Analyzing international migration in 2D and 3D using a web mapping application

08-26-2017 03:03 AM
Esri Frequent Contributor
1 0 1,562

Why teach about migration?  Migration is inherently a geographic issue.  It touches on themes of physical geography (such as climate and landforms), cultural geography (political systems, political instability, political boundaries, demographic trends past and present), sociology (perception, push and pull factors), and many more.  It changes over space and time and is an excellent way to teach spatial concepts and skills. Since the dawn of humankind, migration has always been present; thus, it ever remains a current issue. It is also relevant, causing deep and long-lasting changes in culture, language, urban forms, food, land use, social policy, politics, and much more.  Migration is a global issue that affects our everyday lives. It is also a personal issue, because each of us has a migration story to tell about our own ancestors and families.


One of the maps in the Esri coolmaps gallery enables you to visualize migration data over time and space in a 2D and 3D tool that is a powerful and effective tool, yet it easily works in any standard web browser without any software to install. 


The map opens in 3D mode and in Play mode, showing a set of data for selected countries (the UAE, Mexico, China, and Singapore during the 1990s, 2000s, 2010, and 2013.  This selected set provides a good introduction for teaching about the patterns, relationships, and trends in the data.   The time periods are shown below the lower part of the map, with the out-migration and in-migration available for each of the four time periods.  The thickness of the lines coming out from or going to each country selected indicates the amount of migration, and the end points of each line indicates the countries sending people to or receiving people from each country.  For each country, the raw number of out- and in-migrants is indicated, along with the percentage of that country’s total population for each time period.  After viewing the introductory data, use the “pause“ button to stop the Play mode and to select among the list of the world’s countries.  The interactivity--being able to select countries, years--the compelling cartography, and the ability to switch between 2D and 3D modes combines to make this an incredibly useful teaching and research tool.


As with any web GIS tool, always ask the students, “Where did the data come from?  Can you trust it?”  In this case, the data came from the United Nations Trends in International Migrant Stock:  The 2013 Revision is provided by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  Use the “i” button to go to the data’s source.  Encourage the students to investigate the data at its source, and to study how and when it was collected.   According to this data set, how long does a migrant have to live in a country before he or she is no longer considered a “migrant”?


I also encourage you as the instructor to have the students use this map to help them understand migration patterns and number.  As we have written elsewhere in GIS education essays, this could be an excellent supplement to the other sources you use.  For example, ask, “How has Australian immigration changed in amount and in the countries sending migrants to Australia over the past 25 years?  What are some of the social and political changes that are occurring in the country with the changes in migration?  What do you think Australia will be like in 25 years if current trends continue?”  These questions illustrate that the visualizations help students understand geographic phenomena, but can also be used in tandem with other sources – such as journal and newspaper articles, the Census Bureau’s international database, ArcGIS Online maps and story maps from Esri, and other resources that could shed light on the topic, changes in demographics in cities and rural areas, and much more. 


One of my favorite things about teaching with maps is that they often confirm some hypotheses and shatter others.  These maps confirm some of what I knew about migration, but they also raised questions and shattered other preconceived notions I had.  For example, I expected the amount of migration to the USA to be high in raw numbers and as a percentage of the USA’s population, and I also expected the in-migration list of countries to include most of the countries around the world.  But I didn’t expect to see such a high percentage of Reunion Island’s population moving to the USA.  Is it part of climate-induced sea-level rise migration, perhaps?  Also, as expected, I found the number of countries that sent people to Somalia to be small, and the number of countries receiving Somalians to be somewhat higher.  But I did not expect to see so much flow from Russia to the UK, and vice versa, nor did I expect to see that Australia currently has the highest percentage of migrants living there of any country, at nearly 50% of the total population.


For a few more ideas on how to teach with this tool, along with a short tutorial on how to use it, see my video.


If this map intrigues you, be sure to explore the other maps in the “Esri coolmaps” gallery.  These maps cover a wide variety of topics from economics to natural hazards and much more.  They rotate in and out periodically, so be sure to check back often.  All of them make effective teaching tools.

Data from the international migration map in the Coolmaps gallery.

About the Author
I believe that spatial thinking can transform education and society through the application of Geographic Information Systems for instruction, research, administration, and policy. I hold 3 degrees in Geography, have served at NOAA, the US Census Bureau, and USGS as a cartographer and geographer, and teach a variety of F2F (Face to Face) (including T3G) and online courses. I have authored a variety of books and textbooks about the environment, STEM, GIS, and education. These include "Interpreting Our World", "Essentials of the Environment", "Tribal GIS", "The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data", "International Perspectives on Teaching and Learning with GIS In Secondary Education", "Spatial Mathematics" and others. I write for 2 blogs, 2 monthly podcasts, and a variety of journals, and have created over 5,000 videos on the Our Earth YouTube channel. Yet, as time passes, the more I realize my own limitations and that this is a lifelong learning endeavor and thus I actively seek mentors and collaborators.