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11 Epic Climate Science Visualisations That Went Viral in 2016

Image: @ed_hawkins / Twitter
Image: @ed_hawkins / Twitter

It has been a record-breaking year for climate change, not only for global temperatures but also for the amount of climate science visualisations that went mainstream.

British climate scientist Ed Hawkins made perhaps the biggest impact in 2016 when he tweeted his now famous “spiral” animation back in May. Now the year is coming to an end, Hawkins looks back in a flurry of tweets at what he said was “quite a year for the climate.”

It was the warmest year ever recorded and saw record low sea ice coverage, he reminds us. And of course, it was the year the historic Paris climate accord came into force.

But Hawkins, who is a professor and researcher at the University of Reading, points out that climate scientists also seem to have rediscovered “their inner animated gif” and created some amazing graphics this year.

1. Warmest Month Ever

August 2016 was the warmest August in 136 years of modern record-keeping, according to NASA. Hawkins highlighted this gif created by scientists at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS)

2. Temperatures from 1850-2016

In this graphic created by Hawkins himself, you can see all the temperature observations from 1850 until today mapped in a single figure containing world maps that become increasingly dark red.

3. Wiggling Visualisation

He also tweeted what he calls a “wiggling visualisation” of global temperatures during the same period created by John Kennedy of the UK Met Office.

4. Dramatic Changes in The Arctic

PhD student Zack Labe at the University of California, Irvine, saw several of his graphics go viral this year. Here, Hawkins highlights a graph that visualises dramatic temperature changes in the Arctic.

5. Record Low Ice Volume

Labe also visualised the record low sea ice volume in the Arctic, another important indicator of Arctic climate change as he points out on his blog.

6. Hurricane Damage

This image by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) shows how river levels changed as Hurrican Matthew struck in early October. Hawkins points out the storm “caused significant damage” to Haiti and the USA. The USGS has an animated version of the graph on its website.

7. Caribbean Storms

Hawkins also liked this image by Washington Post graphics editor Lazaro Gamio, which shows maps of various storms that hit the Carribean over the last 15 years. An article in the Washington Post goes a step further and visualises 100 years of hurricanes that hit and missed Florida.

8. Epic Timeline

This very long timeline (the tweet just shows the beginning) was 2016’s “most epic climate visualisation” according to Hawkins. The graphic by American cartoonist Randall Munroe won an Information is Beautiful Award, you can scroll through the full timeline on his blog.

9. Pressure Observation Locations

Philip Brohan of the UK Met Office animated the locations of pressure measurements on continents and oceans around the world since 1850. Surface pressure data is used to forecast weather and issue weather warnings.

10. The Spiral

This is an up to date version of Hawkins’ famous spiral graphic, showing global temperatures spiraling out of control. Hawkins thanked Jan Fuglestvedt of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo “for the initial inspiration.”

11. 3D Spiral

Hawkins even created a 3D version of his spiral.

Hawkins ended his tweet storm with with “a rather stunning image of planet Earth.” The mosaic of Arctic satellite observations was composed by Joshua Stevens, lead of data visualisation and cartography at NASA’s Earth Observatory – a programme now under attack by the incoming Republican government. Download the high-resolution version from NASA’s website while it’s still available!

Science is not finished until it is communicated, Hawkins quoted the UK’s chief scientific adviser. Like Hawkins, we’ll be on the lookout for more climate visualisations in 2017!

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