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Pictoral: Orbacles

Research Publication

Pictoral: Orbacles. Daniel F. Keefe, Ross Altheimer, Andrea J. Johnson, Mahdieh Mahmoudi, Patrick Moe, Maura Rockcastle, Marc Swackhamer, Aaron Wittkamper. IEEE VIS 2018 Workshop: Toward a Design Language for Data Physicalization (2018)


Orbacles is a triad of spherical environments that connect visitors to the reality of climate change through the story of birds in Minnesota and the language of our senses. As both a record and a speculation about the future through the end of the century, Orbacles communicates the current and anticipated shift of birds due to species loss and migration related to climate effects.Orbacles is a physical visualization of the data scientists use to understand climate change. Each of the 147 bird species found in Minnesota in the Climate Change Bird Atlas is represented as a module – an individual birdhouse, feeder, or bath – with a hood that is sized to be proportional to the typical length and wingspan of the species. The placement is consistent, so one finds the module for each species at a consistent location within each Orbacle.By 2100 the world will have changed in ways that are hard to imagine. Scientists often compare multiple alternatives, since the future depends in part on the choices we make today. The future scenarios represented in Orbacles come from the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios, developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Over half of Minnesota’s birds are threatened by climate change. Orbacles attempts to visualize and make legible this threat. Orbacle A|Shelter represents a baseline for comparison, with one shelter for each of the 147 bird bird species prevalent in Minnesota today. Offering two possible futures, Orbacle B|Feeder showcases a low emissions scenario and Orbacle C|Bath showcases a high emissions scenario. To “read” the data and compare the different scenarios, look for changes in color compared to Orbacle A. Blue means the species become more prevalent in the future; Orange means that the species are expected to become less prevalent in the future.The installation expands the field of methods used to communicate this scientific information and the public urgency around climate change. Rather than narrowing understanding to singular topics, Orbacles intends to spur recognition, contemplation, questioning, conversation, and response to the dynamic atmospheres already present in the site and throughout Minnesota.


This publication is a part of the following research projects: