The Wild Spaces

  • Written by  Benjamin Hennig
  • Published in Mapping
The Wild Spaces Benjamin Hennig
23 Jan
2016
Where are the world's remaining wild spaces? Benjamin Hennig explores these remaining spots of isolation

In a globalised world, distance appears to have become almost irrelevant. Transport and communication technologies have changed our interaction with distant places considerably, and there appear to be few remote or even undiscovered spaces left on our planet.

Earth’s surface has an extent of approximately 510 million sq km of which almost 30 per cent (149 million sq km) is land area. And yet, despite humans having become such a dominant factor, 106 million sq km of the land surface remains unoccupied or unused.

Only very small amounts of people are living in sparsely populated areas, which is an expression of the strong organisation of human societies to maximise those living in close relative proximity. 95 per cent of the world’s population lives on just ten per cent of the land area. However, the remaining 90 per cent of space is far from being uniformly remote. Some of the spaces unspoiled by human occupation are quite inaccessible even in our interconnected world. In a study conducted for the World Bank’s World Development Report, Uchida and Nelson looked at the accessibility of places by calculating the travel time from the nearest large city of 50,000 or more people using land- or water-based travel.

Ten per cent of the land area is so remote that it is more than 48 hours travel time from a large city. In wealthier countries, only 15 per cent of people live more than an hour of travel time from a large city, while the same applies to 65 per cent of people living in the poorer regions of the world.

wildspacesBenjamin Hennig

This cartogram shows the land surface transformed according to the absolute travel time that is necessary to reach the nearest large city using a gridded cartogram projection. The larger a grid cell appears, the more remote it is, highlighting the least accessible spaces on the planet (Antarctica has not been included in the transformation and appears in its original shape).

More than half of the world’s population according to UN estimates now lives in cities. This map shows those places that most of the people living in the world need the longest time to get to. It draws an image of the areas that are almost disconnected from the often-quoted ‘shrinking’ effects of globalisation. This world map is the striking opposite representation of our image of a globalised and interconnected world, of those vanishing places that we thought do not exist anymore.

Benjamin Hennig (@geoviews) is a senior research fellow in the School of Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford. He is involved in the Worldmapper project and maintains the visualisation blog www.viewsoftheworld.net

This article was published in the January 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe Today

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    The true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PLACES...

Forests

The latest laser scanning technology reveals new insights into the…

Forests

Deforestation is having an unexpected effect in the Amazon: fewer…

Forests

The iconic Douglas fir tree, familiar to fans of the…

Forests

Rocky Mountain forests are not regenerating after wildfires

Cities

Cape Town is edging closer to ‘Day Zero’, the long-feared…

Water

Ongoing restoration projects are breathing new life into Florida’s Everglades

Cities

Despite protests, an experimental pedestrianisation system is proving to be…

Mapping

National Archives map historian, Rose Mitchell, highlights some of the…

Water

An expedition into the Jordanian desert is helping teachers and…

Mountains

Trivia fans take note, Mount Hope in the British Antarctic…

Water

An enormous hydropower development in Ethiopia is expected to put…

Mapping

From nuclear warnings to whether your favourite band will ‘make…

Mapping

New maps of global reptile distribution reveal significant gaps in…

Forests

Indigenous conservation schemes in Peru can be more effective than…

Mapping

How are the EU member nations faring in the fight…

Mapping

Violence against women violates human rights, and the lack of…

Cities

Deadly heat waves could become more frequent in cities thanks…

Mapping

These 13 poignant infographics are in the running for the…

Mapping

Sometimes referred to as the fourth dimension, time has a…

Forests

A global, citizen-led carbon sequestration scheme is aiming to combat…