The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Sustainability Spotlight: Mesmerizing Maps

world map

One of my interests that I don’t often get to engage with as an Honors College communications assistant is my love of maps. The trail maps of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the maps of various New England ski areas, and the grid lines forming Philadelphia’s public transportation system have lined my walls for years, reminding me of places I’ve been and those I have yet to visit. 

While I have abundant opportunities to tell stories through interviews and writing, this is rarely done in a visual way. Last semester, I took an introductory course in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), where I learned some of the fundamental skills required to display and engage with spatial data, which often involves creating maps. For my final project for the class, I worked with UMass associate professor and state extension forester, Paul Catanzaro, to design maps showing unprotected forest cover across the state of Massachusetts. These maps will be used to inform prioritization efforts to permanently protect these parcels through landowner outreach, educational programs, and public policy initiatives. 

This project gave me a taste of how maps and visual storytelling can be a powerful tool used to change the way we see the world (and how we value and manage the resources around us). Moving forward, I hope to continue to gain the skills necessary to create more engaging pieces: maps that tell stories of changing land use, of food sheds and food apartheid, and of other issues found at the intersection of sustainability, social justice, and policy. 

This semester, I am taking a class on WebGIS, where I will continue to gain experience exploring and creating maps that are interactive, dynamic, and can be accessed online. I have included below a few of my favorite maps that I have been introduced to over the last few years, many of which I use as inspiration for my own future work. Follow the links embedded in each title to visit these interactive web pages. 


1. (Farm) Animal Planet: A look at livestock production around the world (source: Esri StoryMaps team) 

farm animal planet


2. An Extremely Detailed Map of the 2016 Presidential Election (source: The New York Times) 



3. The Bare Earth (source: Washington Geological Survey) 

bare earth


4. Wind velocity across the contiguous U.S. (source:

wind speed


5. Satellite Map (source: Esri Applications Prototype Lab)