Experience

Data as Art is bloody beautiful

By Kitty Knowles 13 March 2017
Data source: Dr Robert Larter, Marine Geophysicist, British Antarctic Survey.
Summary

Stunning science hits the Cambridge Science Festival.

The streaming rainbow river above is stunning – it wouldn’t look out of place on a back-lit plate at the Tate Modern.

Except is isn’t a river. It isn’t really even art.

It’s data – and it’s profoundly beautiful.

Data as Art

The above depicts so-called ‘swath bathymetry’ – a map of the ice lost from Antarctica through an ice stream flow on the Amundsen Sea continental shelf.

It’s also just one of the incredible pieces being discussed in the talk Data as Art at the Cambridge Science Festival this week.

The project has been created at NERC’s British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and spans a breadth of powerful data visualisations.

Take a sneak peek at 5 of our favourite data visualisations…

1) Echo sounder

Data source: Dr Philip Leat, Emeritus Fellow, British Antarctic Survey.
Data source: Dr Philip Leat, Emeritus Fellow, British Antarctic Survey.

Thought an echo was something you heard? Well now you can see them as well.

The above shows the underwater landscape of the sea floor off the volcanic Saunders Island. This was mapped out using a multibeam echo-sounder on board the RRS James Clark Ross.

It’s easy to see the deeply-eroded canyons carved out off the bright red volcano, as they slope down into deeper blue depths.

2) Sea ice

Data source: Andrew Fleming, Remote Sensing Data Coordinator (M.A.G.I.C), British Antarctic Survey.
Data source: Andrew Fleming, Remote Sensing Data Coordinator (M.A.G.I.C), British Antarctic Survey.

This marvellous marbling looks like some kind of optical illusion.

It’s actually a satellite image of sea ice in the marginal ice zone in the northern Weddell Sea (close to the South Orkney Islands).

Captured by a radiometer on the NASA Terra satellite, the image is approximately 100km across and shows swirling sea-ice patterns, including numerous icebergs, caused by the interaction of the sea ice with ocean currents and wind.

3) Krill ball

Data source: Dr Sophie Fielding, Zooplankton Ecologist, British Antarctic Survey.
Data source: Dr Sophie Fielding, Zooplankton Ecologist, British Antarctic Survey.

Dancing balls are all about beautiful movement – and this Antarctic Krill ball is no different.

This image is an echogram, a representation of the amount of sound energy reflected by objects in the sea.

In this case, the red strawberry shape is an Antarctic krill swarm that the ship passed over as it was heading from Signy to South Georgia. It was 100m deep and 1km long.

4) Ice layers

Data source: Dr Ed King, Geophysicist, British Antarctic Survey.
Data source: Dr Ed King, Geophysicist, British Antarctic Survey.

Streaming flags in the wind, these are not.

The above actually depicts radio waves transmitted through the 2km deep ice-filled Carlson Inlet of West Antarctica.

These reflect off the internal layers in the ice to reveal its hidden structures.

The ice on the left is flowing fast (180m per year), while the ice on the right is moving at a slower speed (just 35m per year).

5) Thin section

Data source: Dr Teal Riley, Survey Geologist, British Antarctic Survey.
Data source: Dr Teal Riley, Survey Geologist, British Antarctic Survey.

The above is so much more than a pretty pattern. It’s actually a magnified rock sample from a dyke on the Straumsvola mountain, Antarctica.

Thinly sliced geological samples can be viewed under cross-polarised light emphasising the variety of rocks within, helping scientists better understand the environment we see today.

Want to see more? Head to the Cambridge Science Festival, or check out Data as Art online. 
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