Makeover Monday week 15, 2018: Arctic Sea Ice Extent

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Following Andy’s recommendation, I recently watched a documentary called ‘Before the Flood’. I consider myself pretty clued up on environmental matters but what I saw was shocking and just goes to show what a destructive, selfish and relentless species humans have become. We’re greedy bastards, but short-sighted too as we take and take and take from the environment, forgetting that we only have one planet to live on…

This week’s dataset looks at the ice extent of the Arctic and Antarctic Sea and comes from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The visualization is interactive and really intriguing as you can layer years of data to see how the ice extent has changed over the years.


week 15 original.png


What works well:

  • Being able to change the chart to include previous years or decades for reference and to see the changes over time
  • Great tooltip interactivity
  • Changing between Arctic and Antarctic to see the patterns reverse due to summer/winter differences in the Northern vs Southern Hemisphere
  • The x-axis being the space of a single year to give a very clear timeframe for the annual build-up and decrease of the ice extent
  • Concise and clear title and subtitle
  • Helpful instructions below the chart
  • Great addition of the ice concentration image which appears upon clicking on a line


What could be improved?

  • Once you start adding many individual years, the viz quickly gets too busy to see ‘good’ or ‘bad’ years
  • An option to dynamically change the x-axis to extend over multiple years could help show trends and significant milestones over the years of when things got worse due to climate change
  • It would be helpful to have a reference line of what a healthy ice extent would look like to show how far we are away from it


What I did:

  • I went through a lot of iterations and found that the ideas I had in my head weren’t working, so I settled on a simple heat map and a call to action
  • Then I sorted out the formatting and went through 10 versions of publishing the dashboard on Tableau Public because of the serious differences in rendering between Desktop and Public.
  • The published viz on Public looks different from the image below and it annoys me but it’s as good as it gets given that I’m basically flying blind, not knowing how any changes I make will affect the end result. So I’m giving up at this stage.
  • Go watch the documentary

The Arctic Sea Ice Extent.png


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