World Population: Concentration of the Masses

What role does rapid global population growth and concentration play in major world issues such as climate change?

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London, England

Concentration of the Masses

It’s no secret that the world population is growing. Fast. In the last 50 years alone, the Earth has doubled it’s population from around 3 billion in 1960 to 7.3 billion today. By 2100, that number is expected to exceed 11 billion. However, these numbers become even more interesting considering that the vast majority of people live in very concentrated latitudes on the globe.

world population by latitude
Image by Braden Anderson and Andy Thies

World Population: The Visualization

Though the Earth is a near-perfect sphere, the people that call this planet home are anything but evenly distributed. The visualization above shows the dimensions of Earth based on the total population by latitude. In other words, wider areas on the graph indicate a greater world population for the given latitude. As we can see global population is heavily concentrated between roughly 15°N and 45°N. Within this range we can find the entirety of India, most of China, the United States, and Mexico, as well as the majority of the Middle East. Perhaps unsurprisingly, virtually no population exists south of 60°S or north of 75°N as these polar regions are both frigid and largely comprised of water.

The Big Picture

So we know that most of the world’s population lives in the Northern Hemisphere. What does that signify? First off, there’s the sheer fact that this region contains a disproportionate amount of population and population growth. This could prove to make more challenging population-related issues such as resource shortages, regional conflict, and wealth inequality. Secondly, as discussed in the recent article by Atlas Lens, “Climate Change: Heating Up the Arctic”, the Northern Hemisphere is also experiencing a more rapidly warming climate. As sea levels rise and climate-related threats such as water shortage, droughts, heat waves, and flooding become more severe, a concentration of global population could only prove to magnify these issues.

About the Data

Data visualization produced via Processing 3.0.1 and Adobe Photoshop. Data courtesy of NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center.

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