2023 Winner

La ciudad sumergida (The submerged city)

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: Uruguay

Publishing organisation: Amenaza Roboto (www.amenazaroboto.com)

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 2022-11-22

Language: Spanish, English

Authors: Gabriel Farías
Natalie Aubet
Miguel Ángel Dobrich
Nahuel Lamas


Amenaza Roboto runs the sole data and climate journalism vertical in Uruguay.
Miguel Dobrich (tw @migueldobrich) and Gabriel Farías (tw @fariastuitea) work with scientists and technologists from different fields.
For the investigation La ciudad sumergida (“The Submerged City”) they worked with: PhD. Natalie Aubet (Uruguayan Geoscientist and Data Scientist), B.A. Nahuel Lamas (Argentinian geospatial imaging specialist), Matilde Campodónico (Uruguayan Photographer) and Antar Kuri (Mexican Designer).

Prize committee’s comments:

The Submerged City is data journalism executed with vision. The project from Amenaza Roboto is a great example of journalism as a trigger for good as the team’s findings will very likely shape Uruguay’s climate related policies for the years to come. This is also a data effort that can inspire others across the world to tackle the same issue in the same clean and visually compelling way.

Project description:

For the first time in Uruguay’s history, a team of scientists and journalists analyzed different databases on the flood line and its impact on the population and fundamental facilities on the Montevideo coastline.
The investigation found that the country’s critical infrastructures, the most vulnerable neighborhoods and the wealthiest ones are at risk of being flooded if the effects of climate change are not curbed.
Amenaza Roboto’s team developed a data analysis methodology that uncovered relevant information for citizens hidden in public documents of the Uruguayan State.
This investigation inaugurated the data and climate journalism vertical of Amenaza Roboto.

Impact reached:

This is the data and climate journalism project with the greatest social and media impact in the history of Uruguay.

**I) Awards.** “The submerged city” won the Open Climate Data Contest organized by the Ministry of the Environment, Agesic, Open Data Charter and the Inter-American Development Bank. This investigation laid the groundwork for our next project which has already won the Pulitzer Center’s new reporting grant that focuses on climate change and its effects on workers and work.

**II) Presentation before authorities.** Our investigation was presented at Torre Ejecutiva, headquarters of the Executive Branch of Uruguay, where the offices of the Presidency of the Republic are located.

**III) Academia.** “The submerged city” was presented in the master ‘s degree in Journalism Innovation at the Miguel Hernández University (Spain). The results were also presented at ORT University (Uruguay), INPE (Instituto de Pesquisas Espaciais, Brazil), and at the “18th International gvSIG Conference and the GeoLIBERO 2022 Conference” of the Polytechnic University of Valencia (Spain). In 2023 we will present our investigation at three local universities: UDELAR, UTEC and UCU, and at CUNY, the City University of New York.

**IV) Media.** Radio shows, newspapers and the most relevant TV news show echoed the results of Amenaza Roboto’s investigation.

**V) Regional impact.** We have distributed the results of our research at a regional level in podcast format (According to Spotify’s Wrapped: our podcast has been in the top 15% of the most listened to in the world)

**VI) International impact.** The Reuters Institute and the World Federation of Science Journalists have shared our work on social media.

**VII) Open Data.** We’ve created a GitHub so colleagues, academics and authorities can check or source the open databases that we’ve used, and the open data that’s a direct product of our research.

Techniques/technologies used:

One of the objectives of the present investigation was to calculate the population exposed to flood hazard due to sea level rise in Montevideo. We used data downloaded from the National Environmental Observatory (Ministry of Environment of Uruguay), the National Institute of Statistics (INE), the Ministry of Social Development, Municipality of Montevideo, among others. Flood surfaces were extracted from the National Adaptation Plan to climate change and variability of coastal zones in Uruguay (2021) report. The investigation was conducted in four stages: (1) data acquisition, (2) development of an integrated database; (3) generation of thematic maps; (4) narrative.

In the first stage, data relating to population by age and genre, flooding surfaces under maximum climatic scenarios, infrastructure, and irregular settlements were aggregated. Infrastructure and demographic data were georeferenced by using ArcGIS software. Data acquired from the above sources were used to develop an integrated database (2). Gathered data were linked with population grids according to the territorial division system applied by INE. Information from the 2004 and 2011 census were intersected to reclassify boundaries of the population grid cells not available in the 2011 dataset. The results of the analyses conducted in the previous stages were visualized on thematic maps (3). Kernel density, raster reclassify, and raster calculator tools were used for this purpose. All the information was reclassified on the same scale by using geographic information system (GIS) software. Thematic maps represent the intersection of demographic and infrastructure dataset with the flooding surfaces calculated for 2100 from RCP 8.5 pathways for a 500-years return period. The maps generated were finally integrated with the interviews to scientists and representatives of governmental agencies and the review of the public information (4). The GIS project and full dataset were published in an open data repository (GitHub).

Context about the project:

Although Uruguay has good international indicators of open government data, it is hard for citizens to access relevant and updated databases. In addition, if the data exists and is accessible (as it was in the case of our investigation), the necessary technical capacities to process it are not usually available. If we add to these difficulties, the approach to complex issues such as climate change, the mission becomes even harder.

In the context of a climate and open data contest organized by Open Data Charter, The Inter-American Development Bank, the Ministry of Environment of Uruguay and AGESIC (Uruguay’s e-Government Agency), we assembled an interdisciplinary and multicultural team (with professionals from Uruguay, Argentina and Mexico), unusual by the standards of not only local but also Latin American media. Our media organization is staffed with journalists, geologists and data scientists that use cutting edge methods to collect and analyze evidence to show how climate change will affect different communities of Uruguayan.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

Journalism exists to serve the public. In the Global South, small newsrooms have the chance to cover what big media outlets can’t. Through our work in Amenaza Roboto, other colleagues can learn to develop climate and data-driven research units.

From our investigations, local, regional and internationals media outlets can learn:
I) How to build an MVP team.
II) How to integrate scientists from different backgrounds to the day-to-day journalism process.
III) How to work ethically with open-data.
III) How to publish the underlying datasets that are used in investigations, as well as a detailed methodology describing the data, its provenance and the statistical techniques used in analysis.
IV) How academics, journalists, policymakers, and community organizers can better engage with the findings of the investigations.
V) How to serve as a tool to empower and promote behavioral changes in society based on the appropriation of a problem. In this context, the dissemination of the effects of Climate Change aimed to place the populations involved as relevant actors, integrating them along with technical knowledge into the sphere of political decision making.

Project links: