Spatio-Temporal Representations

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Spatio-Temporal Representations

A recent review [1] makes it clear that this is currently an active research area. This section shows a few notable techniques and examples.

The most common approach is to have a time bar filter control data plotted over a standard map surface. Time-sliced data for the current filter is drawn on the map.

One Spatial Dimension

I include the next example because it shows that if only one spatial dimension is important, spatio-temporal visualisations can be quite straightforward.

Newman's Life cycle of Japanese Beetles

3D Metaphor

GeoTimeTM visualisations use a 3D metaphor, putting time on the z-axis with a map in the x/y plane.


This example (pdf) plots the spread of avian ‘flu:


This approach suffers from the standard problems associated with 3D representations.  Data points tend to obscure each other (occlusion), there are axes of ambiguity and events’ time order and spatial locations can be difficult to determine from a static diagram.

Here’s the same idea applied to a classic data visualisation by Minard of Napoleon’s Russian campaign.


Finally, another example from Nokia:


Map Labelling

A more straightforward approach is to label events or paths with time information.  For example, see this hurricane path map.

Hurricane Ernesto

Colour, size and texture of the lines are commonly used to represent additional information.

London Bombings

In the biomapping  project, emotional state was mapped along a journey:


Finally, this is an unusual combination of sparklines with spatial data. It suffers from occlusion issues, but is interesting nonetheless:



Animation is commonly used – click the image below:

NYT Cory Lidle

Animation can be used for narative. It can also be used to draw attention to changes over time. If done well it can enhance the user experience and aesthetics of the tool.

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