Steven Bernard, Senior Visual Journalist
I am traditionally trained as a scientific illustrator, which gave me my artistic grounding, an eye for detail and the understanding of how to convey information in an unambiguous way. These skills I found were very transferable into the field of visual journalism.
Over my nearly 3 decades as a visual journalist at the Financial Times, my role has changed immeasurably. I have always been motivated by a strong desire to be constantly improving, whether it is diving into R, learning 3D skills in Blender or animation techniques in After Effects. Constantly pushing myself and experimenting enables me to approach projects from a different angle.
Climate change has been on the news agenda for decades, much longer than my 26 years at the FT. But it is only in the past 5-10 years that it has become a key focus within our organisation.
I first worked on climate and environment stories in 2018, mainly dealing with the topic of pollution. This introduced me to the plethora of climate and atmospheric data that was available on Nasa, Noaa and Copernicus databases and the brilliant work of Joshua Stevens, esteemed lead data visualiser/cartographer at Nasa’s Earth Observatory. But it wasn’t until the Climate Graphic of the Week was started in October 2020 and the subsequent launch of the Climate Capital hub that I really immersed myself in the subject.
Having a role to play in highlighting the key climate concerns through visual journalism has been the most rewarding aspect of my job in recent years.
Chris Campbell, Visual Journalist
For me, visual journalism is about using data to reveal patterns and trends in the world around us.
Like many in the field, it was a chance encounter at college with Edward Tufte’s seminal book ‘The Visual Display of Quantitative Information’ that set me on my current career path.
After an MA in visual communication, I was hired in 2007 by the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court as an ‘experiment’ – to see if data and visual presentations could be useful in the prosecution of complex international war crimes.
Of course, the lawyers immediately saw its value and I spent three busy years working across all the court’s investigations; from tracking the movements of child soldiers in DR Congo to plotting ethnically targeted attacks in Darfur for the indictment of then President al-Bashir of Sudan.
I joined the Financial Times graphics team in 2011 as the newsroom was pivoting its journalism towards a digital first approach. During my time at the FT, data visualisation has become a core pillar within editorial.
This is exemplified by the FT’s Climate Graphic of the Week, for which myself and Steven pitch, research, analyse, visualise and often co-write.
Climate change stories can provoke a strong reaction in those that seek to deny it. By visualising evidence gathered by satellites and scientific institutions we strive to make climate data accessible to a broad audience, highlighting trends to change minds and inform policy on what is one of the most urgent crises facing the planet.
Having this effort considered for the portfolio prize at this year’s Sigma awards would mean an enormous amount to Chris and Steven as well as sending a strong message about the importance of presenting climate data to the public.
Description of portfolio:
Climate Graphic of the Week charts the global impact of climate change, covering its environmental, economic and human impact using sophisticated data analysis and visualisation techniques to consistently deliver powerful, insightful and concise stories that matter.
Since its launch in October 2020, visual journalists Steven Bernard and Chris Campbell have produced graphics that pull the latest environmental monitoring data from NASA, EU satellites and other real-time sources – often during extreme climate events. Their pieces have been so authoritative at conveying important information on climate change that secondary school teachers have regularly used them as part of the curriculum on climate change.
The Climate Graphic of the Week has been so successful that an accompanying newsletter — The Climate Graphic: Explained was launched last July offering insight into how the visual journalists analysed the data and the design decisions that were made when producing the visualisations.
1. To illustrate the devastating monsoonal rains that affected Pakistan, we downloaded dozens of files from Nasa’s Global Precipitation Measurement and performed our own data analysis to create the rainfall anomaly map and chart. This approach highlighted how extraordinary the amount of rainfall was, with some areas encountering 1.6 metres more rainfall than normal .
2. Europe’s 2022 wildifre season got off to an early start, using data from the EU’s European Forest Fire Information System database, we took the innovative approach of using an animated chart of the total burnt area to highlight 2022’s severity compared with recent years.
3. Illustrating how the most vulnerable in Kentucky were hit by the heaviest rainfall involved combining rainfall data from NOAA and the US Social Vulnerability Index. This an excellent example of how combining disparate datasets can provide important additional insight.
4. Performing our own analysis on the data provided by the Human Climate Horizons platform enabled us to produce an insightful chart stepping through the impacts on mortaility rates, the labour market and electricity demand. This highlighted the main finding of the report that extreme heat due to climate change is expected to hit poorest countries hardest.
5. This explainer on how hurricanes form combined 3D graphics, digital illustration and sound design to create a compelling and informative standalone video that was a big hit with geography teachers and students alike.
6. Data gathered from Copernicus to show the record breaking temperatures in the Antarctic in March of 2022. By presenting the temperature and sea ice concentrations anomalies, we are emphasising how far from normal this warming event was for the time of the year.
7. CO2 is a primary driver of global warming. In 2022, concentrations in the atmosphere hit record levels. Often charts plotting climate variables are attacked for showing a relatively short time frame. “What about a thousand years ago!” is a frequent criticism. But thanks to ice-core data, we are able to show 800,000 years worth of CO2 levels which serves to emphasise just how alarming the recent rise is.
8. Heatwaves hit Europe again in 2022, setting records in several countries. What is particularly concerning is that many of these high temperature records have been set in the past 10 years. This graphic serves to emphasise this recent clustering of records, using annotation to group heatwaves together to show how several countries can be impacted during one event. Attention is also drawn to a contentious historic record.
9. High resolution sea surface temperature data was pulled from Noaa to create an animation showing the unusual warming across the northern hemisphere. This data is also used to visualise the current La Niña event (cooling in the Pacific Ocean) which impacts global weather patterns.