He’s got the whole world in his hands

Tangible Earth, the world’s first digital interactive globe, will be on view at the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York in a special installation beginning Feb. 18. Conceived in 2001 by Shinichi Takemura, a professor at the Kyoto University of Art and Design, this interactive digital globe is designed as an integrated media platform to raise awareness of global environmental issues.

The globe, which is 4 feet in diameter, shows dynamic changes in the world, using rigorous scientific data and speeding up the changes to show what is happening. The ocean currents, whose fast-flowing streams are illuminated in yellows and reds, point out the importance of the Gulf Stream in keeping Northern Europe temperate. Sea-surface temperatures rise and fall seasonally, as if the oceans were breathing. The division between night and day is downloaded in real time, and the cloud formations are animated in a loop representing the past four days.

Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are captured in a sequence showing the historic accumulation of seismological events, with the shapes of the tectonic plates becoming more vivid as the animation builds. The devastating December 2004 tsunami is recreated, showing the waves speeding across the Indian Ocean from the epicenter of the event off the coast of Sumatra.

The globe provides a display of the movement of air pollutants—sulfur dioxide is shown in blue, nitrogen dioxide and carbon oxide form a mingled cloud of green and yellow. The greatest concentrations of swirling clouds are emitted from the vehicles and factories of the Northern Hemisphere, especially from the United States, China, Russia and Eastern Europe.

The photochemical smog can be seen moving around the whole globe, demonstrating that anything short of international regulation is pointless. Global warming is shown as predicted up to 2050, revealing the dramatic effect on the ice fields in the Arctic and Himalayas.

Posted: 24 February 2011
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