Charts of the year – making sense of 2021


From Covid charts to climate change maps, from technological explanations to chronicles of human tragedy, we live in an era that is increasingly captured by visual reporting.

Graphics have a language as rich and expressive as the written word. Those selected here by the FTData The team, among the thousands produced in 2021, could inspire feelings of awe, admiration, shock and fear.

Across disparate themes, what really unifies this collection is the intention to show the context. Without it, information is meaningless and decisions are ill-informed. A graphic can be worth a thousand words. But at times like this, they may well be worth a lot more.
Alan Smith, Head of Visual and Data Journalism

Powered flight, with a twist

On December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers made the first flight of a powered airplane when Orville Wright flew their Wright Flyer for 12 seconds, traveling 36 meters. On April 19, 2021, a small piece of muslin from the brother’s first plane made history and made a profound statement about human technological achievements when it flew again, but this time to another planet. Attached to Ingenuity, NASA’s helicopter on Mars, it made a flight of 39.1 seconds, rising vertically 3 meters above the surface of the Red Planet.

Ingenuity had reached Mars attached to the underside of the Perseverance rover, which left Earth on an Atlas V rocket in July 2020. By the time of the 118th anniversary of the Wrights’ achievement, Ingenuity had flown 18 times, covering nearly 4 km in flight from more than 30 minutes in total.

When it came to visualizing this achievement, technology also played a role. Rather than just drawing an illustration, it’s now faster and more flexible to create 3D models using an iPad and Apple Pencil. Here is an interactive view of the model from which the above illustration was derived.
Ian Bott, graphic designer

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Beat the odds

Emma Raducanu, a debutant at Wimbledon, was just 18 and ranked 338th in the world, when she became the first British wild card player to qualify for the fourth round of the women’s singles in over 20 years.

Visualizing his remarkable feat, in the context of the tournament’s history, involved extracting the names of the wild players from over 80 PDF files and matching them to their performances in Wimbledon matches from 1977 – the year the system was introduced. The result, as the title of the graph makes clear, is that most wilds do not progress beyond the first round.

Graph showing the most advanced stage wild card players have reached at the Wimbledon Championships by year, 1977-2021

But the graph also hints at another problem. Many of the lowest ranked players in the world are struggling to balance their finances. The wild card system plays an important role in bringing players on the fringes of the game to the elite stage and the cash prizes won even in the lower rounds can support future tours.

Raducanu commented that his cash prize at Wimbledon would help fund his participation in other tournaments. It worked. Two months later, at the US Open, she became the first Open-era singles qualifier to win a Grand Slam title and finished the year among the top 20 players in the world.
Chris Campbell, Visual Journalist and Patrick Mathurin, Senior Statistical Journalist

A deadly benchmark is reached

On the night of November 24, the English Channel became the scene of one of the deadliest tragedies on the migratory route linking the European continent to the United Kingdom. A makeshift rubber dinghy carrying 30 displaced people capsized, killing 27 people on board. This is the highest death toll in the Channel since the United Nations migration agency, IOM, began recording data in 2014.

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The high-profile route has become increasingly popular with those desperate to reach Britain – as of November 25, at least 26,611 people had made the crossing in 2021, three times more than in 2020. It has given many the false impression that the number of people seeking to reach the shores of the UK has skyrocketed. Indeed, asylum applications in the country fell to 29,456 in 2020, after peaking at 84,132 in 2002.

Pandemic closures have meant traditional routes to Britain, by air or by docking on passenger ferries or trucks, have been cut due to increased restrictions on travel. As a result, people seeking to flee conflict, poverty or persecution have increasingly attempted to travel in small boats in poor condition. In total, an estimate 196 migrants were registered dead or missing in the Channel since 2014, 44 people have died this year alone.
Federica cocco, statistical journalist

Climate change, smoke signals

One of my responsibilities is to produce a weekly climate chart, but picking a single chart to try to summarize 2021 was tricky. There have been floods in Europe and China, deadly heat waves in Canada and the Pacific Northwest, and the “longest and deadliest” tornado in US history in the United States. South and Midwestern Canada to name just a few of this year’s most extreme weather events.

But the summer was devoted to forest fires. While fires in the United States and southern Europe grabbed the headlines, fires raged in the distant Siberian Republic of Sakha.

Cartographic animation showing how forest fire smoke from Siberia straddled the Arctic Circle in early August.  Cartographic animation showing the mass density of the black carbon column (kg per square meter) during the first 10 days of August of this year.

Forest fires in Siberia released nearly three times as much carbon into the atmosphere as those in North America in the summer of 2021, according to Copernicus data, the EU observation program. At one point, smoke from Russian forest fires swept across the North Pole to strike Greenland and Canada.

Climate scientists say these extreme weather events could become much more frequent as the planet continues to warm due to global warming. Meanwhile, some climatologists calculate that the optimistic promises and net zero targets set by countries at the COP26 climate summit in November have only a 50% chance of keeping global warming at 1.5 ° C above. above pre-industrial levels by the early 2030s.
Steven Bernard, senior visual journalist

Mapping a pandemic

Covering Covid-19 in the United States means sifting through a sea of ​​data to identify the most relevant metric to tell the story at your fingertips, a task that changes daily with the rapidly evolving pandemic. Visual tools such as line and bar charts have been essential in conveying expected indicators, such as the number of cases and deaths, but they often cannot show the great diversity of the country.

Bivariate state maps showing how vaccination rates compare to new case / hospitalization rates in each state between August and November 2021. Colors and data are grouped into quantiles based on data range.  In summer, the relationship between vaccinations and cases / hospitalizations was consistently reversed from state to state, as declining immunity and late vaccination rates in different states severed this relationship, particularly for cases, as breakthrough cases have increased dramatically over the past few months.

After realizing that the expected inverse relationship between vaccination rates and number of cases was fracturing in parts of the United States in the fall, I used bivariate plots – which use a grid of color combinations. on two color scales to show the relationship between the variables – to highlight this.

By first applying a bivariate color scale to the vaccination rates, and then to the case or hospitalization rates for each US state in August and November, it was possible to attach a color to each possible intersection of the two variables. For example, teal represented highly vaccinated states with low case rates.

By creating this color scale grid – with the necessary annotations to guide the reader – it was possible to visualize how the relationship between Covid-19 vaccinations and recorded cases has changed in different parts of the United States, painting a much more vivid and nuanced picture of how the virus spread.
Caitlin Gilbert, data reporter

The connected world

How does Europe get its gas? The issue became acute in the fall for everyone from politicians to consumers and gas companies, as the continent grappled with a supply crisis that threatened to derail the economic recovery from the pandemic in the United States. EU and UK.

In some countries, prices soared to nearly five times the level of the previous year, while stocks were so low that there were fears that an even slightly colder than normal winter could reduce supplies to the country. industry, households paying the price.

By unearthing maps of the European gas network and visualizing the intersection of gas pipelines, we have revealed exactly how the continent is supplied with gas – and underlined its dependence on Russia.

But to show the geopolitical complexity of the story, we had to look beyond the map, and this Sankey diagram was a great way to highlight Asia’s gigantic natural gas consumption. Demand from China alone has doubled over the past decade and is expected to accelerate further as it attempts to reduce its use of coal. Japan and South Korea are also turning to natural gas as they try to cut emissions, putting more pressure on Europe.

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Mapping the European gas network also allowed us to show readers the physical complexity of the ‘connected world’ – a reminder that supply chains, trade routes and pipelines remain essential to sustaining the global economy regardless of advancements. technological.
Sam Joiner, visual story editor


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