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For example, things like:

  • political world map (as polygons)
  • cities of the world
  • geolocated climate data (avg temp, humidity, rain, as polygons),
  • earthquakes,
  • hurricanes (as polylines hopefully with strength as z-axis data)
  • store location of international chains (mcdonalds, for example)

If you know sources only for specific countries/regions, that is still helpful. Please point out if the source provides only a WMS layer or supplies downloadable data

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8 Answers

Several "original" (and global) sources i'd like to cite :

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Global administrative areas can also be found here: gadm

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The USA Census Bureau have a right set of data called the TIGER lines.

  • Administrative boundaries
  • Political boundaries
  • Basic heat map data (crime data, for example).
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I'll address your request individually. All sources provide downloadable data:

political world map (as polygons)

I currently use the Natural Earth Sovereign States dataset for this,

cities of the world

You have a few choices here:

  • Geonames aggregates a lot of different data sources, and thus is a little inconsistent. However, it has a lot of features in it.
  • Again, Natural Earth provides data here, in flavours that include more or less towns. I haven't used this dataset, but I would expect it to be of highly quality given there other products.

geolocated climate data (avg temp, humidity, rain, as polygons)

For climatic data you cannot go past WorldClim. It contains raster datasets for current and past climates (and if you're feeling adventurous, even a future dataset based on IPCCC models). It includes monthly data for mean, min and maximum temperatures, precipitation and altitude. It's a reasonably complex dataset, so it might take a while to understand what's there.

earthquakes

The USGS provides yearly earthquake data for every year since 1973 in KML format. Alternative, there is a catalogue of global earthquakes from 1900 to April 2002. I haven't used either, but their website is full of interesting dataset worth poking around at.

hurricanes (as polylines hopefully with strength as z-axis data)

For American hurricane tracks, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provides an excellent historical dataset. I am not aware of datasets for other areas.

store location of international chains (mcdonalds, for example)

This is a bit more difficult. AggData sell (at affordable prices) dataset for hundreds of different chains in the USA. Historical Walmart store locations in the USA are available here, along with code to visualise them. Mainitaining a global data-set for these things sounds like a worthy project!

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for hurricanes, also check out the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, in particular the Best Track Archive: usno.navy.mil/JTWC –  neuhausr Dec 27 '10 at 16:00
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Have a look at the notes I wrote about the base map server I'm setting up - http://ian01.geog.psu.edu/geoserver_docs/data/index.html which discusses the Natural Earth data set which provides countries, cities etc.

For earthquakes try http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/ which provides a variety of formats.

Hurricanes (and other weather) go to http://gis.srh.noaa.gov/ArcGIS/services/AtStormViewer/mapserver/WMSServer?request=getcapabilities&service=wms - WMS only.

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In the US, I like to use the geospatial library websites from different universities. They usually contain some world wide reference layers, and some detailed info on a state or two. The University of Washington's website is just one example.

http://www.lib.washington.edu/subject/WaStateMaps/dr/elnum.html

You can also download OpenStreetMap data from Cloudmade.

http://cloudmade.com/

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in FL we have fgdl.org –  nw1 Jul 30 '10 at 0:44
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Geoscience Australia provides WMS access and downloadable data in the following themes at its MapConnect site: http://www.ga.gov.au/mapconnect/

"250K - 1:250 000 scale topographic map data GlobalMap - 1:1 million scale topographic map data Geology - 1:1 million and 1:2.5 million scale geological map data geoMAP - Create a quality PDF map"

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