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A Deep Dive Into the World’s Oceans, Lakes, and Drill Holes

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Explore the full-size version of this chart by clicking here.

A Deep Dive Into the World's Oceans, Lakes, and Drill Holes

Credit: xkcd

Today’s chart is best viewed full-screen. Explore the high resolution version by clicking here.

Sailors have been circumnavigating the high seas for centuries now, but what could be found beneath the sunlit surface of the ocean remained a mystery until far more recently. In fact, it wasn’t until 1875, during the Challenger expedition, that humanity got it’s first concete idea of how deep the ocean actually was.

Today’s graphic, another fantastic piece by xkcd, is a unique and entertaining look at everything from Lake Superior’s ice encrusted shoreline down to blackest, inhospitable trench (which today bears the name of the expedition that first discovered it).

The graphic is packed with detail, so we’ll only highlight a few points of interest.

Deep Thoughts with Lake Baikal

Deep in Siberia, abutting a mountainous stretch of the Mongolian border, is the one of the most remarkable bodies of water on Earth: Lake Baikal. There are a number of qualities that make Lake Baikal stand out.

Depth: Baikal, located in a massive continental rift, is the deepest lake in the world at 1,642m (5,387ft). That extreme depth holds a lot of fresh water. In fact, an estimated 22% of all the world’s fresh water can be found in the lake.

Age: Baikal (which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is estimated to be over 25 million years old, making it the most ancient lake on the planet.

Clarity: Interestingly, the water in the lake is exceptionally clear. In winter, visibility can extend over 30m (98ft) below the surface.

Biodiversity: The unique ecosystem of Lake Baikal provides a home for thousands of plant and animal species. In fact, upwards of 80% of those species are endemic, meaning they are unique to that region.

Who is Alvin?

Since 1964, a hard-working research submersible named Alvin has been helping us better understand the deep ocean. Alvin explored the wreckage of RMS Titanic in 1986, and helped confirm the existence of black smokers (one of the weirdest ecosystems in the world). Though most of the components of the vessel have been replaced and upgraded over the years, it’s still in use today.

Polymetallic Nodules

The ancient Greek word, ábyssos, roughly means “unfathomable, bottomless gulf”. While there is a bottom (the abyssopelagic zone comprises around 75% of the ocean floor), the enormous scale of this ecosystem is certainly unfathomable.

Objectively, the abyssal plain is not the prettiest part of the ocean. It’s nearly featureless, and lacks the panache of, say, a coral reef, but there are still some very compelling reasons we’re eager to explore it. Resource companies are chiefly interested in polymetallic nodules, which are essentially rich manganese formations scattered about on the sea bottom.

Manganese is already essential in steel production, but demand is also getting a substantial lift from the fast-growing electric vehicle market. The first company to find an economical way to harvest nodules from the ocean floor could reap a significant windfall.

Drill Baby, Drill

Demand for resources can force humans into some very inhospitable places, and in the case of Deepwater Horizon, we chased oil to a depth even surpassing the famed Marianas Trench.

Drilling that far below the surface is a complicated endeavor, and when the drill platform was put into service in 2001, it was hailed as an engineering marvel. To this day, Deepwater Horizon holds the record for the deepest offshore hole ever made.

After the rig’s infamous explosion and subsequent spill in 2010, that record may stand the test of time.

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Misc

Watching the Sky Fall: Visualizing a Century of Meteorites

This data visualization depicts every meteorite that was observed hitting the Earth over a 100-year period, between 1913-2012.

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Watching the Sky Fall: Visualizing a Century of Meteorites

Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson once said “The chances that your tombstone will read ‘Killed by an Asteroid’ are about the same as they’d be for ‘Killed in Airplane Crash’.”

Part of the reason for this is the Earth’s atmospheric ability to burn up inbound space rocks before they reach the surface, a process that ensures that most meteors never become meteorites.

Of the 33,162 meteorites found in the past 100 years, only 625 were seen. Today’s visualization from data designer Tiffany Farrant-Gonzalez groups these 625 observed meteorites by the year they fell, classification, mass, and landing location on Earth.

Asteroid, Meteoroids, Meteors, and Meteorites

Not all flying space rocks are the same. Their origins and trajectories define its type.

Asteroid: A large rocky body in space, in orbit around the Sun.
Meteoroid: Much smaller rocks or particles in orbit around the Sun.
Meteor: If a meteoroid enters the Earth’s atmosphere and vaporizes, it becomes a meteor, or a shooting star.
Meteorite: If a small asteroid or large meteoroid survives its fiery passage through the Earth’s atmosphere and lands on Earth’s surface.
Bolide: A very bright meteor that often explodes in the atmosphere, also known as a fireball.

Classification

This graphic classifies meteorites into four types based on their composition: stony, stony-iron, iron and other.

StonyStony-IronIronOther
Achondites
Chrondites
Unclassifed
Mesoiderites
Pallasites
Magmatic
Non-magmatic or Primitive
Doubtful Meteorites
Pseudometeorite

Top 5 Meteorites by Size

While half of all observed meteorites weighed less than 2.5 kg (5.5 lbs), there are a few exceptional ones that stand out. The graphic highlights the five largest meteorites ever observed, and when they fell:

LocatonSizeYearType
Sikhote-Alin, Russia23 MT1947Iron
Jilin, China4 MT1976Stony
Allende, Mexico2 MT1969Stony
Norton County, USA1.1 MT1948Stony
Kunya-Urgench, Turkmenistan1.1 MT1998Stony

Each category differs in their amount of iron-nickel metal and what they reveal about the early solar system.

Fireballs in the Sky: Bolides

Small asteroids frequently enter and disintegrate in Earth’s atmosphere randomly around the globe, creating fireballs known as bolides. NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program mapped data gathered by U.S. government sensors from 1994 to 2013.

Source: NASA

The data indicates that small asteroids impacted Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in a bolide (or fireball), on 556 separate occasions over a 20-year period. Almost all asteroids of this size disintegrate in the atmosphere and are harmless.

A notable exception was the Chelyabinsk event in 2013, which was the largest known natural object to have entered Earth’s atmosphere since the 1908 Tunguska event. A house-sized asteroid entered the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk at over 11 miles per second, and blew apart 14 miles above the ground.

The explosion released an energy equivalent to ~440,000 tons of TNT, generating a shock wave that shattered windows over 200 square miles—damaging several buildings and injuring over 1,600 people.

Look Out Above

While the night sky appears to be a beautiful tableau of the cosmos, these two visualizations paint a dramatic galactic battle. Rocks inundate our planet as it moves through the darkness of space. The resiliency of Earth’s atmosphere to erode these invaders has allowed life to flourish⁠—until the next big one comes through.

Remember the Dinosaurs?

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Mapped: Top Countries by Tourist Spending

How much do your vacations contribute to your destination of choice? This visualization shows the countries that receive the most tourist spending.

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Mapped: Top Countries by Tourist Spending

Many people spend their days looking forward to their next getaway. But do you know exactly how much these vacation plans contribute economically to your chosen destination?

Today’s visualization from HowMuch.net highlights the countries in which tourists spend the most money. Locations have been resized based on spending amounts, which come from the latest data from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

Oh, The Places Tourists Will Go

Across the different regions, Europe’s combined tourist spending dominates at $570 billion. Easy access to closely-located countries, both via rail networks and a shared currency, may be a reason why almost 710 million visitors toured the region in 2018.

Asia-Pacific, which includes Australia and numerous smaller islands, saw the greatest growth in tourism expenditures. Total spending reached $435 billion in 2018—a 7% year-over-year increase, from 348 million visitors. Not surprisingly, some areas such as Macao (SAR) tend to rely heavily on tourists as a primary economic driver.

Here’s how other continental regions fared, in terms of tourist spending and visitors:

  • Americas
    Total expenditures: $333 billion
    Total visitors: 216 million
    Expenses per visitor: $1,542
  • Middle East
    Total expenditures: $73 billion
    Total visitors: 60 million
    Expenses per visitor: $1,216
  • Africa
    Total expenditures: $38 billion
    Total visitors: 67 million
    Expenses per visitor: $567

Of course, these numbers only paint a rudimentary picture of global tourism, as they vary greatly even within these regions. Let’s look closer at the individual country data for 2018, compared to previous years.

The Top Tourist Hotspots, By Country

It seems that many tourists are gravitating towards the same destinations, as evidenced by both the number of arrivals and overall expenditures for 2017 and 2018 alike.

Country2018 Spending2018 Arrivals Country2017 Spending2017 Arrivals
1. U.S. 🇺🇸$214.5B79.6M1. U.S. 🇺🇸$210.7B74.8M
2. Spain 🇪🇸$73.8B82.8M2. Spain 🇪🇸$68B81.8M
2. France 🇫🇷$67.4B89.4M3. France 🇫🇷$60.7B86.9M
4. Thailand 🇹🇭$63B38.3M4. Thailand 🇹🇭$57.5B35.4M
5. UK 🇬🇧$51.9B36.3M5. UK 🇬🇧51.2B37.7M
6. Italy 🇮🇹$49.3B62.1M6. Italy 🇮🇹$44.2B58.3M
7. Australia 🇦🇺$45B9.2M7. Australia 🇦🇺$41.7B8.8M
8. Germany 🇩🇪$43B38.9M8. Germany 🇩🇪$39.8B37.5M
9. Japan 🇯🇵$41.1B31.2M9. Macao (SAR) 🇲🇴$35.6B17M
10. China 🇨🇳$40.4B62.9M10. Japan 🇯🇵$34.1B28.6M

Source: World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
Note that data is for international tourism only and does not include domestic tourism.

The top contenders have remained fairly consistent, as each country brings something unique to the table—from natural wonders to historic and man-made structures.

Where Highest-Spending Tourists Come From

The nationality of tourists also seems to be a factor in these total expenditures. Chinese tourists spent $277 billion internationally in 2018, likely thanks to the increasing consumption of an emerging, affluent middle class.

Interestingly, this amount is almost twice the combined $144 billion that American tourists spent overseas in the same year.

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