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The Mediatization of Arctic Change: The Performance and Politics of Near-real-time Sea Ice Data Visualizations

Thu, August 31, 9:00 to 10:30am, Sheraton Boston, Floor: 3, Commonwealth


Every morning, the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) in Boulder Colorado automatically ingests NASA data from earth-observation satellites. The Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis (ASINA) team uses a fraction of this data to produce publicly available visualizations of sea ice. The daily updated visualizations are a collective socio-technical accomplishment that the ASINA team interprets, within the long-term satellite record, as indicators of climate change impacts. The images have an iconic status and, particularly during the annual sea ice minimum, are widely circulated online, in print media and in policy discourses. The US administration has signalled an intent to cancel NASA’s earth-observation and climate change programs, throwing the future of the sea ice visualizations into question. This paper presents findings from ongoing ethnographic observations and qualitative interviews with the ASINA team, which includes software developers, data operators, data managers, communication specialists, and scientists. The paper outlines the ways in which the ASINA team is responsive to the material conditions of data and arctic sea ice, as well as the social and political contexts of their work. I argue that the near-real-time mediatization of sea ice offers ways to think the performance of climate science and politics in novel and non-reductive terms, and that it is this potential for progressive response to climate change that is undermined by the US administration.