I was idly speculating on the many sorts of things people are keeping track of these days with GIS - natural/human catastrophes, demographic and economic patterns, climate change, etc. In that vein, I started to look around for GIS' applications in war and international conflicts. There are many obvious uses for it in the military, but is there any database or publicly accessible application that organizes war-related information in a spatial and/or cartographic context? Time would undoubtedly play an integral role in any robust methodology. The most I was able to find was an in-progress database for tracking war crimes. What else is out there for public consumption, if anything?

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    As I look over all the great answers, I wonder at how I should go about picking one. I had no specific database or type of conflict in mind. Is this more of a wiki style question? – Nathanus Mar 27 '11 at 23:48
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    Seems wiki to me. Given the role facebook has played, I wonder if there are any crowdsourced situation awareness mobile mapping apps used in the revolts. – Kirk Kuykendall Mar 29 '11 at 14:44
  • Actaully - =1 everyone!! "If I give one to you .... I have to give one to everybody"!!! All great answers! – Dano Jul 28 '11 at 23:17

14 Answers 14

  • Diego Valle-Jones has done some interesting work analysing and mapping Mexico's drug war (R code on github). Wikinarco provides webmap interface to some drug related crime statistics in Mexico.

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Now interactive map is also available:

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  • The Economist has also done some mapping of drug related deaths, cartel areas and traffic routes.

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  • French OWNI provides nice web frontend for Wikileak's diplomatic cables. There seems to be map app, but it didn't work for me. Telegraph came with a web map as well.

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  • For Iraq Wikileaks data visualization mentioned already by Kirk there is also interesting visualization from placr. For 'nonspatial' browsing check OWNI's app.

  • And before Iraq, Guardian and The Atlantic also tried to visualize selection of Afgan Wikileaks data.

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  • OWNI provides 'nonspatial' browser again. Nai's MediaWatch team provides spatio-temporal overview of the violence against journalists.

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Update 1: Recently stumbled upon Guardian's visualization of Nato attacks in Libya.

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Update 2: Although not a military conflict per se, London riots start to fit description of this question as well. Slashgeo points to few geovisualizations on the topic. Guardian maps location of suspects, riots against poverty. And GENeSIS analyzes geolocated tweets.

Update 3: Interesting visualization of protected areas & civil conflicts in Democratic Republic of Congo.

Update 4: Somalian Piracy Threat Map 2010 from Wikipedia article.

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    Went ahead and accepted this answer for its depth and variety of suggestions for further digging. I'm especially interested in the drug war. – Nathanus Mar 29 '11 at 12:46
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    The Guardian are very good about analysing and mapping data in general, and have a good blog at: guardian.co.uk/news/datablog – Mark Ireland Aug 16 '11 at 19:15

For better or worse, I'm surprised WikiLeaks' CableViewer doesn't include a map UI. They do organize the data by country.


After searching, I see the Guardian has created a map of Wikileaks Iraq war logs, a different leak that came out before the cable leak.

  • Aren't these two different 'leaks'? – radek Mar 25 '11 at 23:29
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    @radek: yes, answer edited to reflect that. – Kirk Kuykendall Mar 29 '11 at 14:47

Not exactly what you are asking for but here is some information on public domain data related to terrorist attacks.

There are two databases that currently store data on terrorist attacks. One is the START data via the University of Maryland. The other is a data collection, Worldwide Incidents Tracking System, collected by the National Counterterrorism Center. I have not seen either extensively used in any mapping application, although they have geographic identifiers that would allow them to be.

While I see radek updated some of his awesome examples, I will give some updates too!

War Stuff

I read this excellent paper

O'loughlin, John & Frank Witmer. 2011. The Localized Geographies of Violence in the North Caucasus of Russia, 1999–2007. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 101(1): 178-201

And I see that they have a webpage of the data used as well as copies of that and several other manuscripts. The same individuals have another webpage of data and manuscripts looking at Violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan using the wikileaks data and another data set I don't think has been mentioned here, Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED)

Terrorism Stuff

The Journal of Quantitative Criminology has a forthcoming thematic issue on the Quantitative Approaches to the study of Terrorism (currently the issue is all within the online first section). Two of those articles incorporates spatial analysis into the articles

Spatial and Temporal Patterns of Terrorist Attacks by ETA 1970 to 2007 (Lafree et al., 2011)

This article likely uses the START data I referred to earlier. Unfortunately I can not find a publicly available copy of the paper, but it may be available on the START publications page in the future. The data is public though regardless.

There is another article in that issue that conducts spatial analysis (Braithwaite & Johnson, 2011), but they don't appear to be using a public data source. There is an earlier publication that is similar (Townsley et al., 2008 PDF). It also reminds me another project I was aware of, SCARE (via an All Points Blog Post) which uses similar IED data (just for reference). If anyone knows where/how to get similar SIGACTS data let me know in a comment.

  • No, this is fine. :) Definitely within the scope of my curiosity. Thank you! – Nathanus Mar 26 '11 at 3:08

Here' another war crimes mapping initiative that's partnered w/ Google for very compelling presentation in Google Earth.


The NYT has a map that tracks day-by-day changes in the Libyan revolt. (Via the MapRoom).

Since posting my original response, "story maps" have become commonplace. Esri has Story maps. And so does Knight Lab, which uses MapBox.

  • Awesome. I'd been hoping to find one of these. – Nathanus Mar 30 '11 at 17:38

The NGA (National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency) makes available up-to-date "Anti-Shipping Activity Messages" (aka "pirate data") which includes locations and descriptive accounts of specific hostile acts against ships world-wide. The data is also available in GIS data formats such as shapefiles, KML and file geodatabase.



I can't seem to get it to work now but I used to peruse a very informative and easily navigable interactive map of civil war battles.
It used a map and allowed you to select battles.
Which would then animate with timing (advancements) and decisions (written in scrolling popup) and allowed the user to step through the battles.

This is not what you call current but certainly displays "war-related information in a spatial and/or cartographic context?".

Civil war battle maps.
This just went up on ESRIs website yesterday. Charleston City Map
Similar to Andy Ws link this is a global incident map.

  • I daresay GIS is just as interested in the past as it is in present and future. Very interesing! – Nathanus Mar 26 '11 at 16:25

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The LRA Crisis Tracker tracks the activities of the Lords Resistance Army, which will hopefully bring its leader, Joseph Kony, to justice.

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There's an article here which gives a write up of an interesting Ushahidi deployment to monitor the conflict in Iraq on behalf of Mercy Corps.


I'm not sure if it's been deployed yet and whether they will include public content.

There are also plenty of data sets available online which are already geotagged but not necessarily available to view on a spatial platform. If you have such data, there are easy ways to map it using some great free tools to provide filtering, temporal analysis, custom views, etc.

We have access to data in Iraq which we have visualized. Unfortunately, it is proprietary to a third party but we may be able to open it up for analytical purposes. An example heatmap of violence in Iraq in 2011 is available at this link: Iraq Heatmap


The Uppsala Conflict Data Program publishes the Geoereferenced Event Dataset (GED). Their data is available in .csv, .shp, .sql, and .xls. Data is currently available for Africa (1989-2010) and East Asia (1989-2013), only.


The Armed Conflict Location and Event Dataset (ACLED) also publishes georeferenced conflict event data. ACLED also offers (near) real-time data for ongoing conflicts in certain countries.


You can also check out the Social Conflict Analysis Dataset (SCAD) which collects georeferenced information on riots, strikes, and other protest events.

There also several ongoing projects that attempt to collect georeferenced event data on conflict automatically from news sources. This blog post is a good start for further reading in that direction.

More academic references about GIS data and conflict studies can be found here, here, and here.


Continuing the nuclear bomb theme, here's an interesting video visualizing every nuclear bomb detonation from 1945-1998.


From the description:

Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto has created a beautiful, undeniably scary time-lapse map of the 2053 nuclear explosions which have taken place between 1945 and 1998, beginning with the Manhattan Project's "Trinity" test near Los Alamos and concluding with Pakistan's nuclear tests in May of 1998. This leaves out North Korea's two alleged nuclear tests in this past decade (the legitimacy of both of which is not 100% clear).

Each nation gets a blip and a flashing dot on the map whenever they detonate a nuclear weapon, with a running tally kept on the top and bottom bars of the screen. Hashimoto, who began the project in 2003, says that he created it with the goal of showing"the fear and folly of nuclear weapons." It starts really slow — if you want to see real action, skip ahead to 1962 or so — but the buildup becomes overwhelming.

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    Nice fusion of cartography and music. I wonder what it would be like if the sounds reflected the kilo-tonnage of the explosions. – Kirk Kuykendall Apr 1 '13 at 21:44

North Korea's got the the old school paper-maps-on-the-wall GIS. From ANALYSIS: North Korean Photo Reveals ‘U.S. Mainland Strike Plan’.

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Looks like they printed Google Maps. I've never been able to figure out how to print out Google Maps. Maybe Eric Schmidt showed them how during his visit?

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The Guardian has this map with an azimuthal equidistant projection, which is perhaps more suitable for missile warfare.

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There's a review here about a recently published study: "War, space, and the evolution of Old World complex societies".

Intense warfare is the evolutionary driver of large complex societies, according to a new mathematical model whose findings accurately match those of the historical record in the ancient world.


One of remains of war that really needs mapping are the locations of minefields, as this has practical application in daily life, and it is not just used for historical curiosity.

In Croatia my former company made a portal with minefield locations (I made some backend parts for entering new data from scanned military maps)


NOTE: Due to fact that this project is no longer maintained and server is stuck with very old SSL version Chrome and FF block access to site. IE still works.

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