The Arctic In Limbo

Team: Autumn Jing / Brandon Levy / Christian Feld / Kevin Zhang

We explored MASIE-NH which stands for the Multisensor Analyzed Sea Ice Extent – Northern Hemisphere. The data says that the Arctic is in peril as the ice cover has shrunk significantly over the last decade. We want to tell this story because losing the Arctic sea ice will result in very real consequences, from an increased number of life-threatening severe weather events to a positive feedback loop which will accelerate global warming, further destabilizing arid regions such as the Middle East.

We looked at data showing the daily extent of sea ice in the Northern Hemisphere from 2006 through 2016. We identified the annual low-point for each year of the data; that is, the lowest amount of sea ice in a given year. We averaged these annual lows for 2006-2010 and 2011-2015 and compared those numbers to one another and to the 2016 low-point. The 2011-2015 average low-point was 93% of the 2006-2010 average low-point, and the 2016 low-point was 88% of the 2006-2010 average.

Our participatory game is an effective and appropriate medium for telling this story. The limbo setup attracts people because at first sight it is a fun game. The ice extent low points mentioned above are represented by limbo bars of different heights.

The more the ice has shrunk, the lower the bar. Players get a short info sign at every bar, so that they know what it stands for. At the end of the track, there is one bar flat on the floor visualizing the scenario that the sea ice might totally vanish during the summer by 2040.

Once drawn into the physical experience, it is easier to bring our message across and encourage participants to act. A future iteration of this project would guide players to a website that provides a second layer of learning for the players. This site could also show time lapses of the ice extent in specific regions of the Northern Hemisphere.

Our audience is citizens in districts whose representatives are members of the House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, where “H.R. 861: To terminate the Environmental Protection Agency” is currently under review (15th district of Illinois / 3rd of Mississippi / 16th and 18th of Pennsylvania / 5h and 6th of Texas / 8th of North Carolina).

Our goal is to show people in those districts one of the consequences of global climate change and motivate them to call their representatives and demand that they block H.R. 861.

The Olympic Reduction

Meghan Kokoski, Mikayla Murphy, Kimberly Yu, Kevin Zhang

The Beijing air quality data shows that there was a drastic increase in air quality during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. We wanted to tell this story because although Beijing normally has poor and sometimes even dangerous air quality, they were able to increase air quality to safe levels while hosting the Olympic Games. This change did not occur naturally and was a direct result of government intervention. The data does not show a permanent improvement in the air quality in Beijing, but it does prove that through laws and the will of the government, there can be a noticeable change in air quality.

We wanted to demonstrate the changes Beijing made during the Olympics in the hopes of encouraging better policy to protect air quality. Our audience is the inhabitants of Los Angeles, particularly those interested in health and environmental issues. A larger scale of the sketch would be set up in a public setting in the city of Los Angeles. We would play the part of an activist for clean air, using our data sculpture to show how government can play a large role in creating clean air. In addition to the physical model, the accompanying screen would specify the clean air improvements in Beijing made during the Olympics, as well as the adverse effects each pollutant has on the environment and one’s health. Ultimately, the data visualization would encourage participants to push their government officials to implement policies promoting cleaner air.

Los Angeles is an appropriate location for our visualization because it often has unsafe levels of air pollution and has the worst air quality of any large city in the US. They are also in contention to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games, so people will relate to the Olympic rings.

We started by analyzing the Beijing air quality data provided by the US State Department and noticed an unusual increase in air quality in August. Based on the timeline, we hypothesized that it may have been related to the 2008 Summer Olympics. Intrigued, we did some additional research and found a study conducted by The Hong Kong Polytechnic University which looked at specific levels of pollutants before and during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Our physical model is based on the information in this study.

Trees: Saving Lives in NYC

See our presentation here!

Sharlene Chiu, Margaret Tian, Kevin Zhang

According to a 1994 study of air pollution removal by trees in urban areas, trees only remove 0.09% of fine particulate matter. This amounts to every tree absorbing about 8 lbs annually, based on the 1995 New York City Tree Census. At first glance, 8 lbs may seem negligible, but we were excited to discover that 7.6 lives are saved each year, thanks to the removal of particulate matter by trees!

Our data sources are listed below:

  • NYC Environment & Health Data Portal,
  • Urban Tree Effects on Fine Particulate Matter and Human Health,
  • Air pollution removal by urban trees and shrubs in the United States,

We decided to represent our data with a stacked bar chart and highlight the different layers of information with the zoom features on Prezi. The stacked bar chart predisposes the audience to expect that the percentage of pollution removal by trees is great enough to be easily spotted on the bars. However, we headed in the opposite direction by zooming into a minuscule portion of the bar. The most striking part of our narrative is that such a small percent reduction (0.09%) can have such a substantial effect (saving $60 million and around 8 lives).

We begin by showing the entire bar, which represents all the PM2.5 produced. Then we emphasize how seemingly insignificant the amount absorbed by trees is by slowly zooming into a tiny piece of the bar.  At this point in the presentation, we expect the audience to feel that trees have a trivial effect, but we then demonstrate that trees are indeed important by zooming out and showing relevant (and big) benefits. This theme of zooming in and out to showcase scale is repeated to the end of our creative chart presentation.

Data Log for February 10th, 2017

  • Woke up and left my room. Recorded by cameras and wireless signal logs.
  • Checked email, news, other misc. websites which were tracking me.
  • Ate lunch/dinner at Maseeh by swiping my MIT ID.
  • Wrote some code for my UROP project, uploaded a new dataset to Dropbox.
  • Returned a book at the COOP, refunded to my credit card.
  • Watched videos and did exercises on MITx.
  • Picked up a package at the front desk, recorded by their system.
  • Used my MIT ID to print at Athena cluster.
  • Scanned a few pages from my notebook into Google Drive.

Energy Production

Source: Energy Production & Changing Energy Sources

The “Our World In Data” website provides a visualization of global energy production over the past two centuries. The data is broken down into specific energy sources and shows how their composition has changed over the years as the primary energy source transitioned from “Biofuels” in the 19th century to “Crude Oil” for much of the 20th century.

This chart shows how our energy production has changed over the last century and shows the gradual adoption of renewable energy sources in recent decades. This visualization is effective in the sense that it presents the data in a clear, understandable form.

In the expanded mode, viewers can see what percentage of the global energy production comes from each energy source, although this view does hide the awe-inspiring near-exponential growth in energy consumption over time. It shows the slight dip in nuclear energy more clearly than in the previous view and makes viewers wonder if this trend is likely to continue – many nuclear reactors have been shut down in recent years due in part to safety concerns and cheaper natural gas.

This graphic appears to be intended for the general public and does not advocate for any particular energy policy. The goal seems to be to simply present the raw data to a wide audience, allowing the viewers to draw their own conclusions regarding what the future for energy sources will look like.