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Maps

The U.S. Mapped in Shadows of the Setting Sun

See how hills and mountains would cast shadows across the land on the Summer Solstice.

As many Americans shivering their molars out can probably recall, the Summer Solstice is a bittersweet time, marking the gradual but inevitable turn toward cold and darkness. If it was in our power to stop time right before the Solstice ended, locking the country in an eternal warm evening, what might it look like?

Robbi Bishop-Taylor has provided a kind of answer in this unique, lovely map of the contiguous U.S. cast in sunset shadows on the Solstice (aka June 20). Bishop-Taylor, a geospatial-science PhD candidate at Australia’s University of New South Wales, used NASA data and a hill-shading algorithm to simulate sunset at a “consistent azimuth of 300 degrees from north and an altitude of 1.5 degrees above the horizon,” he says via Reddit DM. The map “effectively shows what the shadows would be like at each point in the map if the sun was 1.5 degrees above the horizon at that specific place!”

Shadow lands: the USA mapped by sunset shadows

Here’s more from the cartographer about how he got into this umbral undertaking:

Earlier this year—as a hobby project during weekend breaks from my PhD—I started to put together a range of maps (initially river maps, e.g. Australia and Canada) that attempted to showcase the beautiful patterns of geography in a more artistic, data-visualization format. This latest “Shadowlands” project uses high-resolution digital-elevation model (DEM) data from NASA’s Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, which essentially contains data on the height of every 30x30m piece of land across the entire planet.

The data is generally used to make elevation maps or calculate related datasets like slope, aspect, and flow accumulation. The idea of mapping the landscape using only sunset shadows came to me as a way to focus purely on the natural shape, structure, and texture of the landscape, and make an incredibly minimalist map without any additional distractions. My hope is by showing the familiar features of the planet—hills, mountains, rivers—from a new, more unfamiliar perspective, my maps can help introduce others to the incredible beauty of geography that might otherwise go unseen.

Bishop-Taylor has also made a similar sunset map of Europe, shown below. If you want to own a high-resolution copy of these suitable for poster printing—and help put the mapper through university, as well—head to EarthArtAustralia, his shop on Etsy.

Europe mapped by sunset shadows

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.