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Blog Roundup #1 – Ocean Science and More

If you follow this blog and my twitter feed, you can probably guess that I have a lot of interest in the fields of data visualization, education, ocean science and web development, and especially how those worlds intersect. Each of these subjects is incredibly diverse, which makes it difficult to stay on top of new developments that are of personal interest.

In the past, one would have subscribed to several broad-ranging magazines in the hope that a few relevant articles might appear each year. But in the Internet age of blogging, micro-reporting, social networking, and web sites dedicated to every niche imaginable, the resources for personal knowledge development are immense. This is both a blessing and a curse.

To help weed through the chaff, I hope to occasionally share some of my favorite web sites and blogs – provided in easily digestible chunks for the busy educator or scientist.

This first roundup includes five of my favorite ocean and climate science related sites. Here they are in no particular order.

1) Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network Blog – CoCoRaHS is a nation-wide network of volunteer observers who measure precipitation around the country. The maps and data on their main site is awesome, but the community blog features short synopses of major precipitation events. Each post includes lots of neat maps, and is written in easily understandable language.

2) GLOBE Scientists’ Blog – The GLOBE project enables classrooms around the world to collect environmental data that is used by scientists in their research. Their Scientists’ blog highlights the cool science that students can be involved in, and often features suggested activities.

3) Marinexplore Blog – Marinexplore is a relatively new company that is trying to build a comprehensive data portal that allows users to peruse and download a large variety of ocean datasets. Their blog is primarily devoted to promoting feature updates, but occasionally it includes some neat data visualizations and stories showcasing the datasets available on the site and the kinds of research that can be accomplished with them.

4) RealClimate – RealClimate is perhaps one of the top environmental blogs on the internet (at least when considering blogs written by scientists), and is certainly one that scientists, the media and educators regularly follow for analysis on recent developments in climate science. While the site is dedicated to making climate science more accessible, many posts are arguably rather high-level. However, it’s a great place to go when you want to look beyond the headline and learn more about how data on a global scale is processed, interpolated and modeled to better understand climate processes.

5) NOAA News – The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is tasked with monitoring and forecasting weather and climate around the globe (not to mention their impacts on fisheries and humans). As a result, following their news feed is a great way to stay informed on all the cool things that NOAA does. Whether it’s the launch of a new weather satellite, a recent report on the health of fish stocks, a new system for issuing storm warnings or a recent national climate analysis, there are plenty of cool things to learn about, courtesy of your local U.S. taxpayer.


Following Earth Observatory’s Lead

Are you looking for inspiration? If you ask anyone who visualizes earth and environmental data what their favorite sites are, or where they go for inspiration, odds are they will list NASA’s Earth Observatory in their top 5. (And if it’s not their number 1 site, please tell me what is.)

The Earth Observatory is a great exemplar of what a public portal can be. It combines a number of really cool features like an Image of the Day, a Natural Hazards archive, global maps of data, and an awesome collection of feature articles.

Indeed, there are quite a few image-of-the-some-specified-period sites out there, but none has quite the caché of the Earth Observatory. Of course, no other site has quite the same level of resources behind it either (I’ve heard estimates that Earth Observatory has upwards of 70* people involved), but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from their experience while aspiring to model the site in our own work.

To me, the site is successful because it effectively melds visualizations and text into compelling stories. The visualizations are effective, clear and demonstrative of best practices in almost every case (and I hope to highlight this in future posts), but while the engaging appeal of the visualizations, images and photos may lead readers in, it is up to the text to tell the full story, imparting knowledge upon the reader.

A few years ago, the text of many of the daily images was almost formulaic in nature. And while proscribed formulas rarely lead to effective prose, those entries were still of interest because they covered three elements essential to conveying the story shown by the visualizations.

  1. What event or subject does the visualization relate to?
  2. What does the visualization show, and how can one read and interpret it?
  3. How was the data collected and visualized?

In other words, what is the relevance, story and science behind the visualization.

The key point here is that Earth Observatory follows a traditionally journalistic flow in their narratives. They grab a reader’s attention by starting each story with why they should care about the subject at hand. This is then followed with details on the image and relevant science. A reader is a lot more likely to appreciate and understand an image of flooding if they know how much damage it caused. Unfortunately, scientists who attempt to push their research out into the public realm often take the reverse approach, leading off with the (far more boring) instrument or dataset, leaving the point of the story to the end, in the fashion of a scientific paper.

If you’re interested in visualization generally, developing your skills or learning from the best, I highly recommend subscribing to their weekly email lists.

And if we hope to improve how we share our observations and visualizations of Earth’s mysteries with its citizens, than we would be well advised to follow the Earth Observatory model.

*Update: According to @rsimmon the core team has only 7 members, but they do have a lot of contributors.


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