Natural Earth v4.0.0 release notes

Posted in Miscellaneous on October 30th, 2017 by Nathaniel – 3 Comments


I’m proud to announce the immediate availability of Natural Earth version 4! After four months active development and more than 50 contributors Natural Earth v4 is now generally available on  NaturalEarthData.com and Github. See the CHANGELOG for full details. Here’s a quick summary:

  1. The v4 series introduces significant changes to admin-0 country shapes to account for the disputed area of Crimea, and several important admin-0 country name changes like Czechia renamed from Czech Republic. Admin-0 population and GDP values have also been updated to 2016/2017 vintage (primarily from CIA World Factbook).
  2. The v4 series introduces web map optimized min_zoom, min_label, and max_label properties that compliment the existing scalerank property that was originally curated for print cartography in proper projection glory. The min_zoom property is optimized for the web Mercator projection we are collectively hallucinating, and the min_label and max_label properties are optional on some themes when the label should be displayed later than the feature’s geometry (or should stop showing). A revised QGIS quickstart project is also included that makes use of the new zoom properties and is the source of the screenshot above.
  3. While the v3 series went full UTF-8 unicode (character encoding) language support a few errors were made along the way. v4 fixes bad Windows-1252 to UTF-8 conversion bugs (like for Zürich in the lower left corner of the image above). We also better document with the character encoding by adding a .cpg file to shapefile, and on the Natural Earth website documentation.
  4. More names in more languages! We added French names for marine areas way back in v1.4.0, and v4 adds many thousand more for populated places in the following languages: name_en, name_de, name_es, name_fr, name_pt, name_ru, name_zh. The existing name, name_alt, and nameascii fields have been updated, and name features over 600 labels with accent marks (versus the 80 or so that were garbled in the v3 series).


Many thanks to the over 50 people who contributed over the last year of development, we couldn’t do it without you! Jeremy, @raffam, @pnorman, @mojodna, @imresamu, Hannes, Axel, @pinakographo, @CaucasusandMercury, @jschleuss, Martha, Kuba, Jesús, Arkadiy, Philip, Benedikt, Ivor, @almccon, Jacob, Alice, Geoffrey, @ajmas, @instantdelay, Matt, Daniel, Felix, @karimbahgat, @migurski, Olaf, @mvexel, @yaph, Jessica, @kernc, Quentin, Peter, @xangregg, Roland, Rob, @teahan36, @dgddgd, @dkerkow, Graham, Michel, @dshorthouse, @pinakographos, Alain, Aileen, Daniel, Charles, Martin, Aaron, MattA, StephenE, NathanielD, Aron, Lou, and others.

Nathaniel Vaughn Kelso  30 October 2017

FIXED: Downloads are 404ing

Posted in Blog Post, Miscellaneous on August 16th, 2014 by Nathaniel – 1 Comment

UPDATE: All download links should be working again as of Aug 19th.If you’re still finding a link that’s 404ing, please file a bug.

Well, that is embarrassing!

We’re soft relaunching NACIS.org (who sponsors Natural Earth) and looks like there was an undocumented dependency in the domain aliasing I need to fix.

In the meantime, you can download the files from GitHub:

Should be back up Monday.

Natural Earth v2.0.0 release notes

Posted in Miscellaneous on November 8th, 2012 by Nathaniel – 4 Comments

We’re proud to announce the immediate availability of Natural Earth 2.0.0!

The 2.0.0 release focuses on 7 major areas and is available to download today à la carte at NaturalEarthData.
ZIP combo downloads of all vectors: SHP (279 mb) or SQLite (222 mb) or QuickStart kit for ArcMap and QGIS (165 mb).
  1. Economic geography: adds global roads, railroads, ports, airports, and time zones to show how people are interconnected and goods route (read Richard Florida on airports, full legal document about time zones and international date line shifts, and background on the E-Road network).
  2. Remastered geometries: fixes topological errors at 1:10 to 1:1,000 scales in the basic coastline, ocean, land, admin-0, and admin-1 related themes for files in the the 1:10m scaleset. By removing self-intersections, sliver polygons, and adjusting offset polygons, Natural Earth imports into more GIS software (like PostGIS) and will be easier to maintain. The coastline is adjusted to better conform to ~1:3,000,000 satellite imagery. Because of all these changes, some raster themes are also updated. Land, ocean, and minor islands all build topologically by scripting ingredients, as do the admin-0 and admin-1 cultural themes.
  3. Introduce Gray Earth rasters. Worldwide terrain depicted monochromatically in shades of gray. It combines shaded relief and regionally adjusted hypsography that emphasizes both high mountains and the micro terrain found in lowlands. View new raster »
  4. New file name and field name schemas. Full adoption of ne_10m_theme_name.shp file names with `ne_` prefix to allow better import into GeoDB and PostGIS storage, lowercase field (column) names instead of MiXeD and UPPER cased names, and use of consistent `name` field (versus name1).
  5. Address user submitted bug reports, ~25 since the 1.4 release, and earlier.
  6. Moved to Github for the backend versioned file management and coordination. Includes scripts to package updates and auto-create derived themes. View Natural Earth Vector on Github »
  7. Adopt semantic versioning. Know, by theme, the level of effort needed to update your maps when Natural Earth data updates are released. Read more about Natural Earth versioning »

Other notable changes:

All themes now include README and VERSION files. The admin-0 attributes have more veracity and now includes nested disputed areas (was a sidecar). Adds continent, region, subregion codes. Adds versions of country and admin-1 without boundary lakes.  All places and parts of places have population and GDP estimates. The populated places pop_max and pop_min attributes are now fully built out for all records (pop max is for the metropolitan area, pop_min is for the incorporated city of the same name). populated places now include rank_max and rank_min for simple town size grading. All instances of name1 have been changed to name, name to name, name2 to name_alt. Vertexes were added to many themes to allow them to project into conics smoothly (they’re back!). All field (column) names are now generally in the order of: scalerank, featurecla, name, name_alt, natscale, labelrank, *.


Many thanks to the individuals who contributed over the last year of development: Tom, Nathaniel, Alex Tait, Hans van der Maarel, Scott Zillmer, Mike Migurski, Daniel Huffman, Chunshek Chan, Xan Gregg, Peter Bispham, Drew Noakes, Miguel Angel Vilela, Matthew Toro, Kevin Pickell, Shawn Allen, Robert Coup, Iain, Leo, and more! Thanks also to Stamen thru the Knight Foundation Citytracking grant for sponsoring a portion of this work including remastering geometries for better PostGIS import, the move to Github, and adopting semantic versioning.

Nathaniel Vaughn Kelso and Tom Patterson 8 November 2012

read more »

Natural Earth version 1.4 release notes

Posted in Blog Post, Miscellaneous on August 19th, 2011 by Nathaniel – 7 Comments

Natural Earth has been downloaded more than 250,000 times and is closing in on 1 million page views since launching in the final month of 2009. Thanks!

Over 65 files have changed in version 1.4 of Natural Earth. The most significant edits reflect the July 2011 independence of South Sudan. That country’s administrative level-1 units have also been refreshed, and the disputed area of Abyei is retained.

Mea culpa: A major correction fixes a coding error introduced in version 1.3 that incorrectly merged Panama and Papua New Guinea into a super country in some admin-0 files. Version 1.4 reestablishes them as separate countries.

Because of South Sudan, the admin-0 (sovereign, country, map units, map subunits, scale ranks, scale ranks with minor islands), boundary lines land, disputed areas and boundaries, etc. have all been updated in the 10m, 50m, 110m scale sets.

50m admin-1 states and provinces now includes a version with the lakes punched out, like the 10m has enjoyed since version 1.3.

The 10m admin-1 file now includes a “scale rank” exploded version that will import into a wider range of GIS and CAD software packages that cannot import polygons over a certain vertex count.

Other changes and corrections are detailed below and credited to the correction request author.

Nathaniel Vaughn Kelso and Tom Patterson 19 August 2011

read more »

New Cross Blended Hypso without Shaded Relief

Posted in Miscellaneous on October 25th, 2010 by Nathaniel – Comments Off on New Cross Blended Hypso without Shaded Relief

Due to popular demand, a new version of the Cross Blended Hypsometric Tints is available without relief shading. This allows the image to be used at scales other than 1:10M. The cartographer can then mix in their own scale appropriate relief shading.

Background: Cross-blended Hypsometric Tints offer a partial solution to a long-standing map reading problem: many people misidentify hypsometric tints (elevation colors) as vegetation or climate regions. Conventional hypsometric tints often show green in the lowlands, yellow in mid elevations, and red in the highlands. These map colors incorrectly suggest to the untutored that forests cover the parched Persian Gulf region and a hot desert climate prevails on the Greenland ice cap.

Cross-blended hypsometric tints instead use modified elevation colors for regions that people presumably associate with the natural environment. The Sahara is dusty brown, northern Russia is boreal forest green, the Mekong delta is jungle green, and Antarctica is icy blue-grey. As in nature, the map colors gradually blend into one another across regions (x and y axis) and from lowlands to highlands (z axis), hence the name cross-blended hypsometric tints. The legend above shows the map colors modulated by elevation and environment.

More about cross-blended hypsometric tints »

Natural Earth version 1.2 release notes

Posted in Miscellaneous on May 25th, 2010 by Nathaniel – 1 Comment

This update introduces supplementary hydrography features in North America and Europe that quadruple (4x) the number of lakes and rivers there. Many thanks to Tom P. for generalizing the vectors and Preston M. for adding tapering to North America (absent in Europe). In some cases the basic 10m rivers and lakes were modified to fit the new information and that’s been refreshed, as well. The North America data comes from the CEC North America Environmental Atlas. The Europe data extract is kindly provided into the public domain by the European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC), thanks Alfred J! Check out their original, higher resolution Europe data.

On the cultural front, North America gets roads and rails. General 10m detail roads and railroads come from the CEC North America Environmental Atlas. The supplementary roads are donated by XNR Productions and are at 1m scale, thanks Laura M. and Rob!

If you have data or time to contribute, especially to flesh out the new transportation and hydro themes, please contact me at nathaniel@naturalearthdata.com.

Note: We are not committing to building out supplementary level of detail in the rest of the world (we’re not THAT crazy!), but will incorporate such data if you contribute it. As always, we edit these data files but you should too before you publish maps using them. Feed us back corrections.

(below) Rivers and lakes in North America. On the left the version 1.1 hydro features. On the right in color are the new, supplemental version 1.2 hydro features, 4x the density of features at the same 10m linework generalization.


(below) Rivers and lakes in Europe. On the left the version 1.1 hydro features. On the right in color are the new, supplemental version 1.2 hydro features, 4x the density of features at the same 10m linework generalization.


(below) Highways (red and blue) and ferry routes in North America.


(below) Supplemental road detail in North America. Slightly different feature class scheme and data vintage.


(below) Railroads in North America.


Natural Earth Version 1.1 release notes

Posted in Miscellaneous on March 1st, 2010 by Nathaniel – 2 Comments

The download manager will be updated the next couple weeks. In the meantime, please check out the ZIP, linked below, to get the 61 changed GIS shapefiles (SHP). Release notes follow.

NOTE: Version 1.1.1 corrects the name of the 50m cultural “50m_admin_0_countries” file by adding the missing “r” (XQHSANQW71), updated March 15, 2010. Thanks Ben!

Thanks to over 50 contributors for making version 1.1 happen!

Tom, Dick, Craig, Jill, Landon, Preston, Nancy, Alfred, Brett, Annemarie, Hans, Martin, Kristin, Gene, Laris, Donatas, Kevin, Kurt, Tom, Xan, Bill, Ed, Uffe, Jochen, Christopher, Carlos, Barry, Alex, Victor, Kimi, Steve, daan, Maxb, Matt, Eugene, Damien, mizDannasag, Zoonseovasupem, Chris, Bjørn, Prof. Ward, Michael, Roy, Daniel, Kim, Gustav, Uwe, Geoff, Kumiko, Robert, Mike, Hugo, and Leo.

If you have a few hours to help, please check out the TODO listings below and email me at nathaniel@naturalearthdata.com.

Visitors: 123,000 page views since we launched in early December, 2009. Over 30,000 visits (20,000 unique) from 157 ISO countries, or 4.25 pages per visit. 65 percent are new visits. Visitors spend an average of 3 minutes 51 seconds on the site with a bounce rate less than 50 percent. Source: Google Analytics.

Downloads: 34,000. Three out of 4 downloads is ala cart, except for 10m cultural which is 1 out of every 2. Three out of every 4 downloads is for the 10m, with the rest split between 50m and the 110m.  Just less than 1 out of every 2 downloads is for the raster. Source: Download Manager.



  • ADDED – National Parks for the United States of America.
  • ADDED – Landscan urban polygons (masks for population extraction out of original LandScan data). Keep using the existing urban areas theme, this one is for research modeling only.
  • REMOVED – admin 0 marine boundary lines. The indicator lines are still there.

More than 50% changes

  • 10m, 50m, 110m Cities has new towns being added, 30m selection created, various corrections, now include geonames.org IDs, bounding boxes from the landscan data, and historical populations for 500 mega cities. As this triples the file size, a new “simple” version is also available with the updates, but not the full attributes.
  • 50m and 110m Admin 0 and admin-1 get better country names and thematic codes, including slight reranking of some units and link out to the Correlates of War database (cShapes).
  • 50m and 110m Admin 0 and admin-1 in 10m are rebuilt to fix coastline offset and overlaps and gaps between countries and state/province lines.
  • 10m, 50m, 110m Geographic label points for peaks and summits. Now spun off into separate feature class.
  • 110m country boundaries, missing countries, added missing mid-range islands. Includes Caspian sea and admin-0 scale ranks.
  • All files names now use “_” underscore instead of “-” in filename for better compatibility with ArcMap.
  • Handful of file name changes for consistency.

Less than 5% changes

  • 10m Rivers and lakes. A couple names, fixed the scaleRanks to show as integers rather than strings.
  • 10m, 50m Updated the geographic areas marine names (Indonesia straight).
  • 10m, 50m Updated the geographic areas polys names (Seward Penn, Alaska).
  • 10m coastline updates for Venice. Same for land and ocean.
  • 10m bathymetry updates for several island mounts.
  • 10m Antarctic ice shelves, now includes ice shelf names.
  • 10m glaciated areas: names cleaned up, feature class column filled in.
  • 10m, 50m, 110m WGS84 bounding box has more point to aid in reprojecting as a linearized curve.
  • Fixed TWF extent on the raster imagery to improve import into popular open source GIS packages.
  • 50m ocean can now project into web Mercator.
  • 110m all cultural and most physical themes now inside the +/- 180, +/- 90bounding box.

TODO, spring 2010:

  • Better thematic codes and names on admin-1 (about 50%, can someone help on the other 50%?)
  • 10m Admin 0 and admin-1 get better country names and thematic codes, including slight reranking of some units and link out to the Correlates of War database (cShapes).
  • 10m Admin 0 and admin-1 in 10m are rebuilt to fix coastline offset and overlaps and gaps between countries and state/province lines.
  • 10m Coastline and land edits in 10m: Add in Greenland islands for towns. Remove several duplicate Pacific islands.
  • 10m Admin-1 with clipped poly and lines for larger lakes. ZZ7DR1ZXAU
  • Tribal areas in the US (US Census).
  • US National Forests (CEC North American Atlas).
  • More rivers in US, Mexico, and Canada; in Europe. Selection done, tapering in progress (CEC North American Atlas; European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Institute for Environmental Sustainability). Will include minor updates to existing rank 0 to 8 rivers in terms of headwaters.
  • More towns in US, Mexico, and Canada. Selection done, location research remains on ~200 (CEC North American Atlas)
  • Roads – in US, Mexico, and Canada.
  • ArcMap MXD / Layer file

TODO NEXT, fall 2010:

  • Adding georeferenced manual shaded relief plates for select areas (US National Park Service).
  • Possibly more from the gRoads project. Data source identified. (CEC North America Atlas, gRoads CIESEN)
  • Urban areas – gain names, more towns get latLng bounding box, remove bad polygons, move some. Data source identified. (University of Madison, Wisconsin)
  • Wetlands – polygons. Data source identified. (University of Madison, Wisconsin)
  • Incorporate US physiographic regions from Matt Fox. Other refinements to the polys. Data source identified. (USGS)
  • Add in alt names for more populated places using GeoNames ids.
  • World protected areas (terrestrial, marine)


  • Are we missing a theme or have one to contribute? Please comment on this post!

After the jump, full listing of changes.

read more »

Forum registration changes

Posted in Miscellaneous on January 31st, 2010 by Nathaniel – Comments Off on Forum registration changes

We’re now using stronger spam checks in the forum registration area (required to post in the forums) to combat a rise in spam users. Let us know if you’re not able to get thru or your posts aren’t showing up. How do you tell if you’re posts aren’t showing up? If no one responds (you’re auto emailed when someone replies to your forum topic) -OR- if you logout and try viewing the forum as a guest user and don’t see your post.

Raster imagery 1.0.1 released

Posted in Miscellaneous on January 9th, 2010 by Nathaniel – 2 Comments

The 10m and 50m raster data on the NE download pages are updated and now contain corrected TFW files. The 1.0.0 files were a tiny bit off in their extents, the new 1.0.1 files are now perfectly within the ±180, ±90 bounding box.

The bad extent was throwing an error for some GIS systems on import and leaving gaps when reprojecting in the area of the international date line for others.

We’ve tested in ArcGIS 9.3.x in NSD Pro 5 georeferencing the rasters with the TFW files and reprojecting them. No funny gaps appeared at the 180th meridian. Thanks for edcorkery and user4815162342 in the Forums for first discovering this and Hans for the solution. Please let us know if you still experience reprojection problems.

Natural Earth Browser from Thematic Mapping

Posted in Miscellaneous on January 4th, 2010 by Nathaniel – Comments Off on Natural Earth Browser from Thematic Mapping

[Editor’s note: Bjorn over at his Thematic Mapping Blog has done up a Natural Earth tile set using open source tools. How have you been using Natural Earth?]

Excerpted from Thematic Mapping Blog.

My holiday project, apart from skiing, was to play with the new Natural Earth dataset. By combing raster and vector data you can make a variety of visually pleasing maps. You can use my Natural Earth Browser to study the great linework of Natural Earth.
Natural Earth Browser was created with a variety of open source tools. Map tiles from raster data was created with MapTiler and optimised with pngng. Map tiles from vector data was styled with Mapnik and pre-genereated with TileCache. The map interface is based on OpenLayers, Ext JS and GeoExt.