Storytelling with Ocean Data

Storytelling with data is a popular topic. In fact, one of the most cited papers in Data Vis, Segel and Heer’s 2010 Narrative Visualization: Telling Stories with Data, just celebrated its 10th anniversary and was awarded IEEE’s Test of Time award. That paper cataloged many of the visualization styles being used by the NYTimes and other early pioneers to tell data-driven stories to broad audiences.

Since then, many other news organizations (particularly those in sports) have built up their own graphics and datavis departments, imbuing stories with rich data visualizations that we now see regularly in our daily news-consuming lives.

Numerous tools (like Tableau, Datawrapper, and countless others) have become available to help scientists, journalists, and non-profits create their own annotated visualizations.  These tools allow them to share their research, stories, and impact in visual ways.

And big business has taken notice too, combining traditional data analysis with elements of storytelling to help make and build support for business decisions. Cole Knaflic’s book Storytelling with Data, is one example that focuses on effective strategies for designing visualizations and communicating with data in business settings.

As oceanographers, we’ve been telling stories with data since the early days of the Challenger Expedition (and we’ve been telling Sea Stories for far longer).

But how can we use our ocean datasets to tell interesting stories to general audiences?  What stories should we even tell?

A few years ago, I sat down with Ari Daniel, and made a short video with some ideas on how we can tell stories with ocean data. In additional to describing the concept of “data translation,” I shared some key stories we could tell using the datasets we play with every day, including stories of temporal and spatial scales, trends, variability, and the impact on humans.

Here is what we came up with back in 2012.

I hope you’ll take a look. And If you have other ideas, I encourage you to share them below.