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Hot graphics — global warming in images

September 11th, 2012 · 7 Comments

Even though every single relevant major scientific institution and organization in the world has stated that humanity is a major driving factor in modern climate change and that climate change creates risks for humanity if we don’t act, so many people fail to understand what was going on.  Can visualizations help change this?

Many struggle to find ways to effectively communicate the changes occurring with climate change through images and visualizations. Vice President Gore, in Inconvenient Truth, has images of trucks stuck in mud in the Arctic where there had been ice roads, babies in floods, storms, melting ice, and other powerful photos. There are also many graphs. There are cartoons. And …

In the past week, a number of high-quality paths to visualizing climate change came out. Here are three worth watching and sharing (feel free to suggest others in the comments).

At Climate Central provides a stark way of seeing that, yes, summers in the U.S. really are getting warmer (no matter what George Will says).

One of the surest signs that the planet is getting warmer is the fact that record high temperatures are outpacing record lows. As of early August, for example we were able to report that with the year a little more than half over, 2012 had already surpassed all of 2011 in terms of record highs in the U.S.

So if you think summers are getting hotter, you’re absolutely right. It’s just one more reminder that the globe really is warming, thanks in large part to the heat-trapping greenhouse gases we keep pumping into the atmosphere.

This NASA graphic impressively provides 131 years of temperature data in 26 seconds.

The global average surface temperature in 2011 was the ninth warmest since 1880, according to NASA scientists. The finding continues a trend in which nine of the 10 warmest years in the modern meteorological record have occurred since the year 2000.  … The comparison shows how Earth continues to experience warmer temperatures than several decades ago. The average temperature around the globe in 2011 was 0.92 degrees F (0.51 C) warmer than the mid-20th century baseline.


Global temperatures have warmed significantly since 1880, the beginning of what scientists call the “modern record.” At this time, the coverage provided by weather stations allowed for essentially global temperature data. As greenhouse gas emissions from energy production, industry and vehicles have increased, temperatures have climbed, most notably since the late 1970s. In this animation of temperature data from 1880-2011, reds indicate temperatures higher than the average during a baseline period of 1951-1980, while blues indicate lower temperatures than the baseline average. (Data source: NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Visualization credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)

“We know the planet is absorbing more energy than it is emitting,” said GISS Director James E. Hansen. “So we are continuing to see a trend toward higher temperatures. Even with the cooling effects of a strong La Niña influence and low solar activity for the past several years, 2011 was one of the 10 warmest years on record.”

PIOMAS Arctic Sea Ice Volume 1979 - 2012 September 2nd (Source data for this graph.) (Tip of the hat to Joe Romm, Arctic Death Spiral, The Video.)

Since 1979, the volume of Summer Arctic Sea Ice has declined by 75% and accelerating. The first summer with an ice-free Arctic Ocean for at least a day is expected to happen within a decade. This video by Andy Lee Robinson illustrates the dramatic decline since 1979 until 2nd September 2012 (day 246).

The important point about this — it is about “volume” of ice rather than the more typically shown “ice coverage”.  While there is less ice cover, as (if not more) ominously, the ice is getting ‘younger’ and thinner year-to-year. And, thus, we have seen (well, scientific measurements have seen since so few humans set eyes on it) a 75 percent reduction in the volume of summer Arctic sea ice over the past 43 years.  Hmmm … hide your lying eyes because there is no evidence of a warming climate to be seen there.

WRI’s Extreme Weather and Climate 2012 timeline. As Paul Douglas put it,

Here is a remarkable timeline summary of 2012: the warmest, and probably the most severe year in U.S. history, but an unusual number of extremes were witnessed worldwide.

Tags: Global Warming · climate change

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