Opening up a world of resource trade and environmental data

Containing over 20 million data points, is a comprehensive open data platform that allows users to explore the fast-evolving trade patterns of hundreds of resource commodities and their impact on the environment.

About the data

The Chatham House Resource Trade Database tracks trade in natural resources between more than 270 countries and territories since 2000.

The database includes monetary value and weight of over 1,300 different types of natural resources including agricultural, fishery and forestry products, fossil fuels, metals, precious stones and other minerals. A growing number of trade flows also include environmental data such as embodied land and water use. Processing and visualising such an enormous dataset online was a hugely challenging proposition.

Constructing the interface

We identified key user groups and asked them how they’d use the data in their various lines of work. We had a broad range of use cases to accommodate, such as journalists reporting on deforestation issues, investors interested in China’s economic growth, or NGOs concerned with the flow of conflict minerals out of Africa. Each tended to have a different route into and through the data, and different outputs at the end, be it digesting, sharing or downloading different cuts of the dataset. This underlying research informed the primary navigation and user interface, along with a list of key features for the site.

We were keen to allow context and hidden trends to bubble up as users explore the site. We proposed a ‘top 5’ mechanism for peering deeper into the current query: the top 5 individual trade flows in a specific resource; the top 5 commodities within any parent category; the biggest and fastest growing importers and exporters. We also felt it important to be able to drill down at any stage, so clicking a sub-category, importer or exporter reconfigures the map accordingly. This simple, exploratory approach provides an almost limitless breadth of resource trade visualisations, easily accessed via single steps into or out of each search query.

Leveraging the data

At any stage, users can share, embed or download specific queries of interest, providing both a ready-made visualisation tool for adding context to existing stories, as well as a powerful interface for accessing the raw data.

Until now, there’ve been readily accessible data on the production and on the consumption of natural resources, but nowhere you could explore the global trade in natural resources in one place. provides a really powerful platform for searching and visualising the patterns of natural resource trade.

Felix Preston, Senior Research Fellow, Chatham House