" emails may have multiple).
  •      When logging to Esri Training or GeoNet, one must use (a) an Esri Account, or (b) an ArcGIS Online account with Esri Access enabled.



  •      There are various approaches for management, but we typically don’t recommend adding students to the My Esri organization, as this would impose manual admin work to grant such access, and work for students to accept email invitations the correct way and with the correct account, and to keep track of which account is used for what. This may appear to be an acceptable option for managing a class or two, but not for empowering your whole institution to use ArcGIS.
  •      We do recommend enabling Esri Access via ArcGIS Online accounts – if an institution has implemented enterprise logins, this is an automated process for anyone joining the organization (no additional work for admin or students).
  •      Additional information for recommended way to share downloads/executables/provisioning files is here, so that it does not have to be done through My Esri for everyone in an institution.
  •      Any of the above options make it challenging to retain Training History (certifications from courses, etc.) – the solution for now, for whoever wishes to preserve their training history upon leaving the institution, is to reach out to Customer Service and request their training history be transferred from their institutional ArcGIS account to a public one.

I worked with our fabulous Urban Observatory team here at Esri to add another theme that will be very useful in teaching geography, geology, environmental science – the Ecology theme.  This data comes from the amazing Ecological Land Units data set (another excellent teaching and research tool) and allows you to compare the bioclimate, landform type, lithology, and land cover for any city you would like to examine, thus providing a very useful land connection for each urban area. Having it in the Urban Observatory provides the interface to compare the ecoregions for over 100 cities, which can be compared to the other variables provided, all  with nothing to install. 


To access this new theme, go to the Urban Observatory:

On the left side, you will now see the ECOLOGY theme.  Select it, and choose from the cities listed at the top.  In which ecoregions do cities tend to be the largest?  How does the ecoregion influence the land cover in and around that city?  Name the chief environmental challenges for the cities you are investigating, based on the ecoregion they are in.  How do you think the landforms and lithology impact construction in the area, or traffic patterns?  


Another feature that is very helpful about the Urban Observatory:  If you copy the URL while examining a specific theme and send it to someone (or yourself to access it later), then the application will open with those themes and cities that you were examining, just as you left it:  For example, this URL opens with 3 cities and the ecology for each, as I had been examining the last time I taught this content:  Rotterdam, Rio de Janeiro, and Delhi.  Rotterdam is in the cold wet bioclimate, while Rio is hot wet and Delhi hot semi-dry.  The landforms are hills, plains, and plains, respectively, while the lithology is mixed sedimentary for Rotterdam and unconsolidated sediment for the last two.  The land cover is grassland, shrub, or scrub for Rotterdam but mostly cropland for Rio and Delhi.  


See the graphic below.  The Urban Observatory, in my opinion, is still one of the best examples of a web mapping application that is ready-to-go for teaching and learning.


Teaching note:  You might need to click outside the urban area when you are examining the cities.  If you just click on the urban area itself, everything comes up as Cold Wet hills.  Therefore, click outside or zoom out once and click outside and you will be fine.  


Urban Observatory

Huge thanks to Ryan Danzey (Esri), Richard Tsung (USC),  Duffy Chisholm (UCR) and Hoori Ajami (UCR) for sharing their experiences in virtualizing ArcGIS Pro!!!


  • The recording and slides are located  here


Below are a couple of resources for what we discussed - be on the lookout for a blog and further resources coming up on AWS AppStream!



Please post any questions or further follow up here. 

Simply sharing, if you have not seen the following resources, covering a great variety of capabilities and topics with Esri platform.


  • YouTube - 50 Tech Workshops are publicly available to share with your faculty/staff/students
  • Slides - PDF versions of the PowerPoint slides from each workshop (Esri Events Proceedings page)


Along the same lines, the 2018 Esri Developer Summit offerings are here.

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