Measuring to Manage: A New Food Security Visualization Initiative by Planet OS

chris viau
Planet OS (by Intertrust)
5 min readJun 8, 2017


The article was first published on in October 2015.

We are delighted to present a new initiative to create and publish a series of data visualizations that highlight the most alarming environmental trends contributing to the global decrease in food security. The visualizations to be debuted today at the Zoological Society of London The future of food the future of biodiversity? conference in London, United Kingdom will seek to leverage our big data platform for the closer analysis of the global food security crisis. Our partners at Intertrust Technologies will also present their work digging through the data to secure our global food supply.

Environmental trends to be highlighted include how climate change-induced ocean acidification is threatening marine organisms; how abnormal weather events, such as the California drought, are impacting regional food production; and how economic growth affects our natural ecosystems, such as forests. Reductions in global marine organism counts, curtailed regional food production, and reduced forest area are just some of the many trends threatening to exacerbate the global food security crisis.

We call this series of visualizations Measuring to Manage because we believe one cannot manage what one cannot measure. Access to data — be it food data, climate data, rainfall data, population data — is paramount to ensuring that good food policy decisions are made.

To create this first set of visualizations, our team tried to work with only readily-available public data to help audiences better understand what is possible (and what isn’t) with currently accessible open data. All visualizations here were thus created using existing public data available from reputable sources. With this in mind we also hope to spur discussion around how more data can be made available to further analyze these environmental trends and help solve the food security crisis.

“Measuring to manage” poster

Our team is honored to be able to debut these images at the Zoological Society of Londons conference alongside world-renowned researchers, academics, students, industry professionals and our partners at Intertrust Technologies Corporations. Intertrust has written more extensively about their work digging through the data to secure our food supply in this blog. Subsequent activities to further advance the initiative will soon be announced.

Here below are three of the first visualizations and a brief description for each.

Ocean Acidification

Ocean acidification affects marine organisms and fishing communities

Using a dataset and model developed by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, we have created a visualization showcasing the increasing acidification of the worlds oceans. Increasing acidity lowers carbonite ion concentrations, an essential ingredient necessary for marine organisms such as clams, corals, planktons and mollusks to develop hard shells and skeletons.

The inability of these organisms to properly form internal structures causes them to spend more energy regulating internal chemistry, reproduce improperly, die earlier, or migrate to nontraditional habitats. These effects on marine organisms have consequences on delicate fishing stocks and the communities that rely on them for economic sustenance.

Drought In California

The historic drought in California threatens agricultural production

California is amidst a historic drought that sees no signs of letting up. These California map visualizations reproduced here were originally created by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to track the progress of drought intensity from 2000 to 2014.

We have further analyzed drought intensity levels for all California counties to showcase a stark portrayal of just how severe the drought has become at a localized level in 2014. Although total production losses have not been conclusively determined, the decrease of California agricultural production due to water shortages would affect consumer prices and threaten the livelihood of farming communities in California.

GDP And Forest Area

How economic growth may affect global forest area

Our team wanted to better understand the relationship between global forest area and gross domestic product (GDP), as a proxy for economic growth. Vietnam, for example, grew its GDP by 6.96% annually between 1990 and 2011, and increased its forest area by 17.2% in the same time. It ranks along with China, Spain, and Italy as four of the top five countries with the largest annual net gain in forest cover. Vietnam’s economic growth has allowed it to fund various national reforestations efforts and introduce legislation to incentivize improved forest management policies.

However, Indonesia and certain other countries listed in red, have seen their forest area further reduced while increasing GDP. More data is needed to conclusively define the exact correlation between GPD and forest area. Nevertheless, economic growth inevitably plays some type of role in how we will manage this current food security crisis.

If you’re curious about renewable energy, the role of data in the energy industry and tips and tools for data-driven businesses, then you are most certainly in the right place. I invite you to look at what we are doing with big data analytics in the renewable energy industry. Also, we are sending our blog posts also via email once a month, so simply add yourself to the list and find the next issue in your mailbox.

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