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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

Following the Route of Climate Migrants

January 26th, 2017 by Susan Smith

Climate Migrants is an Esri Story Map that tells the story of people misplaced geographically by climate change and in some cases, other change factors. Allan Carroll of Esri and his team wanted to create a climate change map that was oriented toward people.

The primary goal of the team is to produce apps that enable other people to tell stories. An analysis report by the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. was an influence in the development of the Story Map, which charts what factors contribute to people becoming “climate migrants.” In some cases, such as Syria and Darfur, droughts have precipitated migrations and led to violence and war.

“Some like these, are caused by both climate change and political indicators, sometimes by shortsighted government policies, but climate is a factor in all of them,” said Carroll.

By looking at these maps, it becomes apparent how the story evolved from various geographies around the globe gradually becoming unsustainable. Rising global temperatures lead to severe and more frequent droughts, more violent and frequent storms, rising seas and unsustainable agricultural areas.

“The global temperature change graph is pretty convincing to me and that’s throughout the whole story map,” said Carroll. “It isn’t coincidental that rapid temperature rise has happened in the last 30 years, and people do have something to do with it. There is an overwhelming consensus of the scientific community that much of what we’re experiencing is human induced.”

Many years of documented evidence is behind the facts. While populations throughout history have abandoned certain geographies because of droughts and flooding, never before has the earth experienced such rapid temperature rise and climate consequences.

The data for the Climate Migrants story map derived from several well-cited sources such as NASA: Vital Signs of the Planet, “Remote Alaskan Village that Needs to be Relocated,” “Flooding of Coast Caused by Global Warming,” and Darfur and Syria: Navigating Complexity, Climate, Migration and Conflict.

Already there are migrations occurring from low lying coastal areas, as so many of the world’s cities are coastal. “We’re going to see some unprecedented events assuming sea levels continue to rise, which we can assume they will,” said Carroll.

In Darfur, Syria and Western China, communities are already moving because the agriculture can no longer sustain them.

In Arctic and Antarctic regions, global warming affects the sea ice shelves and ultimately raises global sea levels as the ice breaks off into the ocean. Residents of coastal Alaskan villages are already being forced from their ancestral homes by climate change.

In Louisiana, thousands of miles of wetlands have been lost to rising seas and been affected by oil and gas development and sediment from the Mississippi River. Residents of the coast lowland town of Isle de Jean Charles are the first recipients of federal funding targeted for the relocation of an entire city. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers crafted a study to find that Tangiers Island, home to 470 residents, may need to be abandoned due to sea water rise within 50 years. They may be able to use engineering efforts to shore up the island, costing tens of millions of dollars, to protect residents a little longer. Chesapeake Bay is another area affected by rising water levels.

For 27 years, Carroll was chief cartographer at the National Geographic, where he became aware of Esri’s work. When he moved over to Esri, he noticed that the great stories and data produced by the company was not being shared to the public.

“GIS historically has been really good at heavy lifting and emergency management support,” said Carroll, “But hadn’t done so well at communication and storytelling. Part of the GIS spectrum was missing. If you’re a GIS professor, and if you don’t communicate your insights, then what’s the point? We developed Story Maps to help with that. Maps are powerful storytelling tools and powerful at organizing information. <aps used to be static accompaniments to stories, now when you include maps they are dynamic.”

Larger media organizations like to produce their own multimedia platforms, and federal agencies such as NOAA, NPS, many non-profits, NGOs, the Office on High Commission on Refugees, some private companies, all use Story Maps.

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Categories: 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11), 3D Cities, ArcGIS, Big Data, disaster relief, field GIS, geospatial, GIS, mapping, NASA, Syria

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