When the first Earth Day occurred, the concept of computers was just in its earliest stages and there was limited access to any except a small group. However, the concept of ‘visualization’ was being used as the grassroots participants combined the idea of supplying the critical information on the environmental issues of the day in paper form, combined with handing each person something that they would remember and take with them: a daffodil flower.

This action imprinted the visual and physical beauty of nature while incorporating the important message in an easy to understand page. One reinforced the other and it was one of the first attempts at data visualization before technology tools were available.

While it may have taken many years, since that time the world has embraced the recognition of the importance of ecological consciousness and actions that we need to take to preserve the only home that we have: our earth. Through the use of incredible data visualizations, many have conveyed their messages in brilliant and exciting ways.


Image credit: Carbon Visuals

Taking Data and Transforming It Into Eye Candy


Image credit: NYTimes 

Taking the topic of climate change and expanding it into a visual that demonstrates cause and effect can be complicated. This data visualization entitled 2,000 Years of Continental Climate Changes  was included as part of the report published by the “2K Network” of the International Geosphere Biosphere Program (IGBP) Past Global Changes (PAGES) project.

Each band of color represents thirty-year mean temperatures found on each continent. Colors indicate relative temperature.


This message is from the Science and Environmental Council in the Tampa Bay, Florida area and represents the limitation of the use of fertilizers to assist in protecting the oceans and waterways. Overuse of fertilizers has caused a runoff to all waterways which has resulted in the creation of an overabundance of algae called ‘red tide’. This kills sea life and when the algae ‘blooms’ it can be harmful to humans and other land creatures.

Urban Tree Canopy

Urban Tree Canopy by National Geographic details the actions that are being taken by nine of the cities in the United States to incorporate the critical trees that are needed for a healthier environment. Projects that involve planting trees have started in these areas and the idea is expanding into a variety of other communities, both large and small.

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The NY Times: Mapping the Spread of Drought Across the United States demonstrates a clear movement of the intensity of droughts as they affect much of the Southwest and West due to global warming. In the last decade, these drought conditions have equaled the driest spells that occurred during the 1930’s and 1950’s.  Researchers believe that areas of the country that are particularly susceptible will continue to intensify in coming years and this affects everything from water availability and sharing to growing food crops.

CO2 emissions

World Resource Institute Global CO2 Emissions interactive map (image below) takes you on a 160 year tour of how carbon dioxide emissions are globally distributed and the changes that have occurred.  

ocean acidification

A scientific illustration depicting the chemistry of ocean acidification is above. It was created for Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory’s Carbon Program.

Here are more details in a slideshow that shows the effects of carbon and the full carbon cycle on the earth.


The illustration was developed in collaboration with Ginger Armbrust and John Delaney, School of Oceanography, University of Washington

The Ecogenomic Sensor is a new form of sensor that is currently being developed that could be deployed as a cabled observatory. The slideshow demonstrates the methods that oceanographers are using in advanced molecular techniques to assess the relationships between the environment and biological organisms.


Here is an interactive map of the most detailed global ecological land units (ELUs) created by the US Geological Survey (USGS) and Esri. The ELUs are the terrestrial ecosystems that are modeled and defined as unique combinations of landform, bioclimate, land cover, and geology.

And sometimes, a simple yet shocking picture as part of a data visualization can say it all:


Image credit: National Geographic

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