Visualise This: Arctic Sea Ice Death Spiral

Fresh from attending (with my daughter Emiko) a course held in London and organised as part of The Guardian newspaper’s Masterclass series, I am particularly sensitive to good examples of data visualisation at the minute.

Here is a great one: a chart put together by Andy Lee Robinson that has gone viral on the web (click for larger image).

Arctic Sea Ice Death Spiral jpeg

This is Andy Lee Robinson on the background to the chart:

I became interested in climate science and fascinated by the shocking decline of Arctic sea ice – the most sensitive canary in the coalmine indicator of the effect that CO2 is having on our home.

I followed the science, researched the data and used my experience and intuition to create the iconic Arctic Death Spiral.

It went viral, and I estimate it’s had about a million views so far.

It sums up very succinctly, artistically and vividly what is happening, and anyone that isn’t as shocked by it as me, really doesn’t (or doesn’t want to), understand the implications.

I came upon this chart via a Skeptical Science post, which also features other work by Andy. Such as this animation.

And this graphic showing the change in Arctic sea ice minimum volume placed on a grid of New York City (click for larger image).

Arctic Sea Ice Minimum Volume jpeg

Not much more to say—apart perhaps for repeating Andy’s words:

anyone that isn’t as shocked by it as me, really doesn’t (or doesn’t want to), understand the implications

4 responses to “Visualise This: Arctic Sea Ice Death Spiral

  1. I like these graphics for the information they present and the way in which they present them. Instead of shock however, shouldn’t graphics motivate action? How do we move beyond shock and despair toward empowerment and resolution?

    • There are graphics to inform ‘what is’, and graphics to suggest what ‘could be’. Having one doesn’t negative the other. I think these graphics are great for pushing through the passive denial of the majority of the population. The ‘not wanting to know’ type of denial. When you see Andy’s spiral graph, it is very difficult to believe climate change is a natural process which will likely mean revert. This is very important, because the battle ground is not with hard core climate skeptics, it is rather with the great rump of people who just don’t think we have a problem.

      Also, in my opinion, there will never be a black and white flip from personal understanding to political and personal action in one quantum leap. The point is to prod people to move from being part of the problem to be part of the solution. And that is an incredibly long and difficult journey — I can see that in my own carbon consumption. But as long as there is awareness, then there is a spur to movement — even if it is in baby steps at first.

      • Thanks for your post.. I brought the ice-cube image to life, (without the map to speed up rendering)
        Arctic Sea Ice Minimum Volumes 1979-2012

        and also the Arctic Death Spiral, with a bit artistic licence:

        Hope you like them.

      • Wow. Thanks Andy. These are quite beautiful works of art; if only the subject matter was not so depressing.

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