Protecting the Arctic

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Why We Love It

Mapping categorical data can be tricky. With 12 overlapping conservation zones in the Arctic, the map, Pinpointing Vulnerabilities: Protecting Regions of the Arctic, posed a serious design challenge. We love the use of a matrix legend to identify important marine areas. We also love how the map author combined colour and a hash pattern to define conservation regions and priorities. As a bonus, the map uses a polar projection to show the Arctic as a shared resource surrounded by many countries rather than an isolated place at the tip of the globe.

Why It Works

The Pinpointing Vulnerabilities map works because it exhibits professionally executed cartography. Note the subdued colours and clear presentation of overlapping categories. The author displays an effective and economical use of curved labels—an especially difficult feat on a map that has no single direction pointing upward. Although a story about protecting the Arctic can be complex, the map uses supporting text to unpack the elements of who, what, and where. The fact that this map was created by university students makes it all the more impressive.

Important Steps

This data-heavy project used more than two dozen sources of data layers to import and combine.

Choose the right map projection to present an undistorted view of sizes and proximity of this poorly understood region.

Use a categorical colour scheme, aka unique values, to make sure different areas are distinguishable yet not ranked which would imply relative importance.

Use Esri’s new multidirectional hillshading for subtle and attractive bathymetry to ensure equal illumination regardless of longitude.


Data & Software

Data sources: Bathymetry: Sandwel et al. University of California; Arctic Council, BOEM, CBD, Climate Works; Esri; Fisheries and Oceans Canada; IUCN; MPAtlas, NASA, National Geographic Society, National Snow & Ice Data Center, Natural Earth, NOAA, NRDC, USGS, WDPA

Software: ArcGIS Desktop 10.4, Adobe Creative Cloud


With many overlapping criteria for Important Marine Areas, a multiplicative color matrix showed how a location might contain one or more criteria based on modeling of multiple inclusion criteria.


200 hours for all aspects of the map including research, data compilation, analysis, and cartography.

Labels Rotate


Reading labels upside down isn’t easy. Notice how well the labels rotate around the centre of the map.

Muted Terrain basemap


Use a muted terrain basemap so that conservation areas can be the focus of the map.

Curve area labels


Professionals often curve area labels with lines of latitude to harmonise map elements

More Information

Map Authors

Gabriel Rousseau and Kyle Lempinen

Gabriel Rousseau graduated in 2017 from Portland State University with a Master’s degree in Urban & Regional Planning. He is currently a cartographer for the Oregon Bureau of Land Management.

Kyle Lempinen has been a proud Oregonian for over 10 years and is a 2016 graduate of Portland State University. He is currently a GIS designer by trade, and a freelance cartographer.

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