clock menu more-arrow no yes

Scientist finds clever new way to represent same old depressing climate trends

Take a look at this image. Let me know if you see any trends.

global temp change, 1850-2016 (Ed Hawkins)

Hmm … can’t quite put my finger on it…


The image — which uses this dataset to represent temperature change from 1850 to 2016 — comes to us via University of Reading climate scientist Ed Hawkins. He’s the same guy who made the now-famous spiral graph, which was featured during the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics:

climate spiral gif Ed Hawkins

I was wondering what Hawkins thinks of the recent popularity of climate visuals like the ones he’s made, so I asked him. Here’s what he had to say:

I think it is getting easier to make creative visualisations, so more people are trying out ideas which then propagate between different fields. There is also better web technology to display the information in interactive or animated ways (e.g., Bloomberg's attribution graphics).

I have made a conscious effort to make more visualisations, and it is often skeptical questions that prompt ideas into how to improve the communication of a particular topic. The spiral was quite a surprise, especially when it was used in the Olympics Opening Ceremony! I had been experimenting with different versions of global temperature graphics before that, but for some reason the spiral really resonated with people, particularly non-scientists.

Hawkins went on to note that more scientists are being drawn to visualizations as they see them having greater impact — for instance Gavin Schmidt, the director of the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies, made a chart about July being the hottest month on record that was used (via the Washington Post) by President Obama. Here it is:

hottest july ever (Gavin Schmidt)

It is indeed encouraging to see scientists finding ways to communicate climate science that don’t involve long reports and dozens of acronyms. Here’s to more colorful, mesmerizing visualizations.

And finally, just for laughs, my very favorite climate-doom GIF of them all:

trump and coal

Sign up for the newsletter The Weeds

Understand how policy impacts people. Delivered Fridays.