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Mapped: Global Shipping Routes, Using 250 Million Data Points

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How busy are the world’s shipping routes, and where are the global chokepoints for commercial shipping?

Today’s visualization compiles 250 million data points, representing the movement of the world’s commercial shipping fleet based on hourly data from 2012.

The interactive map below breaks up the merchant fleet into five ship types: container ships, dry bulk carriers, oil and fuel ships, gas ships, and carriers transporting vehicles.

The interactive map was created by data visualization outfit Kiln, along with the UCL Energy Institute. It counts emitted CO2 (in thousands of tonnes) as well as the running total of the maximum freight carried by each type of vessel. The map that the data is plotted on is also bathymetric, which means it uses shading to convey the depth of the ocean at any given point.

The more this map is explored, the more it rewards the viewer. The first thing a viewer may notice is the difference between the relatively quiet seas surrounding North and South America to the busy shipping routes nearby Europe, India, Southeast Asia, and especially China.

It’s also worth following the ships that go up some of the world’s biggest rivers. How do you get goods to Moscow? Through the Black Sea and up the Volga River. On the other side of Asia is the Yangtze River in China, which is loaded with ships from Shanghai all the way to Nanjing.

To cap it off, check out the global shipping chokepoints, where you can observe thousands of ships passing through the world’s tightest and most dangerous thoroughfares such as the Panama Canal, The Bosphorus (Istanbul, Turkey), the Strait of Hormuz, or the Strait of Dover (in the narrowest point of the English Channel). For the polar opposite effect, look off the coast of Somalia, were piracy is rampant and commercial ships venture at their own risk.

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Maps

Wired World: 35 Years of Submarine Cables in One Map

Watch the explosive growth of the global submarine cable network, and learn who’s funding the next generation of cables.

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submarine cable network

You could be reading this article from nearly anywhere in the world and there’s a good chance it loaded in mere seconds.

Long gone are the days when images would load pixel row by pixel row. Now, even high-quality video is instantly accessible from almost everywhere. How did the internet get so fast? Because it’s moving at the speed of light.

The Information Superhighway

The miracle of modern fiber optics can be traced to a single man, Narinder Singh Kapany. The young physicist was skeptical when his professors asserted that light ‘always travels in a straight line’. His explorations into the behavior of light eventually led to the creation of fiber optics—essentially, beaming light through a thin glass tube.

The next step to using fiber optics as a means of communication was lowering the cable’s attenuation rate. Throughout the 1960-70s, companies made gains in manufacturing, reducing the number of impurities and allowing light to cross great distances without a dramatic decrease in signal intensity.

By the mid-1980s, long distance fiber optic cables had finally reached the feasibility stage.

Crossing the Pond

The first intercontinental fiber optic cable was strung across the floor of the Atlantic Ocean in 1988. The cable—known as TAT-8*—was spearheaded by three companies; AT&T, France Télécom, and British Telecom. The cable was able to carry the equivalent of 40,000 telephone channels, a ten-fold increase over its galvanic predecessor, TAT-7.

Once the kinks of the new cable were worked out, the floodgates were open. During the course of the 1990s, many more cables hit the ocean floor. By the dawn of the new millennium, every populated continent on Earth was connected by fiber optic cables. The physical network of the internet was beginning to take shape.

As today’s video from ESRI shows, the early 2000s saw a boom in undersea cable development, reflecting the uptick in internet usage around globe. In 2001 alone, eight new cables connected North America and Europe.

From 2016-2020, over 100 new cables were laid with an estimated value of $14 billion. Now, even the most remote Polynesian islands have access to high-speed internet thanks to undersea cables.

*TAT-8 does not appear in the video above as it was retired in 2002.

The Shifting Nature of Cable Construction

Even though nearly every corner of the globe is now physically connected, the rate of cable construction is not slowing down.

This is due to the increasing capacity of new cables and our appetite for high-quality video content. New cables are so efficient that the majority of potential capacity along major cable routes will come from cables that are less than five years old.

Traditionally, a consortium of telecom companies or governments would fund cable construction, but tech companies are increasingly funding their own submarine cable networks.

tech company submarine cables

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Amazon, Microsoft and Google own close to 65% market share in cloud data storage, so it’s understandable that they’d want to control the physical means of transporting that data as well.

These three companies now own 63,605 miles of submarine cable. While laying cable is a costly endeavor, it’s necessary to meet surging demand—content providers’ share of data transmission skyrocketed from around 8% to nearly 40% over the past decade.

A Bright Future for Dark Fiber

At the same time, more aging cables will be taken offline. Even though signals are no longer traveling through this network of “dark fiber”, it’s still being put to productive use. It turns out that undersea telecom cables make a very effective seismic network, helping researchers study offshore earthquakes and the geologic structures on the ocean floor.

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Energy

Mapped: The World’s Biggest Oil Discoveries Since 1868

Since 1868, there had been 1,232 oil discoveries over 500 million barrels of oil. This map plots these discoveries to reveal global energy hot spots.

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Mapped: The World’s Biggest Oil Discoveries Since 1868

Oil and gas discoveries excite markets and nations with the prospect of profits, tax revenues, and jobs. However, geological processes did not distribute them equally throughout the Earth’s crust and their mere presence does not guarantee a windfall for whatever nation under which they lie.

Entire economies and nations have been built on the discovery and exploitation of oil and gas, while some nations have misused this wealth─or projected growth just never materialized.

Today’s chart comes to us from research compiled by World Bank economist Jim Cust and Natural Resource Governance Institute economist David Mihalyi and it plots major oil discoveries since 1868.

The 20 Biggest Oil Discoveries

This map includes 1,232 discoveries of recoverable reserves over 500 million barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) From 1868 to 2010.

The discoveries cluster in certain parts of the world, covering 46 countries, and are of significant magnitude for each country’s economy. The average discovery is worth 1.4% of a country’s GDP today, based on the cash value from their production or net present value (NPV).

Of the total 1,232 discoveries, these are the 20 largest oil and gas fields:

FieldOnshore/OffshoreLocationDiscoveryProduction startRecoverable oil, past and future (billion barrels)
Ghawar FieldOnshoreSaudi Arabia1948195188-104
Burgan FieldOnshoreKuwait1937194866-72
Gachsaran FieldOnshoreIran1927193066
Mesopotamian Foredeep BasinOnshoreKuwaitn/an/a66-72
Bolivar Coastal FieldOnshoreVenezuela1917192230-32
Safaniya FieldOffshoreKuwait/Saudi Arabia1951195730
Esfandiar FieldOffshoreIran1965n/a30
Kashagan FieldOffshoreKazakhstan2000201330
Aghajari FieldOnshoreIran1938194028
Tengiz FieldOnshoreKazakhstan1979199326-40
Ahvaz FieldOnshoreIran1953195425
Upper Zakum FieldOffshoreAbu Dhabi, UAE1963196721
Cantarell FieldOffshoreMexico1976198118-35
Rumaila FieldOnshoreIraq1953195417
Romashkino FieldOnshoreRussia Volga-Ural1948194916-17
Marun FieldOnshoreIran1963196616
Daqing FieldOnshoreChina1959196016
Shaybah FieldOnshoreSaudi Arabia1998199815
West Qurna FieldOnshoreIraq1973201215-21
Samotlor FieldOnshore
Russia, West Siberia
1965196914-16

The location of these deposits reveals a certain pattern to geopolitical flashpoints and their importance to the global economy.

While these discoveries have brought immense advantages in the form of cheap fuel and massive revenues, they have also altered and challenged how nations govern their natural wealth.

The Future of Resource Wealth: A Curse or a Blessing?

A ‘presource curse’ could follow in the wake of the discovery, whereby predictions of projected growth and feelings of euphoria turn into disappointment.

An oil discovery can impose detrimental consequences on an economy long before a single barrel leaves the ground. Ideally, a discovery should increase the economic output of a country that claims the oil. However, after major discoveries, the projected growth sometimes does not always materialize as predicted.

Getting from discovery to sustained prosperity depends on a number of steps. Countries must secure investment to develop a project to production, and government policy must respond by preparing the economy for an inflow of investment and foreign currency. However, this is a challenging prospect, as the appetite for these massive projects appears to be waning.

In a world working towards reducing its dependence on fossil fuels, what will happen to countries that depend on oil wealth when demand begins to dwindle?

Countries can no longer assume their oil and gas resources will translate into reliable wealth — instead, it is how you manage what you have now that counts.

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