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Displaying changes in groundwater levels on Times Square media screens

When did we think looking up at skyscrapers could tell us about water beneath the ground? The winning entry of global design visualisation competition, HeadsUP!, does exactly this.

Netherlands information designer Richard Vijgen won the inaugural HeadUP! competition for his animated, data-driven visual indicating groundwater trends across 1765.16 square metres of digital display on a Times Square tower, New York. Richard's eye-catching visualisation presents a global overview of seasonal and long-term changes in groundwater levels, as well as the fluctuation and long-term trends of individual aquifers.

Included alongside his indicator are several mockups of the video situated on the Thomson Reuters/NASDAQ Times Square signboards. The display's impressive graphics ensured it was able to compete for attention with the highly-produced advertising material in Times Square.

The 30-seconds data visualization is based on the measurements collected by the GRACE satellites over a period of 10 years to show seasonal and long-term changes of ground water levels. It was displayed on the screens of the TS2 signboards located at the Time Square in New York during World Water Day, on Thursday, March 22, 2012. TS2 stands for "Times Square2", a free applications programming interface that makes it possible to develop applications for the giant ad spaces on the side of the Thomson Reuters and NASDAQ buildings.

The world’s groundwater - a natural resource critical to our ecosystem, agriculture, industry, and health — is severely threatened by overuse. However, this problem is rarely made clear to non-experts in a public forum. There is abundant data on groundwater depletion, but few ways for ordinary people to understand it.

To address this problem, HeadsUp! and challenged designers to design an animated, data-driven indicator that alerted the public to current groundwater trends. With data from the US Geological Survey and satellite data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Science Experiment, contestants had to create an attention-grabbing way of visualising groundwater depletion in that most public of places: Times Square, New York. Read more about Heads UP! 2012.


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