Sketching a visualization

Posted on December 1st, by Matt in Visualizations. No Comments

One of our ongoing challenges with this project is developing visual presentations to explain complex issues. Climate change is an overwhelming, scary concept. The web of plants and animals interacting in an ecosystem quickly gets tangled in complexity. Trying to cram all this into your head at the same time, and even understand it well enough to think about how climate change might affect the ecosystem… well that can seem like sheer lunacy.

But this doesn’t have to be impossible. We know that we can take in incredibly complex amount of information visually. A trend we might labor to decipher in a column of numbers sticks out like a sore thumb when seen as a graph. We also know that interaction is a powerful tool when learning about behaviors and relationships. The ability to manipulate something while observing how its responds helps us to get it quickly, and helps to make it stick.

So that’s what we’re thinking about as we experiment. Below is a link to my very first sketch. I’m looking at data for the first day a bird called the Yellow-rumped Warbler arrives in Concord, MA each spring, as well as when the Azure Bluet wildflower first buds. As we scroll forward in time, we see that the Azure Bluet responds to warming temperatures by budding earlier on average compared with the year before. Likewise, the Warbler starts showing up earlier and earlier over time. But the arrival time of the Warbler is changing more drastically than the flower. So where in the past it might have arrived to find a week’s worth of buds to feast on, today those buds are only just starting to grow.

Yellow-rumped Warbler first arrival and Houstonia caerulea first budding

This is only one small example out of many species with many interactions. We don’t always know how these changes will affect each species or each relationships, but they will be affected.

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