A virtual globe using a discrete global grid system to illustrate the modifiable areal unit problem

Paulo Raposo, Anthony C. Robinson, Randall Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


In the same way that discrete global grid systems (DGGS) are used to index data on the spherical Earth, they can aggregate point data, with their spherical polygons serving as bins. DGGS are particularly useful at multiple map scales because they are spatially hierarchical and exist on the sphere or ellipsoid, allowing large or small scale binning without projection distortion. We use DGGS in a free and open-source pedagogical tool for teaching students about the modifiable areal unit problem (MAUP). Our software application uses Dutton’s quaternary triangular mesh (QTM) to bin global data points geodesically with counts or measures of any theme at multiple levels. Users can interactively select the level to which the data are binned by the QTM, as well as translate the whole tessellation east or west so that points fall into and out of different bins. These two functions illustrate the scaling and zoning aspects of the MAUP with dynamically-drawn choropleths on the surface of a virtual globe that the user can zoom and rotate, allowing visualization at virtually any cartographic scale. Users may also select various quantile classifications to further explore issues in visualizing aggregate data. In addition to presenting this new tool, we highlight the importance, especially at smaller scales, of using geodesic point-in-polygon intersection detection, rather than the projected 2D methods typically used by geographic information systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51-62
Number of pages12
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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