Tre Kronor leaving Helsingborg, Sweden

A Century of Ships

I’m a data and visualisation nerd, and during my day job devote a lot of mental energy to explaining and presenting my (numerically based) work in an understandable, honest and visually appealing way. This beautiful animation was drawn to my attention by Nathan Yau’s FlowingData blog, which I follow religiously. Graduate student Ben Schmidt used a publicly available data set to map a century of ocean shipping activity, from 1750 to 1850. The data set isn’t exhaustive, gleaned as it was from ships’ logbooks, but I find it very thrilling to be able to gain an insight into aggregate data of this vintage.

There’s a 12 minute video showing the entire time period chronologically:

Some interesting observations from Ben’s blog post on his project – the Battle of Saldanha Bay took place right on our doorstep:

The Battle of Saldanha Bay (1796), when a contingent of Dutch ships sail south and engage with the British in August by the Cape, is clearly visible on the map; so is much of the Resolution’s route on Captain Cook’s second voyage (1772-1775) through the South Pacific, including its southernmost point.

And a shorter version where he aggregates the entire data set into a January to December animation (overlaying the data from each year) to display seasonal activity, and loops it a few times:

And here are some of Ben’s comments on the January – December visualisation:

There aren’t many truly seasonal events, but a few stand out. There are regular summer voyages from Scotland to Hudson’s Bay, and from Holland up towards Spitsbergen, for example: both these appear as huge convoys moving in sync. (What were those about?) Trips around Cape Horn, on the other hand, are extremely rare in July and August. More interestingly, the winds in the Arabian sea seem to shift directions in November or so. I also really like the way this one brings across the conveyor belt nature of trade with the East.

For a bit more commentary and explanation of how the visualisation was created, visit Ben Schmidt’s blog post about it.

Via FlowingData.

Published by


Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

Leave a Reply