Why Arctic fires are releasing more carbon than ever

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: United States

Publishing organisation: Reuters

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 2022-09-08

Language: English

Authors: Manas Sharma, Adolfo Arranz, Simon Scarr, Gloria Dickie


The Reuters graphics team publishes visual stories and data visualisations. The team typically cover all areas of the news, with content ranging from climate change to financial markets. Many of the pieces are conceptualised, researched, and produced by the graphics team.

Project description:

With climate change raising Arctic temperatures faster than the global average, wildfires are shifting poleward where the flames blaze through boreal forest and tundra and release vast amounts of greenhouse gases from the carbon-rich organic soil.

A Reuters analysis of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service’s Global Fire Assimilation System found that high-latitude wildfires were responsible for a greater share of total global fire emissions in 2021 than in any year since monitoring began in 2003, releasing nearly a third of last year’s total carbon emissions from wildfires.

Impact reached:

The story was shared widely on social media. It was picked up and praised by the scientific community as well as readers.

Techniques/technologies used:

Python and GDAL were used to process large amounts of geospatial data. This uncovered the new findings for emissions in the extreme northern latitudes. QGIS was used to export may of the maps, which were styled in Adobe creative suite. After Effects was used for some of the animation on the globe. A hand-etched illustration style was used in the explainer graphics as well as the introduction to tie the whole story together.

Context about the project:

One of the biggest challenges was refining the art direction, allowing traditional illustration and very granular and complex data visualisations to not only sit together in the same piece but complement each other. Visualising data using only a spot colour palette of red and black was a challenge.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

Taking publicly available data and crunching it in new ways can sometime yield surprising results or new findings.

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