How To: Find & Use Open Source Data

Posted by India Young on August 17, 2018

One of our favorite attributes of the Population ExplorerTM tool is the ability to upload boundaries and marker files. Whether you're defining your target area or trying to analyze the population and demographics of real world events such as wildfires, or extreme weather, this feature is very handy. 

Finding the right open source boundary and location data can be tricky though. Thankfully, we are here to help! This week on the Population Explorer blog, we share some of our favorite open source data websites so you can effectively take your population analysis to a more critical level. 

Discover Some Our Favorite Open Source Data Sites! 

GIS Sources (4)

Open Source Data Sites to Use With Population Explorer:

USGS Earth Explorer -Remote sensing data- satellite images, aerial photographs, and cartographic products

ESRI Open Data - Social, economic, political, environmental data. Worldwide organizations sharing data = 5637; total data sets =103,921(updated 8/2018)

Natural Earth Data - Global cultural and physical vector GIS datasets

NASA's Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center - Socioeconomic data (agriculture, climate, conservation, governance, hazards, health, infrastructure, land use, marine and coastal, population, poverty, remote sensing, sustainability, urban and water)

US Census Bureau - U.S. socio-economic, population, and demographic data

Open Topography - Community-based high-resolution topography data

UNEP Environmental Data Explorer - Freshwater, population, forests, emissions, climate, disasters, health and GDP spatial and non-spatial data

GeoNetwork - Agriculture, fisheries, land resource GIS data

NCAR - Climate data

European Environmental Agency - Datasets from the European Environment Agency - physical geography and environmental assets


Simply put, a shapefile (also known as a boundary) is a data layer with attribute information associated with a specific geographic location and dataset. Shapefiles are created with spatial features including points, lines, or polygons (areas). In Population Explorer, when a shapefile layer is added to the map, the user can then view demographic and population data associated with that particular geometric feature. Shapefile data are versatile. They can be applied to varied and dynamic Population Explorer projects from a point on the globe, to an outline of a zip code, to expansive regions affected by extreme weather and climate events. Below we see an example of map created by uploading open source smoke dispersion shapefiles from the NOAA Satellite data.

Population Explorer accepts a range of shapefile formats including KML/KMZ. You can find more information about shapefile formats here: (Shapefile Formats). 

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Here are some common examples of shapefile layers that can be found online and uploaded to Population Explorer:

  • Administrative Areas
  • Blocks
  • Building Footprints
  • Communities
  • Districts
  • Earthquake Intensity Boundaries
  • Flood Warning Zones
  • Neighborhoods
  • Wildfire Boundaries
  • Zip Codes

Marker files

Marker files can be uploaded into Population Explorer easily by creating a list of coordinate data within Microsoft Excel and saving as a CSV file. These files contain Latitude and Longitude coordinates and can be placed on the map with or without their name labels.  

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Example of the required Marker File (CSV) format for Population Explorer. 

Below we see an example of a map of the Dublin area with colleges offering GIS courses. College locations were uploaded as a CSV file in the specific format defined by Population Explorer. The user can then add shapefiles or draw boundaries around these areas to find demographic data.

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Below we see an example of combining Marker Files and Shapefiles. Markers of current well locations in Liberia and shapefiles for Administrative Divisions were combined to compare population data around future well locations. Buffer circles were then drawn to look at smaller areas around potential well sites. 

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More Information

Population Explorer accepts a range of boundary file formats including KML/KMZ. You can find more information about shapefile formats here: (How To: Working With Shapefiles). For additional support on working with shapefiles in Population Explorer, please see our overview video on YouTube or contact us! 

Tags: Population Mapping, Maps, population, Location, Demographics, Data, geography, Open Source

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