Silent Forest (Floresta Silenciosa, in Portuguese) is a multimedia platform that was born from a collaboration between an interdisciplinary and international team of journalists, developers, photographers and scientists. It all started with the team of researchers behind the "Anthropogenic disturbance in tropical forests can double biodiversity loss from defenestration" article, including Jos Barlow, Gareth D. Lennox, Joice Ferreira, Erika Berenguer, Alexander C. Lees, and their investigation on the impact of disturbance in the state of Pará, in Brazilian Amazonia. Their research, published in Nature last year, illuminated how harmful disturbance and degradation can be for the health of the Amazon rainforest. From the in depth data collected in Santarém and Paragominas (two research sites in Pará in the Amazon region), the researchers were able to create groundbreaking models of the greater impact disturbance was having in the state of Pará, leading towards an understanding of the risk for the Amazon as a whole. The Floresta Silenciosa sought to share their research and the data behind it in an interactive, multi-layered story. Our goal was to create a portal that allows the user to dive deeply into the issues at stake, using data visualizations to showcase some of the main findings of the research paper.
The platform’s development was leaded by Ambiental Media (https://ambiental.media/site/en/), a startup from Brazil that transforms scientific content into innovative journalism. An international network of scientists, called Sustainable Amazon Network (redeamazoniasustentavel.com.br), financed the media team, and the journalistic work was developed with independence: Scientists that doesn’t belong to the network, or that didn’t participate in the paper, were interviewed, and data from other independent sources were used to complement the initial one. Even so, to ensure the journalistic approach of the platform, we offered the result of the data visualization process (maps, charts, infographics and virtual cards) freely to other media outlets, such as The Guardian, Mongabay, Estadao, and others.
Important to state that Ambiental Media is one of the initiatives that is searching for solutions to the business model crisis that journalism is facing all over. We are pursuing different sources of monetization, which include partnerships with Foundations and Scientific Networks, as long as they don’t compromise our journalistic exemption.
What makes this project innovative?
What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?
To create a buzz around the platform, we organized a physical event in Sao Paulo to launch Silent Forest, and invited journalists, environmentalists, scientists, and others. It worked very well, which can be seen from the traction we obtained: The content was replicated by about 15 other channels, including The Guardian, Mongabay, Estadao (a major newspaper from Brazil), Nexo (best online newspaper from Brazil), a mention in Germany’s Greenpeace newsletter, a tweet from United Nations, local radio programs, and others.
The website itself received 5,000 visitors during the launch time, which we consider amazing, since Silent Forest was our first big project; MapBox numbers indicates around 350,000 views to our main map on degradation, which can give us an idea of the impact we achieved through offering the infographic information to other media outlets.
Source and methodology
Other sources of data were sourced to complement the visualizations and maps on the platform. We wanted to explain the new insights on pressures to the health of the Amazon rainforest, and the different variables that make up the degradation that the research team discovered in Pará. We decided to include datasets on logging, forest fires, roads, and previously measured degradation. The sources for these are as follows:
Logging hotspots: Imazon Geo
Previously measured degradation: Imazon Geo
Forest Fires: NASA FIRMS Fire Archive
Background satellite imagery: MapBox
We also created a special page to explore data on bird species. Each bird species has a ‘report card’ showing how degradation affects that bird’s population. The card includes a line showing the population model at different levels of degradation. We also included custom illustrations to highlight bird species from the research region in the Amazon rainforest. Sources for this special interactive section were as follows:
Birdsongs: Xeno-Canto (sound files used under Creative Commons license)
Illustrations: Wiki Aves — photos of the bird species used as references
Mapstarter: Mapstarter is a useful tool for working with D3.js. We used it to import data for the state of Pará and export a starter interactive map for two of the visualizations on the platform, automatically scaled to fit the geographic scope of the state. Mapstarter allows users to change dimensions, map projections, color schemes, and basic behaviors like zoom and tooltips.
Open Refine, RStudio and Excel: All three of these tools were were also key for working with the datasets.
QGIS: QGIS is a great open-source GIS software that we used to work with vector data for all three geospatial visualizations on the Floresta Silenciosa platform. QGIS helped us crop the data to constrain it to the amazon region for the first map, and create the hexagon for the second map. We used the MMQGIS plugin to create a hexagon grid, and join the points from the original research dataset to the grid.
Juliana Tinoco - Special Reporter
Laura Kurtzberg – Web Developer
Flavio Forner – Web Design and Art Edition
Felipe Valente - Social Media
Gustavo Faleiros - Editorial Consultant
Alberto Cairo - Special Adviser (Data Visualization)
Goretti Tenorio - Proofreader (Portuguese)
Maria Bitarello - Translator