Group members: Hanyang Dong, Yanhao Zhang, Shraddha Kakade, Jianuo Han
Lessons from the group project:
For our group project, we decided to visualize forest coverage all over the world from 1990 to 2015 so that we can observe trends or patterns.
We looked up the relevant data from the UN data website from 1990 to 2015 that could be used in the data visualization.
During the data visualization process, we faced with three main challenges as we dealt with the data and the visualization process.
Here are three challenges we finally tackle, but still some ones that we can’t:
- Missing data? – Try a different web browser. Yes, it works.
- Differing browsers. While getting the global countries’ forest data from UN data website via Google Chrome browser, we found that the spreadsheet missed data, like forest area in Cuba from 1990 to 2009. In contrast, when we used Safari we were able to access the missing data.
- Getting stuck with data? – Keep working!
At first, we just presented the forest area for each country through data visualization. But we found that these data could not make a story since large countries normally have much more forest areas compared with small countries, which led incomparable and meaningless information for an audience.
So we decided to count the percent of forest area to land area in each country and to sort these ratios. The next challenge became finding the right tool:
- Cannot find a suitable visualization tool? – Think of the specific requirement you need and try as many as you can.
That’s not a big problem for data visualization masters. But for us, we spent long time searching for the suitable data visualization tool that meet our demand.
Actually, we needed the tool that is able to do mapping; have a timeline; and be interactive. We tried plot.ly, CartoDB, and Eris and several other software applications.
Finally, we found Power Map in Excel, which suited our demand well and proved accessible and functional.
Okay. Now let’s look at how we made it step by step:
- How we got data:
We went to data.un.org/and searched keyword “forest area.” That brought us to a comprehensive dataset made from the United Nations and the World Bank. We filtered them by the year we wanted, from 1990 to 2015. We got a spreadsheet with five columns and 5305 rows relating to the values of forest area in different countries and years.
Below, you can see a snapshot of it:
- How we choose data:
Since more and more countries began to focus on protecting forest since 2000 (http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/deforestation/) we wanted to see if there were any changes in the amount of global countries’ forest area before and after 2000 year.
We use 283 countries’ forest area (square kilometers), land area (square kilometers), and the rate of each forest area divided by each land area.
The dataset’s columns were: Countries, Forest area, Land area, and ratio of Forest area to Land area.
We found that the numbers in different countries differs a lot from each other. It’s not user-friendly for our visualization, so we decided to count the ratio (Forest area to Land area). Then we downloaded the data about countries’ land area from Food and Agriculture Organization (http://www.fao.org/home/en/) and then made a calculation. Below is our final data for visualization:
- How we analyzed data:
First, we filtered the data by years from 1990 to 2015, copied and pasted them into a new spreadsheet. Then got the rate of forest area, and we calculated the forest area divided by land area in each country and got the forest area ratio in each country every year.
- How we used the data visualization tool:
We selected all the data and opened Power Map (only available in or after Excel 2016, and it is a 3D animation tool that is used to display the trend of changing data ), like this: Select all data and click on 3D Map.
Then we got to Power Map’s configuration panel, like this:
Then we put in our data in the control panel on the right hand side, like this:
We used two different layers: the first layer is plate color, for example. Canada had more forest land area than United States from 1995 to 2015, so Canada’s plate’s green color is darker than United States’ green color. Also, if the data of each country’s forest area changed as the year changed from 1990 to 2015, the green color would changed that was followed by the data’s rates.
The second layer is a bar chart. We used each year of a country’s forest area’s percent change, which we represented through the height of the blue bar. The blue bars’ heights would change over each year.
We used the height of column diagram to present the increase or decrease of forest rates and the depth of color in the country to show the increase or decrease of actual forest area.
- Almost finished:
Finally, it finished! We created 9 different directions of the Earth’s and a timeline of it (1990-2015) to show how each country’s forest area and forest coverage changed, like this:
More and more people all around the world want to save forests. But in some countries like Canada, Australia, the amount of forested area decreased from 1990 to 2015. In addition, there are countries whose forest area fluctuated from the same period. We need more data, and more reasons for these changes. At present, we can only reach the conclusion that for most countries, forested areas kept increasing from 1990 to 2015. However, a few countries did not follow the rule.