How to describe a complex phenomenon such as carbon sequestration? And how to show the precious but often invisible and unknown benefits that ecosystem provides to the people?
It’s January, winter in Abu Dhabi. Sunk in mud to the knees, the team of researchers is measuring the carbon stored in the soil and biomass of a vast mangrove area along the coast of the capital. The sky scrapers of the business district stand in the background, with their tops defeating the fog that sticks to the ground and on the surface of the water. The role of the Abu Dhabi Blue Carbon Demonstration Project is to quantify the amount of carbon stored in the different biomes that constitute the ecosystem in the Emirates. But carbon storage is not the only service the ecosystem provides. I walk along the scientist team in order to understand what is the essence and specificity of Abu Dhabi mangroves, salt marsh and algal mats, and as I sink deeper in the soft mud where mangroves grow, I think about how to show all the diverse aspects of this ecosystem and I realize that interconnectivity would be the leitmotiv of the visual representation is taking shape in my mind.
Amongst the main advantages of a good visual representation (cartography, info-graphics, media information…) there’s the possibility to show complex phenomena in an understandable way, using a relatively small portion of space. In a map, a diagram, an info-graphic you can condense different data and information, many pages of a report or many measurements acquired in the field, as a single page. You can tell a complex story in a compelling way and reach very different audiences. When people ask me what a map is, the answer I always give is “the most powerful device of production of meaning”. Maps and visual representations are extremely powerful tools to visualize scientific research, and so they can be very effective vehicles for a story you would like to tell.
A diagram showing a combination of quantitative data and qualitative information, together with some illustrative elements was the best choice to illustrate the ecosystem of Abu Dhabi in that warm winter mangrove field work.
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