Online Atlas Tracks Ecologically Troubled Areas of the World

Caitlin Dempsey


A new atlas produced by Richard Weller from the University of Pennsylvania tracks how urban sprawl and human activities are endangering bioregions on Earth.  Co-authored by Claire Hoch and Chieh Huang, recent graduates from the Department of Landscape Architecture at Penn, the atlas is the result of a three-year research project.

A compilation of maps, infographics, and essays, the Atlas for the End of the World looks at the global state of land use and biodiversity “firstly, by measuring the quantity of protected area across the world’s 36 biodiversity hotspots in comparison to United Nation’s 2020 targets; and secondly, by identifying where future urban growth in these territories is on a collision course with endangered species.”  In 1992 the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity was undersigned by 168 countries which agreed to protect 17% of the Earth’s land by 2020 via conservation.  From the authors:

When we began this research in early 2013, the world’s terrestrial and inland waters protected area total was hovering at 13.5% of global terrestrial area. More recent figures suggest a total of around 15.4%; that is, 20,600,000 km2 across 209,429 different sites, in 235 different countries3. This means that to reach the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Aichi target 11 of securing 17% terrestrial protected area by 2020, an additional 1.6% of global terrestrial area needs to be secured under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s standards.4 This amount might, on first impression, seem paltry but 1.6% of the earth’s terrestrial surface is 2,327,800 km2, the equivalent of 695,835 Central Parks. That’s Central Park with a length of 2,783,343 km (at 0.8 km wide) stretching 70 times around the world! This atlas is intended as a guidebook for the determination of where this land should be.

Just a few of the many maps available from A new World Atlas for the End of the World.
Just a few of the many maps available from A New World Atlas for the End of the World.

With 44 maps and 11 infographics, the atlas pays particular attention to the world’s biodiversity hotspots.  These are regions of the world that scientists have determined contain “an exceptional and irreplaceable diversity of life that is threatened with extinction.”  The authors of the atlas note that of “the 391 different ecoregions that make up the 35 hotspots, only 170 had 17% or more protected area.” Furthermore, of the “422 main cities in the world’s hotspots, 383 are forecast to sprawl directly into remnant habitat containing threatened species.”

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Map of biological hotspots by Richard Weller, Claire Hoch, and Chieh Huang.
Map of biological hotspots by Richard Weller, Claire Hoch, and Chieh Huang.

Visit: Atlas for the End of the World


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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.