Data Viz Done Right

April 9, 2018

Makeover Monday: Arctic Sea Ice is Disappearing Fastest in Summer Months

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I'm writing this having just finished a bike tour of Rome with my family in an absolute monsoon. Global warming is proven to cause unusual volatility in the weather, including hotter summers, extreme winter storms, and changing warm water patterns around the earth. This warming is most evident near the Arctic, where ice levels are at all time lows and the cycle of melting is accelerating year upon year.

So when I found this visualization by the National Snow & Ice Data Center, it seemed an appropriate topic for Makeover Monday. One of the most fun elements of this data set is that it includes only two columns: date and sea ice extent.


What works well?

  • Without even trying, it tells a compelling story.
  • The interactivity is fabulous. I really like being able to simply click on an item on the legend to have it added or removed as a highlighted line.
  • Including the 1981-2010 median along with the IQR and IDR provides great context.
  • Defaulting the view to show 2012 (the previously worst year for arctic ice) to 2018 helps show how 2018 is looking to surpass 2012 (in a bad way) by a lot.
  • Subtitle explains what sea ice extent means
  • Good use of simple colors
  • Great example of using highlighting for context

What could be improved?

  • The x-axis could be simpler by only showing the month names and removing the word "Date" from the axis title.
  • Make the title more impactful

My Goals

  • First, I wanted to rebuild the original and see if I could make it any better. I couldn't.
  • Second, build a spiral diagram that shows the months around the outside, but this only worked well when it was animated.
  • Finally, I settled on a different take on the metric that swaps the months and year on the original. That is, put the year on the x-axis and month on each line. This gave me only 12 lines which looked less busy and helped me see patterns for each month.
  • Next, I included a line that is the average of each year (black line).
  • I then decided to look at how each year of each month changed compared to 1979. I went with a percent change because I think that provides more context.
  • Lastly, I included a highlighter for the months and included some BANs of the actual values for comparison.

Click on the image for the interactive version.

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