Home > 3.11.2011, communication, Event Reports, Food for Thought, Science > Terrifyingly Powerful and Visionary Video Map

Terrifyingly Powerful and Visionary Video Map


These four ascii characters will continue to bring a chill down the spine of anyone who witnessed the power and devastation in Japan. Even from Tokyo, located more than 500km from the epicenter, the shaking of the 9.0 tremor was terrifying.  It started as the biggest single jolt I’ve ever felt.  Then, the swaying – even on the frist floor – made it seem that our wooden home was a fishing boat.  Lasting nearly a minute, I was almost certain that the quake was the Big One.  I was wrong, of course, not only that the epicenter was far away, but that the day’s damage had only just begun.

Next, as the television news began to give warning of the impending tsunami, people started to fear for the worst. As the news of the tsunami itself started to show that these fears were being realized, we started to pray.  Phones were out, including mobile, but power had survived the quake.  So Twitter, Facebook, and the TV proved to be essential as a lifeline and for information.

Finally, as we learned through the course of the day that whole towns were being swept away, far inland and then sucked into the sea, we found out in small bursts of incomplete and inexplicable bits that the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station was debilitated and melting down.

The Aftermath

For days afterwards, there were hundreds of aftershocks.  Of course, the aftershocks were felt not just as earthquakes, but with news of the extent of damage, including the nuclear disaster that will continue to haunt Japan for a whole generation.

For weeks after the quake, I worked with others to provide relief supplies and funds to the people most affected by the disaster.  For months afterwards, I tried to provide people near and far with information about what really was happening and knowledge about what people can do to best provide support.

Later, through the course of months, I continued to provide information about the three disasters and the various efforts of physical, emotional, and economic recovery.  I published what I found useful on Facebook, on my blogs, and other media.

2011年の日本の地震 分布図 Japan earthquakes 2011 Visualization map (2012-01-01)

The YouTube video below is probably the most powerful visualization of the devastating force and impact of the 3.11 earthquake, and the thousands of quakes in Japan during 2011. There were in total 691 earthquakes of magnitude 5.0 in Japan last year and nearly 20,000 of 3.0 magnitude or higher!

The graphical map is tremendous in that it shows clearly the scale of the year’s earthquakes across many dimensions: size, distance, geography, time, depth, and intensity.  To me, not only as a record of what happened, enabling people to show others what we have endured this past year in Japan, but also as a great example of effective design, I think it is extremely valuable.  While viewing (and listening to) the video, I was reminded of Edward Tufte.

Envisioning Information

Cover of "Envisioning Information"

Cover of Envisioning Information

Providing good information, illustrating data so that people can make sense of it, is always difficult.  Edward Tufte created a series of wonderfully illustrated books and presentations from Graphics Press, LLC, including my favorite, Envisioning Information.  The book is a winner of 17 awards for design and content, providing practical advice about how to explain complex material by visual means, with extraordinary examples to illustrate the fundamental principles of information displays.

Tufte’s books all try to show how good graphics and maps provide useful information.  Poor graphics and maps not only confuse, but they often provide incomplete, conflicting, and erroneous information.  The example given below, from one of Tufte’s books using a graphic created in 2004-2005, foreshadows the current Web phenomenon of “Infographics”.

Megan Jaegerman's brilliant news graphics, from "Beautiful Evidence", by Edward Tufte

Megan Jaegerman's brilliant news graphics, from "Beautiful Evidence", by Edward Tufte

Although I’d like to avoid having to use great design to give meaning to a disaster such as 3.11.  I commend the user who uploaded the map, StoryMonoroch, for the excellent visualization!

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