Glaciers Aren’t So Slow After All…

Antarctica is a continent way down at the southern end of the world. It is covered almost entirely by glaciers. But glaciers move, and NASA and the University of California unveiled a map looking at the speed of the glaciers’ movements. Along with it, an interesting little video showing the tributaries to the glacial flow.

Glacial Flow Map
Glacial Flow Map

from the BBC.

Tracking This Hurricane Season

Living in Chicago, hurricane season means rather little. Perhaps at worst the city would see a major rain system moving up from Texas or the Gulf Coast. But, from all my time living on the East Coast makes hurricane season a bit more meaningful if now just as an outside observer. The Weather Channel has launched a site called the Hurricane Tracker that allows you to follow the current season’s storms.

Active Tracker
Active Tracker

While there has yet to be any major activity, there have been a few named tropical systems that are present in what is called the Active Tracker. The storms are tracked geographically, showing you the precise locations where the storm was recorded and then filling out the path between points. The data includes information on strength—hurricanes are classed on a 1–5 scale with 5 being really most unpleasant—such as windspeed and pressure—hurricanes are enormous low pressure systems. The panel on the left of the screen provides a detailed history of the storm and links the recorded data points to the corresponding geographic points on the map. Currently, the storms have all been relatively minor and short-lived; watching a major storm of some duration through the charts and the map progression could be quite fascinating.

Historical Tracker
Historical Tracker

But there is also the Historical Tracker that catalogues an impressive number of previous storms. The view first loads with an overwhelming number of storm tracks, but filters for controlling the years—which includes a interactive mini-graphic of the total number of storms for each year that when clicked filters for only that year—and for location of landfall begin to significantly bring your search or exploration into focus. I have yet to find any detailed information about specific storms, the one in this screenshot being those that made landfall in the Northeast roughly during my lifespan. (I have memories of being at the shore during Hurricane Bob with the winds and rain and warning sirens making an impression.) You cannot click to focus on a particular storm, instead, a mouseover is the only way of discovering the name of a particular track. But, that may simply be an unavailable level of data, especially with the storms from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Now I just hope we can use this sort of information to help develop better forecasting and modelling to help save lives and property.

Credit for the design goes to Stamen Design.

Farewell to the Space Shuttle

As most of us know, the final space shuttle mission lifted off on Friday. Appropriately, the New York Times created an infographic for the news stories accompanying the mission that details the history of the entire shuttle program’s flights. If you are a space-y kind of guy like me, it’s worth a look.

shuttles

Year of the Tornado

2011 appears to be the year of the tornado, with killer tornados roaming from Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and small towns in the deep South now to Joplin, Missouri. The latter now holds the record for being the most deadly, 117 confirmed deaths, in US-recorded history.

The New York Times, in its coverage of the aftermath—and the potential for more destruction with the forecasted weather—has mapped, charted, and animated data from the National Weather Service (NWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to illustrate the totality of the devastation witnessed this year.

The piece makes use of a map to illustrate where tornados struck and then their subsequent track, relevant geographic data, and that matches that with known fatalities using the always popular area of a circle datapoints. I am less keen on these for their cross-comparable nature, but here, in this instance, that is less the focus than the overall number of deaths and their locations. Then we also have the dataset over time with the noted caveats that, one, only in 2011 are deaths linked to counties rather than tornados as in all years past and, two, that as our ability to detect and record tornados has increased, we have more data with which to work. In short, it is not necessarily true that 1953 had less tornados than 2011.

Screenshot Detailing 2011 Tornados
Screenshot Detailing 2011 Tornados

Given the severity of the current year, and this outbreak in particular, the New York Times also created a smaller, but by no means lesser, piece to highlight just those tornados striking the Southeast. This piece maps the tornados by touchdown, date, and time. Omitted is data on fatalities or damage. However, this piece complements the larger, broader view of the above by breaking down the 2011 year, thus far, into increments of days. This is a great complementary piece that, by being separate from the first piece, allows each to shine in its own respective area.

The Outbreak of 27 April
The Outbreak of 27 April

Credit to this second piece goes to Archie Tse, Matt Ericson, and Alan McLean.

(Insert 1/1000 Airplane Jokes Here)

Airlines merge. (As do many other companies, but those companies are not the focus of this post.) And often the mergers are complex. Lamentably, one cannot simply merge logos and be done. Here is looking at you, UAL Corporation (United Air Lines) + Continental Airlines Inc.= United Continental Holdings Co.—not that I particularly care for the United Continental logo mashup, I miss the Saul Bass logo for United.

Unfortunately there are things to worry about like getting planes to fly, not crash into each other, not to mention ticketing, unions, general technology…one hopefully gets the idea.

But for those of you who do not, an article in the New York Times about the merger of Delta and Northwest includes a graphic about the master guide to the whole process. Note the use of sticky pad paper. Each piece represents one project, with projects containing as many as a thousand separate tasks.

Merger Process Wall
Merger Process Wall

RMS Titanic, 99 Years Ago

99 years ago today, the RMS Titanic sank in the North Atlantic with more than 2/3 of the over 2200 passengers losing their lives. The ship was rather state-of-the-art and was considered remarkably safe with more lifeboats than was legally required for the passengers and crew. She also had a number of watertight bulkheads that could contain flooding and keep the ship afloat even if a remarkable total of four such compartments were flooded.

TItanic Cut Away Where the Berg Hit
TItanic Cut Away Where the Berg Hit

But as we all know, the iceberg, frigid water, and brittle steel combined to flood not four, but six compartments. And while more than legally sufficient, the number of lifeboats and passenger space was insufficient to save all the passengers. This illustration, by G.F. Morrell details how floating catamaran deck rafts could have saved lives.

Proposed Change to Ship Design
Proposed Change to Ship Design

All photos from Life.

Shutting Down Nuclear Reactors

Japan has updated the the threat level from the Fukushima Plant from five to seven. And while everyone ought to put Fukushima into context, chiefly by looking at the damage facing the rest of the country, we can also see that, broadly, things worked as expected at the power plant. They just did not build the plant to survive the 48ft-high tsunami waves and 9.0 earthquakes that happen perhaps once every thousand years. Very poor planning indeed.

This is an older, albeit by a few weeks, graphic from the New York Times explaining how a reactor is ‘shut down’ and then, failing that, what a meltdown is. And most importantly, how the meltdown of a modern reactor design is far different from that at Chernobyl.

Shutting Down a Nuclear Reactor
Shutting Down a Nuclear Reactor

Credit for the piece to Xaquín G.V., Bill Marsh, Dylan McClain, and Graham Roberts.

Japanese Radiation in Perspective

Japan continues to deal with damage from the earthquake and its subsequent tsunami. Yet, much of the news that seems to come out of Japan focuses on the leak of radioactive materials from the Fukushima power station. Certainly that is a story, but is it more important than the tens of thousands of people missing and presumably dead?

The New York Times printed a graphic on Saturday that details the danger from the radiation at the plant, near the plant, across Japan, and then across the rest of the world.

Radiation Graphic Reduced
Radiation Graphic Reduced

And largely, if you live in the United States, you have no reason to fear the radiation leak. In general, unless you maybe live near the plant, you have no reason to fear the radiation leak.

Overall, it communicates its message clearly and adds nice detail in the bottom third of the graphic about whatever spread of radiation there has been.

Credit for the graphic goes to Joe Burgess, Amanda Cox, Sergio Peçanha, Amy Schoenfeld and Archie Tse.

Radiation…Tastes Like Metallic Tang

It is a mad, mad world out there these days and I suppose this is the point at which we all begin to run around shouting that the sky is falling. Despite all the madness in Libya, the constitutional referendum  in Egypt, the protests in Syria, the election in Haiti, and the president’s overseas trip to Brazil we still have the aftermath of the Sendai earthquake and the subsequent Pacific tsunami. The latter being particularly important because of the damage to the now infamous Fukushima Daiichi nuclear generating station in northeastern Japan.

Fukushima will likely be up there with the three other major nuclear disasters of a power station variety: the Windscale Fire in Cumbria, England; Three Mile Island outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and of course, Chernobyl in the Ukraine (then the Soviet Union). We sometimes have heard the media compare Fukushima as the next great nuclear disaster, but how bad has it really been?

This graphic by XKCD comes to me via my coworker, Brian Morgan, and it breaks down our average exposure to ionising radiation—the bad stuff—from nuclear accidents from Chernobyl to Fukushima to x-ray machines to the natural radioactivity in the soil. Yes, you are likely being irradiated as you read this post.

A cropping of a radiation dose chart
A cropping of a radiation dose chart

Radiation is bad. But we will all find better solutions to problems if we keep our fears both in proportion and in check. Fukushima is not good. But it is far, far from the end of the world.

Charging the Flux Capacitor: No Lightning Required.

My co-worker, Ben, who is far more knowledgable about cars than myself, brought the following to my attention.

At the Consumer Electronics Show we always get to see the latest in cool, new, must-have toys. This year, however, a company called Fulton Innovations displayed a proof-of-concept, wireless charging-station for electric vehicles. And while one must wonder about the conservation and inefficiencies of such a powering station, Fulton provided information on just how efficient their system would be. In the form of graphics.

Car Charger Graphics
Car Charger Graphics

And by and large, they are not bad. Yes, yes, the pie charts could be substituted for something else. But, I do like linking the colours in the pie chart to the parts in the power-system located in the diagram of the car. They help to explain just where exactly the inefficiencies in the system are to be found. And by providing the base of the plugged-in car, they also allow one to compare the two methods of wireless charging to that of plugging the vehicle in.