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Mapped: The United States of Elevation

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Mapped: The United States of Elevation

If you contrast the world’s mountains to the actual size of the Earth, they are just tiny bumps.

In fact, if you had a globe that was 12-inches in diameter with mountains accurately depicted to scale, Mt. Everest would protrude from the surface at just the thickness of two sheets of paper.

But while these rocky formations seem insignificant from the vacuum of space, for us that live on Earth they are much more relevant. Mountains dictate everything from weather patterns to travel routes, and these geographical features have helped shape human society as we know it.

Elevation, Exaggerated

Today’s short video loop comes from Reddit user newishtodc, and it shows the elevation profile of most of the continental United States.

Pulling data from the USGS, the video loop actually exaggerates the scale of the topography so that elevation changes are much more pronounced. Instead of getting the “bumps on a surface” effect, it allows us to clearly see where the mountainous regions are.

Here’s another version, this time including Alaska, Canada, and parts of Mexico:

Peak Elevation

As you likely noticed in both videos, mountains are particularly abundant on the western side of the continent.

What you may not have realized, however, is that the highest peaks in North America are exclusively found in just three different subregions: Alaska (U.S.), Yukon (Canada), and the Cordillera Neovolcanica (Mexico).

The 10 Highest Peaks in North America

RankMountainLocationRangeElevation
#1Denali🇺🇸 AlaskaAlaska Range20,310 ft (6,190 m)
#2Mount Logan🇨🇦 YukonSaint Elias Mountains19,551 ft (5,959 m)
#3Pico de Orizaba🇲🇽 MexicoCordillera Neovolcanica18,491 ft (5,636 m)
#4Mount Saint Elias🇺🇸 AlaskaSaint Elias Mountains18,009 ft (5,489 m)
#5Popocatépetl🇲🇽 MexicoCordillera Neovolcanica17,749 ft (5,410 m)
#6Mount Foraker🇺🇸 AlaskaAlaska Range17,400 ft (5,304 m)
#7Mount Lucania🇨🇦 YukonSaint Elias Mountains17,257 ft (5,260 m)
#8Iztaccíhuatl🇲🇽 MexicoCordillera Neovolcanica17,159 ft (5,230 m)
#9King Peak🇨🇦 YukonSaint Elias Mountains16,972 ft (5,173 m)
#10Mount Bona🇺🇸 AlaskaSaint Elias Mountains16,550 ft (5,044 m)

The highest mountain on the continent is Denali—although you may know it as Mt. McKinley. The name change was actually requested by Alaska back in 1975, but it wasn’t officially recognized by the U.S. government until 2015, coinciding with President Obama’s visit to the state.

Denali isn’t the only massive mountain in Alaska, and the state is actually home to all 10 of the highest peaks found in the United States.

The tallest mountain in California (Mt. Whitney, 14,505 ft) comes in at #11 on the U.S. list, while Colorado’s highest (Mt. Elbert, 14,440 ft) comes in the #14 spot nationally. Finally, the highest peak in Washington State (Mt. Rainier, 14,417 ft) is at #17.

Flatter Than a Pancake?

In the above animations, it’s also possible to see the regions that are dead flat.

Despite having a reputation for being flatter than a pancake, Kansas isn’t anywhere near the flattest state. That particular designation goes to Florida, where the top elevation is just 345 ft (105 m) above sea level.

Strangely, Florida is so flat that many of the tallest buildings in Miami easily surpass the highest natural point in the state in terms of height. The Panorama Tower, for example, is 868 ft (265 m) tall, making it more than double the height of the highest hill in Florida (Britton Hill).

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Debt

How Much Student Debt Does Each State Hold?

Crippling student debt in the U.S. has reached a record high of $1.5 trillion nationwide. Today’s map breaks down which states bear the highest burden.

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How Much Student Debt Does Each State Hold?

Education may be priceless, but the costs of obtaining it are becoming steeper by the day.

Almost half of all university-educated Americans rely on loans to pay for their higher education, with very few graduating debt-free. Total U.S. student debt has more than doubled in the last decade—reaching a record high of $1.5 trillion today.

Today’s data visualization from HowMuch.net breaks down the average student debt per capita, to uncover which states shoulder the highest burden in this growing crisis.

Students are Paying Through the Nose

Before diving into the graphic, let’s take a quick look at why student debt is racking up. The ballooning costs to attend college today compared to thirty years ago is one driving factor.

College Tuition
Source: The College Board 2018 report.

What’s more, these figures don’t include the expenses for accommodation and other supplies, which can add another $15,000-$17,000 per year.

The United States of Student Debt

In the state map above, it’s immediately obvious that Washington D.C. tops the list. While the nation’s capital is the most educated metropolitan area in the country, it also suffers from $13,320 in student debt per capita.

At approximately 147% above than the national average of $5,390, Washington D.C.’s debt burden per capita is almost double that of the state in second place. Georgia comes in with $7,250 debt per capita, 34.5% above the national average.

StateStudent Debt per CapitaDifference from Average
U.S. Average$5,390
Alabama$4,920-8.7%
Alaska$4,030-25.2%
Arizona$5,170-4.1%
Arkansas$4,330-19.7%
California$4,530-16.0%
Colorado$6,18014.7%
Connecticut$5,8909.3%
Delaware$6,04012.1%
District Of Columbia$13,320147.1%
Florida$4,940-8.3%
Georgia$7,25034.5%
Hawaii$3,780-29.9%
Idaho$5,050-6.3%
Illinois$5,8007.6%
Indiana$5,300-1.7%
Iowa$5,300-1.7%
Kansas$5,4801.7%
Kentucky$4,870-9.6%
Louisiana$5,360-0.6%
Maine$5,340-0.9%
Maryland$6,74025.0%
Massachusetts$6,14013.9%
Michigan$5,8007.6%
Minnesota$6,28016.5%
Mississippi$5,8708.9%
Missouri$5,270-2.2%
Nebraska$5,080-5.8%
Nevada$4,170-22.6%
New Hampshire$5,8608.7%
New Jersey$6,09013.0%
New Mexico$4,070-24.5%
New York$6,09013.0%
North Carolina$5,240-2.8%
North Dakota$5,5102.2%
Ohio$6,22015.4%
Oklahoma$4,540-15.8%
Oregon$5,7606.9%
Pennsylvania$6,21015.2%
Rhode Island$5,3900.0%
South Carolina$5,8708.9%
South Dakota$5,170-4.1%
Tennessee$5,050-6.3%
Texas$4,970-7.8%
Utah$4,350-19.3%
Vermont$5,4801.7%
Virginia$5,8208.0%
Washington$4,270-20.8%
West Virginia$4,020-25.4%
Wisconsin$4,850-10.0%
Wyoming$3,610-33.0%

Rounding out the five states with the most student debt per capita are Maryland, Minnesota, and Ohio, in that order. On the flip side, Wyoming has the least debt per capita ($3,610), which is 33.0% lower than the national average. Hawaii follows right behind at $3,780, and 29.9% below the national average.

Interestingly, a growing population on the West Coast helps to lower the debt burden for states like California, even despite the strong presence of prestigious schools. Home to Stanford, USC, UCLA, CalTech, and more, the Golden State surprisingly only has $4,530 in debt per capita.

The Last Straw?

Today’s Americans are more educated than ever before, but the sticker shock is causing some whiplash. This overall trend of spiraling student debt has significant implications on a person’s life trajectory. With many graduates unable to repay their loans on time, more of them are delaying major life milestones, such as starting a family or becoming a homeowner.

In efforts to curb this crisis, many 2020 presidential hopefuls have already started proposing plans to cancel or forgive student debt—with close attention on mid- to low-income households that would benefit the most from reduced loans.

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History

The History of the World, in One Video

This epic attempt to condense the history of the world — including the rise and fall of empires — fits into a single video.

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Throughout the history of the world, many civilizations have risen and fallen.

You may be familiar with the achievements of prominent societies like the Romans, Mongols, or Babylonians, but how do all of their stories intertwine over time and geography?

Visualizing the History of the World

Today’s video comes to us from Ollie Bye, and it attempts to integrate the histories of all major civilizations known by historians into a single, epic video.

Similar to the Histomap, it’s pretty much impossible for a video like this to be perfect due to biases and a general lack of data. However, it’s still a compelling attempt at showing global history in a short and sweet fashion.

Let’s look at some specific moments on the video that particularly stand out.

750 AD: The Umayyad Caliphate

One of the largest empires in history, the Umayyad Caliphate peaked sometime around 750 AD.

Umayyad Caliphate

Conquering most of North Africa, the Middle East, and even parts of Europe (including modern-day Spain, Portugal, and France), the Umayyads commanded a formidable territory with an area of 11,100,000 km² (4,300,000 sq. mi) and encompassing 33 million people.

1279: Mongol Dominance

No history of the world is complete without a mention of the Mongols.

Nearby societies have always been on edge when nomadic tribes in the Eurasian Steppe entered into organized confederations. Similar to the Huns or various Turk federations, the Mongols were known for their proficiency with horses, bows, and tactics like the feigned retreat.

Under the leadership of Temüjin ⁠— also known as Genghis Khan ⁠— the Mongols conquered one of the largest empires by land.

Mongol Empire Map

The empire reached its greatest extent just two years after the death of Genghis Khan.

Later on, it fragmented into smaller empires that were also quite notable in the context of world history. For example, Kublai Khan — the grandson of Genghis Khan — even went on to begin the influential Yuan Dynasty in China.

1346: The Black Death

The video also shows other vital stats, such as an estimate of global population through the ages.

In the mid-14th century, you can see this number take a rare U-turn, as millions of people die from the infamous and deadly Bubonic Plague.

Spread of the Black Death

The Black Death ⁠— one of the most devastating pandemics in the history of the world ⁠— hit Europe in 1346, and it eventually killed 30-60% of the continent’s population. There is no exact figure on the final death toll, but historians estimate it to be somewhere between 75 and 200 million people throughout Eurasia.

1418: The Age of Discovery

The video also provides a 10,000-foot view of the Age of Discovery, a period of time in which European powers explored the world’s oceans.

The Age of Discovery

This colonial period marks the beginning of globalization, creating wide-ranging impacts that set the stage for more modern history.

In the video, it’s possible to see European colonies develop in all parts of the world, as well as how they eventually morphed into the countries that dot the globe today.

Playing the History Game

While it is certainly ambitious, not everyone will agree that this is a successful attempt at portraying world history – even in the limited scope of time allotted.

One key detail that seems to be missing, for example, is showing the development of the indigenous societies that existed in North America for thousands of years. That said, it’s also not clear what data and records are available to show these maps over many centuries of time.

Despite the possible flaws, the video does pack a lot of information into a short period of time, creating a compelling opportunity for learning and discussion. Like the Histomap, it may not be a definitive history of the world – but instead, it’s a useful attempt that stimulates our appetite for more information about the world and the societies that inhabit it.

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