Communicating the impact of climate change is a challenge, as scientists, educators, and journalists have noted. The effects are difficult to empirically observe; in some ways, they are everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Arctic documentary moving images about climate change can illustrate the negative effects of global warming. These images -- whether of thinning sea ice, melting glaciers, or rising sea levels are often used as “evidence,” sometimes paired with depictions of the social effects that the environmental transitions bring to communities in the Far North and around the world. The idea is that these images will generate cultural and behavioral change. At the same time, a substantial amount of data about climate change is conveyed through data visualization imagery. Some of those images are stationary in the form of maps, graphs (e.g., plotting), or charts, while quite a bit of data visualization consists of moving images, such as time lapse montages or dynamic 3D renditions. This kind of climate modeling and big data visualizations -- graphic moving image constructs -- tend to be mobilized as empirical evidence in climate change communication, yet like other forms of moving images, these are mediated constructs with their own histories and ideologies. Data visualization, has, however not been extensively studied as documentary moving images or as a distinct media form.
This project examines the interplay between climate change communication, documentary moving images about melting ice in the Arctic, and the procedures and assumptions of data visualization. In our primary research, we studied two different forms of moving images: timelapse photography and interactive data visualization of ice in the Arctic. We analyzed how certain visualizations can be more effective than others based on different theories of communication. To create a tangible product to test these communication theories, we decided to focus on ways to visualize climate change for Georgia Tech students. We believe that GT students can be at the forefront of cultural and behavioral change when it comes to climate change. Our project focuses on encouraging students to think about climate change in their day-to-day behavior via an interactive visualization.