Outdoor particulate pollution, known as PM2.5, is responsible for millions of deaths around the world each year and many more illnesses. We created a special project that adds a geolocated data layer onto the real world that visualizes this damaging, but often invisible, pollution. The interactive article allows readers to visualize some of the worst air in the world in comparison to the air in their own city or town, giving them a more personal and visceral understanding of the scale of this public health hazard.
We wanted the project to build empathy through data by connecting people’s own experiences (what average air pollution is like in their own city) to various case studies of polluted air that have recently made news, from northern India to California’s Bay Area during wildfire season. To achieve this, we worked to make an immersive space, in which readers could feel like they were actively experiencing air pollution. The project used augmented reality and 3-D web particle simulation to achieve this.
We wanted to make the visualization have the right feeling of movement in space to evoke polluted air, while still reflecting that it was, in fact, a data visualization, rather than an accurate reflection of what pollution might look like at a specific place and time. We went through many iterations for how to represent this pollution to our audience: as particles, as haze, etc. The end goal: Walking the line between what is scientifically accurate, while also allowing people to feel a natural connection between the visual and the subject being visualized (pollution).