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Behind the Scenes—and Science—of the Earth Observatory

Behind the Scenes—and Science—of the Earth Observatory

Since 1999 NASA's Earth Observatory has produced more than 12,000 data visualizations, images, and maps. This presentation gives an overview of the Earth Observatory and our approach to science communication over the last two decades.

Joshua Stevens

April 20, 2022
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  1. Joshua Stevens

    — and Science —

    of the Earth Observatory
    A look into the NASA Earth Observatory approach to science communication

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  2. NASA Earth Observatory
    earthobservatory.nasa.gov
    • Founded in 1999


    • Daily publication of data-driven, scienti
    fi
    c imagery


    • More than 12,000 stories published
    The Earth Observatory’s mission is to share with
    the public the images, stories, and discoveries
    about the environment, Earth systems, and
    climate that emerge from NASA research,
    including its satellite missions, in-the-field
    research, and models.


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  3. earthobservatory.nasa.gov
    NASA Earth Observatory

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  4. earthobservatory.nasa.gov
    NASA Earth Observatory

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  5. earthobservatory.nasa.gov
    NASA Earth Observatory

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  6. NASA Earth Observatory
    earthobservatory.nasa.gov
    • Inspire readers: show our home planet as NASA sees
    it


    • Satellite imagery, maps, data visualization, and
    storytelling for science news/results, natural hazards,
    and the beauty of Earth


    • Target audience: Science-literate, interested public,
    with an eye toward those who overlook science


    • Also: educators, media, etc

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  7. NASA Earth Observatory
    earthobservatory.nasa.gov

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  8. NASA Earth Observatory
    earthobservatory.nasa.gov

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  9. NASA Earth Observatory
    earthobservatory.nasa.gov

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  10. NASA Earth Observatory
    earthobservatory.nasa.gov

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  11. NASA Earth Observatory
    earthobservatory.nasa.gov
    • This happens because:


    • EO annual web traffic regularly in the top-10 for all
    NASA.gov URLs


    • We cover all Earth sciences funded or enabled by
    NASA


    • Our content is easy to use by others (journals,
    books, videos, museums, Google Earth, etc)


    • Constant stream of fresh, new, well-explained visuals

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  12. NASA Earth Observatory
    earthobservatory.nasa.gov
    • Who we are: small, diverse team with many decades
    experience in


    • Earth science / geography / geology / climate


    • Journalism / communication / writing


    • Library and information science


    • GIS / cartography / data analysis


    • Web development / programming

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  13. How we do so much with so little?
    People
    Background

    Experience

    Connections

    Ideas
    Processes
    Structured meetings

    Story identi
    fi
    cation
    Science-driven design
    Editing/review
    Programs
    Work
    fl

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  14. NASA Earth Observatory
    earthobservatory.nasa.gov
    • Story selection


    • Natural events, disasters, processes


    • New publications, data products


    • Story tips from the community… that means you!


    • BYOD: Bring your own data!


    • We will collaborate with you to share your
    science - no cost!

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  15. NASA Earth Observatory
    Notes from the Field
    Contact Kathryn Hansen:
    [email protected]

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  16. Design Matters: the Science of Seeing

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  17. • What does it mean for a thing to be “designed?”
    “Well-designed objects are easy to interpret and
    understand.
    Th
    ey contain visible clues to their
    operation. Poorly designed objects can be
    di
    ffi
    cult or frustrating to use.


    Th
    ey provide no clues—or sometimes false clues.
    Th
    ey trap the user and thwart the normal process
    of interpretation and understanding.”
    — Don Norman, The Design of Everyday Things
    Design Matters: the Science of Seeing

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  18. Design Matters: the Science of Seeing

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  19. Design Matters: the Science of Seeing

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  20. Design Matters: the Science of Seeing

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  21. http://www.directedplay.com/
    fi

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  22. • We begin to acquire info from—and make judgements about—
    graphics before even thinking about it (pre-attentive processing)


    • Color choices can aid or inhibit this process, and reinforce
    thoughtful, accurate interpretation later


    • Is this area hot or cold?


    • Is this relationship good or bad?


    • Can I trust this image?


    • Readers first see “what” then later understand “how much” and
    “why”
    Design Matters: the Science of Seeing

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  23. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/blogs/elegant
    fi

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  24. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/blogs/elegant
    fi

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  25. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/blogs/elegant
    fi

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  26. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/blogs/elegant


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  27. https://sci.utah.edu/~vdl/papers/2019_eurovis_implicit-discretization.pdf
    Design Matters: the Science of Seeing

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  28. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/blogs/elegant
    fi

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  29. Our eyes and brains are easily fooled
    ©1995 Edward H. Adelson
    Design Matters: the Science of Seeing

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  30. Our eyes and brains are easily fooled
    ©1995 Edward H. Adelson
    Design Matters: the Science of Seeing

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  31. Design Matters: the Science of Seeing
    Crameri, F., Shephard, G. E., & Heron, P. J. (2020). The misuse of colour in science communication.

    Nature communications, 11(1), 1-10.

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  32. Crameri, F., Shephard, G. E., & Heron, P. J. (2020). The misuse of colour in science communication.

    Nature communications, 11(1), 1-10.

    Design Matters: the Science of Seeing

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  33. https://sci.utah.edu/~vdl/papers/2019_eurovis_implicit-discretization.pdf
    Luminosity (lightness) curves.
    Color is an axis. Steps between values must be linear!
    Design Matters: the Science of Seeing

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  34. https://sci.utah.edu/~vdl/papers/2019_eurovis_implicit-discretization.pdf
    Luminosity (lightness) curves.
    Design Matters: the Science of Seeing

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  35. https://www.climate-lab-book.ac.uk/2016/why-rainbow-colour-scales-can-be-misleading/
    Design Matters: the Science of Seeing
    Sharp “front”

    around 300 DU
    Same

    “front”
    No “front”

    it’s the palette,

    not the data!

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  36. Design Matters: the Science of Seeing
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22034369/
    Accuracy identifying

    “Endothelial Shear Stress (ESS)”
    “It was surprising to
    fi
    nd that di
    ff
    erent color
    mapping can render the task less ambivalent.


    One can only wonder in just how many other
    instances we make our task more di
    ffi
    cult than it
    needs to be simply by maintaining the status quo.”

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  37. Camgöz, N., Yener, C., & Güvenç, D. (2004). E
    ff

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  38. The human eye has 120 million rods (light sensing)

    and just 7 million cones (color sensing)
    Design Matters: the Science of Seeing

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  39. • Scientific color maps should:


    • Not distort data or introduce false gradients. Show
    quantitative data with perceptually linear changes in
    luminosity, not hue.


    • Use a small amount of hue to convey an intuitive context
    (hot vs cold, wet vs dry, etc.)


    • Be accessible to those with colorblindness


    • Consider the readers of today, not the computational
    simplicity of yesterday’s engineers
    Design Matters: the Science of Seeing

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  40. Tools and resources
    ColorBrewer: https://colorbrewer2.org/ Color Palette Helper: https://gka.github.io/palettes/
    Design Matters: the Science of Seeing

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  41. Lava
    fl
    ows measured by aerial lidar
    Design Matters: the Science of Seeing

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  42. Lava
    fl
    ows measured by aerial lidar
    Mount St. Helens
    Design Matters: the Science of Seeing

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  43. Southeast light source
    Northwest light source
    Design Matters: the Science of Seeing

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  44. Tom Patterson (2014)
    Design Matters: the Science of Seeing

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  45. © 1988 National Geographic
    Design Matters: the Science of Seeing

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  46. Guillaume-Henri Dufour (1854)
    Design Matters: the Science of Seeing

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  47. Leonardo da Vinci (1503)
    Design Matters: the Science of Seeing

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  48. Design Matters: the Science of Seeing
    Light source

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  49. Imhof, E. (1982). Cartographic Relief Presentation. (H. J. Steward, Ed.). Walter de Gruyter & Co.
    Design Matters: the Science of Seeing
    Untenable theory - not supported by any research!

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  50. Design Matters: the Science of Seeing
    Biland, Julien & Coltekin, Arzu. (2016). An empirical assessment of the impact of the light direction on the relief
    inversion e
    ff

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  51. • To sum it up:


    • Communication must consider the audience—and how their
    brains work


    • General public does not know what you know, does not read
    same journals, is not used to the same software defaults, or
    the same unchallenged conventions of your field


    • Prioritize audience psychology over technology or irrelevant
    physics


    • If we want people to accept unfamiliar science, we need to be
    willing to do the same and adjust our approach accordingly
    Design Matters: the Science of Seeing

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  52. Thank you!
    Questions or comments?

    [email protected]


    EarthObservatory.nasa.gov

    @jscarto


    JoshuaStevens.net

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