HeadsUP! A Global Design Visualization Project on Thomson Reuters and NASDAQ Signs and Goes Live TODAY, Thursday, March 22 - World Water Day


Data, Presented in Designer Richard Vijgen’s twin 30 second animations Reveal the World's Groundwater Reserves from Space

NEW YORK – Surprising declines in the world’s groundwater, measured by NASA and the University of California Irvine from space, will be on full visual display in Times Square starting TODAY, Thursday, March 22 at 10:15 AM – World Water Day – through April 22, thanks to the HeadsUP! design visualization competition and a remarkable digital advertising alliance.

The 30-second animation will join traditional advertising on the TS2 signboards – comprising the Times Square Thomson Reuters/NASDAQ alliance signs – at intervals several times each hour for a month, sending a message about the power of data visualization and the urgency of the world water situation to the millions of people viewing the signs in Times Square or via webcam on the internet.  The interactive animation invites viewers to use their mobile devices to submit their city and add a graph to the sign. The twin animations will play simultaneously on the two digital signboards that span 19,000 square feet in the heart of Times Square.

HeadsUP! is an international competition challenging designers to visualize critical global issues and create a shared sign for the public square. Founded by digital media artist Peggy Weil, HeadsUP! matches designers with scientists to create legible and credible indicators of global phenomenon;  a 'Heads Up Display' for the planet. Weil's work has been shown in conferences and exhibitions internationally.  She is an alumna of MIT's Media Lab and currently teaches at USC SCA's Interactive Media Division. 

The inaugural HeadsUP! competition, produced in collaboration with, challenged designers to Visualize Global Groundwater Levels in an animation designed for the TS2 signboards in Times Square. The designers were supplied with two data sets: NASA's GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellite data analyzed by UC Irvine Professor Jay Famiglietti of the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling and USGS data supplied by Dr. Leonard Konikow.

Using an innovative twin-satellite technique to measure the Earth's gravity field, the GRACE project – a joint mission between NASA, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the German Research Center for Geosciences (GFZ), in partnership with the University of Texas at Austin – detects changes in water mass without interruption by borders, boundaries, or adverse conditions on the ground. Famiglietti's analyses show that groundwater is being depleted at alarming rates in many of the world's major aquifers. The data set supplied to the designers for the competition contains GRACE's monthly grids for the 10-year span of the mission to date. "The GRACE dataset is exciting because it gives us the first global pictures of Earth's changing freshwater," says Famiglietti.

A distinguished panel of jurors comprised of scientists and designers awarded Richard Vijgen, a designer from the Netherlands for his entry, "Visualizing Seasonal and Longterm Changes in Groundwater Levels." 

Vijgen, who received a $2500 award donated by GE for his winning entry, says, "I've been really interested in the intersection of data visualization and architecture and this is a beautiful chance for me to put this into practice." 

"The donation of display time by Thomson Reuters reflects its commitment to advancing efforts in data visualization, the art of information,” said Peggy Weil. “Our joint effort will not only demonstrate the power of digital signs to display data visualizations, it will also ensure the urgent message about the depletion of global groundwater reserves reaches the millions of people who come through Times Square."

Groundwater is a critical, but often overlooked natural resource. It has been cited as the 'most extracted natural resource.' According to a UN report, over 1.5 billion people depend on groundwater for their drinking water. 

Groundwater levels are monitored by local sensors as well as from space with GRACE, but the data are formatted for expert hydrologists rather than concerned citizens. Underground and out of sight, the public lacks a clear indicator of changing groundwater levels. By offering the GRACE satellite data, HeadsUP! offered designers the chance visualize the water under the surface of the earth, as 'seen' from space. 

The Competition Jury
Jurors for the data visualization included scientists Dr. Jay Famiglietti, Director of the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling, UC Irvine; Sylvia Lee, Water Manager for the Skoll Global Threats Foundation; four-time Emmy-winning designer Dale Herigstad and Hollywood production designer Alex McDowell (Minority ReportFight Club); Seed Media founder, Adam Bly and Stephen Sonnenfeld from Thomson Reuters.

As one of the world's leading news and information companies, Thomson Reuters is proud to partner with HeadsUP! on this important project.  Thomson Reuters believes that the right information in the right hands leads to amazing things and nowhere is that more evident than in the confluence of technology design and information that is Data Visualization. TS , in the heart of Times Square is a multimedia channel that seamlessly integrates web and mobile technologies to enable large scale, global events and messaging to be experienced by millions.  See the sign live on the TS2 webcam.

For more information, please visit

For more information on GRACE data contact: Prof. Jay Famiglietti at 


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