I'm investigating visualisation of a spatio-temporal data-set.

What examples are available, online or offline, of high-quality spatio-temporal data visualisation?

  • 1
    I'd argue that the best spatiotemporal data visualizations right now exist in video games or film. In the computational environment, there is no shortage of related techniques, platforms, and perspectives. Deciding on the appropriate medium will be guided by the magnitude and nature of the problem, available resources and data.
    – glennon
    Commented Jul 29, 2010 at 22:15
  • similar question gis.stackexchange.com/questions/2526/…
    – dassouki
    Commented Nov 23, 2010 at 15:09

9 Answers 9


Geography, and later GISc have been struggling to incorporate 4th dimension since Torsten Hägerstrand brought time into geographic research.

Couple of things from the top of my head:

One of the solutions is to use 'space time aquarium' where in 3D space you can use X and Y to represent location in space and Z to represent time.

Two names that would be helpful exploring this approach would be

  • Mei-Po Kwan - see for example paper here and some more figures here
  • Menno-Jan Kraak - he calls it 'cube'; see for example here

From more recent stuff Fabian Neuhaus is writing his PhD @ UCL and his blog UrbanTick showcases interesting developments in this domain.

For more visualization inspiration you can check some projects from wizards of senseable city lab @ MIT, for example here, here or here.

One more eye candy I stumbled upon is Urban Mobs.

If you want to try building something on your own you might want to have a look at:


You might be interested in my slides from a SXSW panel on geotemporal visualization. While they don't cover every single approach, they do a pretty good job of offering examples for the most common approaches (note that many of these examples require a browser with SVG or Canvas support, so not IE<9):

My main points in the talk were:

  • You generally have a trade-off between a good display of geography and a good display of trends over time. You need to figure out what's more important to you.

  • "Flashy" approaches like animation and 3D are likely to be more engaging for the general public, but less useful for the specialist.

  • Many good visualizations combine a number of these techniques (but use too many and it gets overwhelming)

  • great summary. Is there a timemap.js port for openlayers3 mapping framework? I saw one for leaflet.
    – intotecho
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 8:35

If you're looking for a video output, commercial tools like EONfusion can make nice 3D environments with temporal information. Similarly, I agree Google Earth (and its plugin) are a simple tool for visualizing interactive temporal data. Visual Complexity keeps a database of network visualizations, many of these are spatio-temporal visualizations, such as the Gapminder World site, or the growth of Walmart.

From a technology perspective, the emerging use of HTML5, <canvas> and javascript may provide a rich interactive environment for visualizations which works directly on many devices, here's an example of global dependency using JS & canvas.

From a best practices perspective, I like much of Tufte's advice, here's an article examining his advice as applied to mapping.


I really like using Google Earth for temporal data. Really nice platform for communicating, very smooth animation and relatively easy to 'program'

Google Earth & Time

Should be a list of animated chloropleths and volumetric there.


I think this will depend a lot on the type of data you are visualizing, there won't be a one size fits all. A classic and beautifully done visualization/infographic of space/time data is Joseph Minard's Napoleon's invasion and retreat from Russia.


A friend of mine used to work at EonFusion. It looks like it would fit the bill. I haven't tried it but there is a limited functionality free download available.

Whups - just saw it referenced above. Anyway, he quite likes it for tracking marine life in 4D.


At v10 of ArcGIS, its now a lot easier easier to deal with temporal data both within Desktop and consuming it with web apps via ArcGIS Server


TimeMap displays a variety of geo-spatial-temporal data (including KML) in Google Maps plus the Simile TimeLine. I can't post a link to TimeLine because I'm only allowed 1 link per post as a new user.


A few more points:

Showing variable change with time: I heard Hans Rosling talk about how he invented the famous gapminder graphing engine, he said they started out with a map which changed color with time but that this wasn't a good communication technique because our visual systems are far better at tracking movement with time. So they switched to the graphing system which worked better - I think he's right about this and we should be wary of showing changes in time via color.

Change of position with time When showing change of position with time animations really come into their own IMHO. The 'space time aquarium' has merit but is one level of abstraction away from displaying the data - an animation that changes with time is much simpler to grasp and avoids misplacing the object that can occur with the 'space time aquarium' visualisation.

Other Points As mentioned by Mars, Google Earth has a pretty straightforward system of time animation and works well. I worry about the timeline controller though, in tests on students it proved fiddly. Here I discuss something I think is better

I worry about the senseable city lab stuff, IMHO its more about looking swish than actually communicating well - my blog post discussion

Harrower (link to citation, no direct link) has some useful points to make about animating with time, here's 3:

  • Reduce complexity: animated maps are often more complex so it helps users to simplyfy things as much as possible. E.g. use simple icons, reduce the number of layers visible

    • Variable time: Vary the rate at which the animation plays back slowing down bits where a lot is going on. This helps the user but you have to make sure they understand that the speed of replay is being slowed down.

    • Anotate changes: if points are disappearing/appearing in an animation emphasize the event e.g. Google Earth expands placemarks on appearance

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