Tools for Mapping Location Data by Sarah Dunifon

Hi! I’m Sarah Dunifon, Research and Evaluation Associate at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). In my role, I create many reports and I’m always looking for efficient tools for data visualization. I’ve found a few different programs to display location data, which I’d like to share with the wider AEA community.

Rad Resources:

Google Fusion Tables

Google Fusion Tables is an experimental app add-on that you can link to Google Drive. It allows users to create online, interactive heat maps and feature maps. Privacy settings are managed in the same way as other Google products where users can decide on a range between public and only available to you as the user. Viewers can manipulate the maps in various ways, such as filtering results, scrolling around the map view, or switching between map types.

Feature map of countries with WCS offices – Fusion Tables offers quick and easy interactive heat maps which can be shared via weblink. The free version includes a United States map and a world map, and your data will be public, whereas the paid versions have data privacy, more map choices, and the option to download the maps as images.

Heat map of countries with WCS offices –

Excel Apps – Geographic Heat Map

With the “Geographic Heat Map” app on Microsoft Excel, you can create either a world or United States heat map. The data is private and you can save your final map as a picture, making it a good option for inserting into a report. This app doesn’t have much customizability in color and style, but I’ve been able to paste the image into another program (say Microsoft Word or PowerPoint) and edit the image there.

Heat map of countries with WCS offices – Geographic Heat Map with Excel Apps


Tableau offers feature maps and heat maps for free, though the data will be public. This program is highly customizable and makes some beautiful visualizations. However, you might find there is a bit of a learning curve to using this software. The visualizations can be saved as an interactive display in “presentation mode” or uploaded to the Tableau Public gallery where they can be shared digitally.

Heat map of countries with WCS offices – Tableau

Excel Powermap

Powermap in Microsoft Excel lets you create private feature maps in a variety of themes on a 3D globe. The map can be an online interactive display or an image produced by taking a screen grab through the program. The screengrab puts a picture of the image onto clipboard, which you can then paste into another program.

Feature map of countries with WCS offices – Excel Powermap

Hot Tip: Consider how you intend to use the map before you start building it. If it needs to be interactive, choose an online format. If it needs to be put into a report, pick a program with capabilities to export a high-resolution image, rather than just a screenshot.

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3 thoughts on “Tools for Mapping Location Data by Sarah Dunifon”

  1. Sarah (and all),
    Thank you for sharing your mapping tips. It’s good to see the variety of options that are available and to add to my professional list.

    Has anyone in the group gone a step beyond Excel power mapping? I’ve used ESRI’s programs before but I don’t think I can afford them in my current agency. I’d love to be able to use multiple data points and layers to inform our services and programs. Is there software in-between those two?

    Thanks in advance for any insight you can provide!

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