A break in the rhythm of a city after a natural disaster, like a missed beat in a song

By Colin Chadduck

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I see music, like most things, in three dimensions. One of my favorite songs to see in this way is Everlong, by the Foo Fighters. I enjoy visualizing the four different rhythm patterns created by the drums, two rhythm guitars and a bass. One after the other, within the first 15 seconds of the song, each instrument joins in forming a throbbing wall of sound. Each instrument can still be teased out, but together they form a single composition, spinning.

I am a geo-spatial analyst, and when I describe my contribution to the world of science, more often than not, I start with this song. The way I see Everlong is the way I understand and analyze regional economic patterns. Each pattern is an instrument and together they are a statistical song. Through statistical tools and geography I tease out patterns of activity while maintaining a three dimensional understanding of the region.

Not every performance of a song - or functioning of a region - goes smoothly. Just as a broken drum stick damages the beat, knocking a hole into the wall of sound, natural disasters destroy the rhythm of a region.

An epidemic, for example, can devastate an area. In that case, my job might be to analyze how the outbreak pattern, the economic profile, and the geography of the region interact.

In my current project, I use night-time light images to build a regional economic model. When a city or town has lots of lights on at night, it also tends to have lots of economic activity. I want to use that relationship to develop a mapping system, to precisely estimate the economic loss within a region following a natural disaster.

My hope is that by building better models for the economic activity of a region, quicker solutions can be made when something changes. That way we can get back to listening to our music.


Colin Chadduck is a master’s student at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. When he is not calculating the morbid reality in which we live he enjoys racing in triathlons, exploring various artistic mediums and trying to figure out how to make a man-bun. Its more difficult then it looks. Reach him at

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