Flux is the first step towards a large-scale data visualization project with researcher Kelsey Bisson (Marine Science program at UCSB). Kelsey’s research involves the construction of mathematical ecosystem models to understand how efficient the ocean is at taking up CO2. The goal of this project is to create some compelling and instructive experiences that convey the complexity and variety of the carbon flux globally (i.e. move beyond 'flat blue ocean' mentality).
To begin this process, I have visualized carbon flux from diatom data in the global ocean. Diatoms are beautiful phytoplankton, and their presence, or density, is directly linked to the amount of carbon flux in the ocean. Diatoms floating in the ocean are sometimes referred to as ‘ocean snowstorms’ and, indeed, they appear that way when observed.

[see an example here]

To visualize this data, I’ve created an environment that maps Kelsey’s data (latitude, longitude, and carbon flux value) to a three-dimensional representation of Earth’s oceans. I then create localized ‘particle storms’ that reflect the carbon flux at each specific location.

To achieve these discrete particle storms, I created a bounding box around each latitude/longitude coordinate. I then generate an array of particles based on the carbon flux value for each location. These particles are then placed at random within the bounding box and, if they leave the box, they are regenerated back within bounds.

This animation currently shows the data for one ‘frame’ of data--that is, one day of carbon flux measurements from the ocean. However, we have data going back to the 1990s and the next step of our project will incorporate time change as well.

March 2017

Mark Hirsch 2018 — Santa Barbara, California