How to Get Harmonized Environmental & Demographic Data with TerraPop


Last Updated: Jan 22, 2017

One of the common problems climate change scientists and others who study human and natural systems face today is understanding the interactions between population and environment.


Because our planet is complex. We need internationally comparable data at a global scale for characteristics such as human population, land use, land cover, and climate. On top of that, we need a deeper understanding of how space changes with time.

As we’re about to show, TerraPop can help better understand this complex problem through harmonized data delivery.

But you don’t need to to be a scientist to understand how to use it.

Environment, Demographic Data and More

Before describing what TerraPop is…

We’re so excited about TerraPop that we’ve added it to our top 10 list of GIS data sources.

Now, what is it?

TerraPop (“Terra Populus”) is the only system that incorporates and integrates both census data from over 160 countries around the world, as well as environmental data describing land cover, land use, and climate. The census data in TerraPop include individual- and household-level records from more than 80 countries around the world and aggregate data from another 80 countries and spans up to six decades, from the 1960s to the present.

The unique thing about it is how it can be used to explore temporal and spatial changes. Not only researchers, but everyone now has a tool to obtain and investigate transformative changes in the human-environment system in geographic space.

Terrapop - Environment and Demographic Data

Area-level, Micro-data & Raster Data

TerraPop makes it possible for you to download big data in any of three data structures workflows: area-level, raster and micro-data.

  • Area-level data characterizes a variable by some type of boundaries like a province or municipalities (examples: unemployment rates, education, demographic data). Thanks to TerraPop’s unique data integration capabilities, area-level extracts may include population and environmental information summarized from raster data or tabulated from micro-data.

TerraPop Area-Level

  • Raster data shows how population and environmental characteristics vary by dividing space into a regular grid and recording a value for each cell in the grid (examples: land cover, climate & agriculture). Raster extracts may also incorporate data derived from area-level data or tabulated microdata.

TerraPop Landcover

  • Microdata consist of anonymized individual records, including all the responses a person gave to the questions in a census or survey (examples: social, dwelling and person characteristics). Microdata records can be enriched by adding contextual variables describing the place in which a person lives derived from area-level or raster data. In order to obtain non-U.S. microdata, you’ll need to justify how you intend on using it during registration in order to get access.

Microdata Terrapop

How to Extract Data from TerraPop

First, you’ll need to create an account by registering. It’s a pretty painless process to sign up.

Eventually, you will confirm your account and you are ready to start your own TerraPop customized data delivery. You can begin on the main page on the TerraPop website:

TerraPop Start Extract

In this example, we will make an area-level extract. Now, click on  Start Extract .

From here, you can browse through the different variables available such as birthplace, education, employment, household, urban and demographic data – we’ve selected  Unemployment Rates . Opposite to variables on the left, we chose the  United States  for geographic location on the right.

TerraPop Unemployment

The next step is choosing your time frame and administrative level (lowest level available, 1st administrative level & national). To make your data consistent throughout, you select the  Harmonized  option:

TerraPop TimeFrame

After clicking Next, you can give your extract a name. Finally, you can complete the extract by clicking the  Submit  button. Optionally, you can include the boundary file with the checkmark at the bottom.

TerraPop Submit Extract

Shortly after, you will get a link in your email to where you can download the extract. Upon downloading your zip file extract, it will contain your shapefile of the U.S. states and a CSV containing your data – as well as additional files for use with statistical packages or other software such as SAS and JSON.

The CSV contains the unemployment rates by state for each year that you selected during the extract process. From here, all that you have to do is join the attributes with the shapefile to produce a beautiful choropleth map.

Now, it’s your turn

TerraPop provides a user-friendly interface to help you obtain customized data packages. Ultimately, it delivers customized, relevant, multi-temporal data without a lot of hassle.

To use your data effectively, you will require spreadsheet software such as Microsoft Excel, statistical software such as R, SPSS or SAS and/or GIS software such as Esri ArcGIS, Esri ArcGIS, QGIS, or one of the many other free GIS software.

The University of Minnesota is ironing out all the kinks in this environment and demographic data extract application. But what you get from TerraPop is a rock-solid foundation for your research with harmonized geographic and tabular data.

Overall, TerraPop is the next generation resource that can provide researchers or anyone cutting-edge data through validated scientific workflows. Now, give TerraPop a try, and let us know your thoughts with a comment below.

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