Animated Heatmap of WikiLeaks Report Intensity in Afghanistan

August 17, 2010
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(This article was first published on Zero Intelligence Agents » R, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

Visualisation of Activity in Afghanistan using the Wikileaks data from Mike Dewar on Vimeo.

The latest visualization of the WikiLeaks data compiled by our group is an animation of the intensity of report observations in Afghanistan over the six year period in the WikiLeaks data. Team member Mike Dewar did the vast majority of work for this visualization, and has provided a brief description of how to interpret it:


This is a visualisation of activity in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2009 based on the Wikileaks data set. Here we’re thinking of activity as the number of events logged in a small region of the map over a 1 month window. These events consist of all the different types of activity going on in Afghanistan.

The intensity of the heatmap represents the number of events logged. The colour range is from 0 to 60+ events over a one month window. We cap the colour range at 60 events so that low intensity activity involving just a handful of events can be seen – in lots of cases there are many more than 60 events in one particular region. The heatmap is constructed for every day in the period from 2004-2009, and the movie runs at 10 days per second.

The orange lines represent the major roads in Afghanistan, and the black outlines are the individual administrative regions.

To me, Mike’s animation is the best visual representation of the WikiLeaks data to date, and provides a very nuanced account of how the war unfolded from 2004 to 2009. In addtion it gives clear indication as to the areas where coalition activity was consistently high, such as the capital region and eastern border with Pakistan, and the areas where activity ebbed and flowed, such as the south and central areas of Afghanistan.

The persistent level of heavy reporting at the Pakistani border is also quite striking. By 2007, the entire eastern portion of the map is blanketed with a high intensity of activity on roads leading from Kabul to Pakistan. Finally, it is clear that coalition activities are highly constrained by the main “Ring Road” in Afghanistan, as the animation shows activity spread along this path steadily over time.

As always, all of the code required to make this animation, along with several other analyses, are available at our github repository, and the original Vimeo link to the animation is here. I look forward to reading your thoughts on this visualization!

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