Earthquake Early Warning

Last month, two massive earthquakes devastated Mexico. Now, if you were like me, you were captivated by the photos and videos of the quakes striking and tearing down buildings and infrastructure. But, think about it for a second, how did people know to take out their mobiles and record the tremors for posterity’s sake?

Well, the first thing you should know is that earthquakes consist of a number of different waves of energy. Some move quicker and are less damaging than the slower travelling ones. And it turns out that scientists have been able to use that speed differential to build early warning systems along and around fault lines.

The Washington Post did a really nice job of explaining how earthquake-prone California is developing just such a system to deal with its tremors. I won’t spoil all the details, you should go read the article if earthquakes are of any interest to you.

The Shake Alert system
The Shake Alert system

Credit for the piece goes to

How Big Was Irma?

Like many Americans I followed the story of Hurricane Irma over the weekend. One of my favourite pieces of reporting was this article from the Washington Post. It did a really nice job of visually comparing Irma to some recent and more historic storms, such as 1992’s Hurricane Andrew.

It can be difficult to truly compare hurricanes, sometimes they are small and compact, other times more dispersed. Irma was just big with lots of potentially destructive power spread out across a wide area, almost the width of the Floridian peninsula. The article uses several graphics—I am also quite partial to the satellite image comparison so check out the article—but this one is perhaps my favourite.

A look at four big storms
A look at four big storms

It uses a colour palette that deepens in redness nearer the storm’s centre. This allows the user to compare the geographic area or footprint of the storms destructive winds.

I wonder, however, what would happen if the designers had superimposed each graphic atop the other. It might have allowed for an even better comparison of size instead of having to have the user mentally transpose each hurricane.

Still, a really nice graphic and visual article.

Credit for the piece goes to Bonnie Berkowitz, Laris Karklis, Reuben Fischer-Baum, and Chiqui Esteban.

The Timeline of the Voyager Mission

There are a bunch of things to look at this week, but what am I most excited about? Voyager. No, not Star Trek. (Did you know that the Vger entity from the first Star Trek film was a replica of the Voyager probes?) I am of course talking about the Voyager mission to the outer Solar System and beyond.

40 years ago today Voyager 1 lifted off from Cape Canaveral—Voyager 2 left two weeks earlier, but would reach Jupiter and Saturn after Voyager 1, hence being named 2—and it has been collecting images and data for science ever since.

On 25 August 2012, Voyager 1 emerged from the heliosheath and entered interstellar space. In other words, Voyager 1—and sometime in the next few years perhaps—is the first manmade spacecraft to ever leave the Solar System. Mankind is finally out there among the stars.

I love space things.

So JPL and NASA put together this interactive timeline of the mission, which of course continues tomorrow and for years after today until their nuclear fuel runs out.

Boldly going…
Boldly going…

Credit for the piece goes to JPL and NASA.

Plotting Cries for Help

So I thought I would be done with Harvey coverage, but this morning I saw this map from the New York Times that plotted out requests for aid throughout the storm.

You can really see the storm’s movement through the impacts upon the people. It’s especially true later in the timeline as the storm moved further to the east.

Early on the focus was in Houston
Early on the focus was in Houston

Credit for the piece goes to Gregor Aisch, Sarah Almukhtar, Jeremy Ashkenas, Matthew Bloch, Audrey Carlsen, Jose A. Delreal, Ford Fessenden, K.K. Rebecca Lai, Adam Pearce, Anjali Singhvi, and Karen Yourish.

Harvey’s Rainfall Part Two

Let’s consider today a follow-up to yesterday’s piece. (No, I do not believe I have ever done a follow-up piece, but why not start now all these years later.)

Yesterday we looked at the Post, Journal, and Times for their coverage of the fallen rain amounts in southeast Texas. But at the time, we only had actual totals from the Post and Journal. The Times had only produced a projection map. The Times piece yesterday was perhaps the most underwhelming of the three, though it certainly did some things correctly, namely it was small, simple, and quick to get the reader to the point that Houston was likely to be flooded by storm’s end.

Well that had changed by the time I got home last night.

The Times' graphic
The Times’ graphic

What is different about this piece? Well this one is an animated .gif showing the cumulative rainfall. In other words, Texas starts dry and every hour just makes the map bluer and bluer. An additional feature that I find particularly useful is the dot map, which indicates where the heaviest rain was falling in each hour. Especially early on in the event, you can see the bands of rain sweeping in from the Gulf.

The bins also work better here, though I wonder if more segregation or a different palette would have worked a bit better. But, my biggest critique is the same I have with many animated .gifs: the looping. And unfortunately I do not have an easy solution. You certainly need to see it loop through more than once to understand the totality of the rainfall. But then I really do want to be able to examine the final map, or at least final as of 03.00 today.

Anyway, this was a really nice piece that should have been showcased alongside the others yesterday.

Credit for the piece goes to Gregor Aisch, Sarah Almukhtar, Jerey Ashkenas, Matthew Bloch, Joe Burgess, Audrey Carlsen, Ford Fessenden, Troy Griggs, K.K. Rebecca Lai, Jasmine C. Lee, Jugal K. Patel, Adam Pearce, Bedel Saget, Anjali Singhvi, Joe Ward, and Josh Williams.

The Solar Eclipse as Seen from Philly

As my last two posts pointed out, yesterday was the Solar Eclipse. It certainly garnered media attention as a news helicopter hovered over my building during the height of the eclipse. Very peaceful indeed. But, knowing that my smartphone would not be able to take the best photos of the eclipse, even with a solar filter, I decided to do what any good designer might do. I sketched out the eclipse.

The task of sketching an eclipse is not easy. You cannot, or at least should not, look directly at the sun. (You’ll burn your eyes out, kid.) But the solar filters make seeing anything but the most intense light sources near impossible and so you have to remove them in order to doodle in a sketchbook. Eventually I found a solution and was able to quickly move from filtered glimpses of the Sun to the sketchbook. (At least when the clouds would permit.)

Last night I digitised those sketches into this simple graphic. The sketches are not entirely accurate as the position of the Moon jumps in a few spots. But it does give you the impression of peak eclipse about 14.45 with just a sliver, or 25% of the Sun remaining visible. And indeed the neighbourhood was visibly darker.

The colour may be too yellow, but since I only saw it through a filter, I cannot say what the exact colour of the Sun was
The colour may be too yellow, but since I only saw it through a filter, I cannot say what the exact colour of the Sun was

Solar Eclipse Day

Today is Solar Eclipse Day.

Thankfully Vox has put together a great interactive piece to help you plan your day. This is for my viewing area in Philadelphia. We only max out at 75% of the sun, but that is still pretty fantastic.

I'm totally excited for this
I’m totally excited for this

Credit for the piece goes to Casey Miller, Ryan Mark, and Brian Resnick.

The New Dinosaur Family Tree

Today’s post is not a particular great graphic in that it is far from revolutionary. Instead, you could say it far more evolutionary. A new finding by Matthew Baron posits a rather unusual dinosaur named Chilesaurus, discovered in Chile as its name suggests, is actually a cousin to both the tyrannosaurs and raptors as well as to triceratops. (Get the joke now?)

After I read the story I had to dig around for a graphic that made more sense than this BBC graphic. Why? Well, the way the article was written, it read more that the Chilesaurus actually falls after the theropods, but before the ornithischians as a cousin-like species. This BBC graphic makes it appear as a third sibling.

Really, I just want the velociraptor…
Really, I just want the velociraptor…

So in the Daily Mail, we have this graphic, credit given to Matthew Baron, that shows how the theropods branched out, but that Chilesaurus branched out after them and yet still provided ancestral traits to the ornithischians.

Or utahraptors. Give me utahraptors.
Or utahraptors. Give me utahraptors.

As both articles point out, this is not settled science and many disagree with the new arrangement. But as a person who grew up fascinated by dinosaurs, these kinds of stories are just fantastic.

Credit for the piece goes to Matt Baron.

Shifting Temperatures

This past weekend, I came upon a neat little graphic in the New York Times supporting an article about the impact of climate change on temperatures. The article basically lays out the argument that summers are getting hotter. And as a cold-weather person, that is dreadful news.

Can we not shift a wee bit the other way please?
Can we not shift a wee bit the other way please?

But the good news is the graphic was well done. It uses the outline of the baseline data as a constant juxtaposition against the date interval examined. And the colour breaks remain in place to show that compared to what we consider “normal”, we are seeing a shift to the higher end of the spectrum.

Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times graphics department.

It’s Warm Out Here Isn’t It?

I could have covered the pieces on Gorsuch or the budget—and we will get to those—but I wanted to cover some data released by the World Meteorological Organisation that puts 2016 as the warmest year on record.

But that’s cool, climate change is a hoax.

January was warm
January was warm

The graphic comes from a BBC article covering the news, and is a reuse of work from the National Oceanian and Atmospheric Administration. It portrays how much this past January deviated from long-term averages. Because, and I am probably preaching to the choir, remember that day-to-day highs, lows, and precipitation are weather. Longer term trends, patterns, and averages are evidence of climate.

Just so happens that today is also supposed to be the warmest day of the week here in Philadelphia.

Credit for the piece goes to NOAA.