Visualizing the planet’s vital signs

This week we explored interactive media around climate related issues. We looked at issues on our planet of deforestation, carbon emissions, rising sea levels and coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef.  We found microsites, an app and a news articles that did some interesting time lapsed data visualizations of these issues.  This is what we discovered:

  • NASA’s ‘Eyes on the Earth’ App that explored the planet’s important climate signals.
  • The Guardian produced a piece exploring mass coral bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Global Forest Watch published an interactive forest monitoring and alert system allowing users to track deforestation over time.


Exploring Earth’s Vital Signs

Through NASA’s Eyes on the Earth app (which you do have to download but is well worth it) you are able to explore data visualizations of the earth’s vital signs overlaid on a 3D rendering of the globe.  Users are able to control the tilt and spin of the earth to focus on any geographical area of interest. The some of vital signs identified by NASA are:

  1. Global Temperature
  2. Atmospheric Concentrations of Carbon Dioxide
  3. Atmospheric Concentrations of Carbon Monoxide
  4. Sea Level
  5. Soil Moisture
  6. Water and Ice


The app uses satellite and other scientific measurements providing users in some instances with over a decade of climate data.  Additional features of the app allow you to pull up various climate related graphs next to the globe, which are animated and provide additional context to historical data trends.   


Then and Now: An examination of coral bleaching on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

The Guardian partnered with the non-profits and academic researchers to produce an interactive piece, which allows users to explore the extent of coral reef bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef.  Using a combination of time-lapse photography, maps, graphs and videos, the article walks users through the historical data surrounding the devastating coral bleaching happening off of Australia’s coast.


What emerges is a devastating picture of the extent of coral reef destruction.  The video and still images help provide an emotional connection to the data, which documents the alarming trend of ocean acidification and rising sea temperatures that result in coral bleaching.  One of the most powerful features of the article is the interactive sliders, which show a certain section of coral reef dying over time via an image time-lapse.


Monitoring global deforestation trends

Global Forest Watch is a powerful tool to track deforestation by using data pools to create an interactive map.  The site allows users to create custom maps based on number of variables.  Not only can you examine deforestation but you can also examine issues such as land rights and mining issues, among others. Users are also able to upload issue relevant stories to the map.  


The power of the site is the ability for users to create custom maps and alerts based on countries and issues of interest.  Additionally, through the sites open source coding and accessible API members are able to create custom apps to maximize data.  The result is a global community of researchers, advocates and government officials that is able to share data, stories and trends to help in the preservation of the world’s forests.



By Dave Thatcher

Dave is currently a student Metropolitan State University of Denver focusing on convergent journalism and multimedia advocacy studies. He has a strong interest in emerging digital storytelling techniques and new ways to achieve audience engagement and social impact through multimedia. Prior to his multimedia studies, Dave spent several years working in the field of refugee resettlement in the United States. Additionally he worked abroad in Sub-Saharan Africa as protections specialist for human rights defenders. In his spare time, Dave can be found wandering the winding streets of Istanbul in search of the perfect cup of coffee.

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