Updated Population Dataset Sharpens Focus on the Human Footprint

We are pleased to announce a new edition of the World Population Estimated layer on ArcGIS Online. Like the 2013 edition, this layer estimates the global footprint of where people live, but with an improved methodology.
In addition, the 2015 edition includes a population density estimate in units of persons per square kilometer. This gives demographers and statisticians the same data expressed in units they use every day. Mapmakers can transform the density layer into other projected coordinate systems with minimal loss of data because the units are independent of the varying area of cells that result when not using an equal area projected coordinate system.

Population Density in around Zurich showing how geography affects where people can live such as alpine valleys, river valleys, and broad plains. Click the image to open an interactive map to explore the data.
The improved methodology starts with 15-meter resolution Landsat8 imagery to locate the statistical texture for the footprint of where people live. According to Earl Nordstrand, the improvements to the methodology came in two forms. Nordstrand is the senior researcher at Esri who developed the methodology for producing the World Population Estimate. The first improvement was to the quality of the input data, specifically the spatial accuracy of the population data. This resulted in reducing the number of cells with overly high counts of people. The second improvement was fine-tuning the model to better identify the location of rural population.
The 2015 estimate shows a total global population of 7,295,737,250 people occupying 18.08% of the land area*. The table below shows the percentages of people living in urban and rural areas.

Density Class

Density persons per km2

% of Total Population


% of Land Area*

% of Inhabited Land


1 – 399





Light Urban**

400 – 1,999











*Land is the area of the earth’s land, excluding Antarctica and freshwater bodies.
**Light urban represents areas that may be urban, if services found in cities are present.
This estimate of where the world’s population lives is useful for many reasons.

  1. Natural disasters cross boundaries and national census data does not. Because the World Population Estimate is global, we can estimate how many people a storm, earthquake, etc. may have affected. In fact, derive population counts or average densities for any geographic features such as water sources, agricultural areas, hazard zones, coasts, power grids, etc. ArcGIS can also model nearness of population to these features, areas, or zones.
  2. Counts and densities are comparable anywhere in the world, whether learning about rural landscapes or concrete jungles.
  3. Use population as a surrogate for many types of pollution to model environmental impacts of human activities. This includes modeling habitat for animal species known to avoid contact with humans.

These links will take you to ArcGIS Online where you can learn more about this new estimate of global population:

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