How the Northern Sea Route will change the world’s major traffic flows

Country/area: Japan

Organisation: Nikkei

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 05/08/2021

Credit: Yuji Nitta,Tomoyo Ogawa,Kazuhiro Kida,Hiroyuki Miyashita,Shohei Yasuda,Toru Yamada,Hiroya Kato,Shohei Morikawa


Since 2014, Nikkei Inc. has been publishing “Visual Data,” a series of news content that combines data analysis and other technologies with visualization. In addition to data journalists who studied at universities in the United States and the United Kingdom, the Data Visualization Center has dozens of engineers and designers specializing in visual data. Nikkei, a newspaper company, has some of the best data scientists, engineers and designers in Japan to create a system where members with different skills can combine their expertise to produce high-quality news content together.

Project description:

Explained the increased use of Arctic Ocean shipping lanes due to global warming. The sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is shrinking year by year, making it easier for ships to pass through. Russia’s national policy to develop natural gas fields along the coast of the Arctic Ocean is having a major impact on the energy security of East Asia and Europe. A map of the route in the Far North, which is difficult to visualize on a conventional map, is illustrated using a digital globe.

Impact reached:

The project showed readers in an intuitive way that growing use of the Arctic Ocean will likely have a significant impact on global geopolitics. As use increases, more natural resources will be extracted and alternative shipping routes will become available. However, Mercator maps do not show the high-latitude Arctic, leading many to underestimate the importance of the Arctic Ocean. Through our project, readers learned about the transformations taking place in global energy security and supply chains. They were also able to see that global warming is not just a climate issue, but can also involve geopolitics and resource development.

Techniques/technologies used:

We controlled the 3D model of the earth in tools such as Google Earth and MapBox. Hiroya Kato, a member of the engineering team, has been leading a project to show the spread of the new coronavirus since 2020. MapBox was also utilized in this project. In covering the coronavirus pandemic, we made the most of data and tools that we did not normally use to deliver information to our readers. The Nikkei team has continued to produce news content even during the difficult circumstances of the pandemic, and this project on the Arctic Ocean Route drew directly from their experience.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The loading speed of the content was slow, and we struggled to find a way to lower the processing burden on the readers’ end. The whole team worked together to solve the problem, including engineers who were not initially involved who lightened processing speeds, and designers who added the rotating globe effect to the loading screen so that readers would not think the site was frozen. However, the project had to be released in early August, when the Arctic Ocean Passage would start to be used in earnest. Therefore, the editorial team had to decide how much to speed up the loading process within a limited time. We had to strike a balance between focusing on the timing of the news content and creating a user-friendly experience.

What can others learn from this project?

Other journalists could learn the proper sequence and relationship between news reporting and technology, as a large amount of content uses 3D models and maps, but there are also many cases where the necessity of using technology is questionable. In news content, technology should be used as a means, not an end, to convey the message that needs to be conveyed accurately and clearly. This project, which shows the current state of the high-latitude Arctic Ocean, is a good example of the appropriate use of a 3D Earth. It is a clear example of how data journalism should be done, with the theme and message first, followed by the technology.

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