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A minute of changed #climate

September 29th, 2017 · No Comments

This graphical representation of our changed climate is tremendous, perhaps even meriting a visualization award …


Yet, …

On watching and considering this, I had a dual reaction:

  • Amazing, with lots of information packed …
  • Which audience(s) would appreciate/be able to absorb this?

If one follows that thread, some thoughts/questions …

  • The visualization might speed past some audiences.
    • What percent of ‘general populace’ does not understand “standard deviation” and use of such a term might turn them off? (My ‘guesstimate’: >95%.)
  • Due to that, perhaps needs a clarifying statement/context setting.

The animation shows how temperatures have changed through time at different latitudes over the oceans and over land. Each coloured bar shows a running 12-month average and advances one month at a time. The thickness of the bar is proportional to the area of the earth’s surface at that latitude. Temperatures change – year to year and decade to decade – by different amounts in different places. The Arctic is one area where temperatures vary a lot and you can see large temperature changes. Temperatures over land vary more vigorously than temperatures over the oceans.

    • Within the video, perhaps the context setting could be As simple as
      • Blue inside circle => cooler/colder than normal
      • Red outside circle => warmer/hotter than normal
      • Watch change over time
    • Such an explanation hopefully doesn’t turn off any while capturing some.
  • Is it asking too much for a graphic to stand alone?
    • According to Tufte, is it ‘graphic + narrative‘?
    • However, does the changed information world require changed thinking and approaches to this? Does the ability to rapidly share/distribute/go viral as stand-alone (and people’s relatively minimal effort to go into deeper levels) challenge this: demand that ‘prize winning’ requires ‘stand-alone’ w/out explanatory external to the visualization or graph?

Let’s be clear, John Kennedy‘s graphic is quite good and, without question, can (should) be useful in presentations — whether in international climate science meetings or in K-12 (okay, perhaps 4-12 (that K-3 is perhaps too early)) school classrooms.  At least for the second, however, context setting will be required.

In any event, with the context setting, this visualization slams the door shut on the first question climate science question (Is the climate warming?) and thus opens the door for the next question: Why?

That, my friends, is a question for other visualizations … And, for that, let me refer you to Eric Roston’s excellent piece “What’s really warming the planet?” And, watching that makes clear: it is humanity driving change.

Now we are into the questions of what are the risks and what can/should we do about them … and, well, readers, welcome your recommendations as to ‘best’ and ‘single-source’ visualizations.

NOTE: This post was sparked by a Better Figures discussion. “Better figures [is] an occasional blog devoted to excellence in the graphics of climate science.” See also Diagram Monkey.

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Tags: climate change · SciComm · science · Science Communication