John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
A clever animation brings to life just how much warmer the planet has become over the past 16 decades.
If you want a great illustration of just how warm the planet’s become—and how much hotter it’s likely to get—look no further than this animation from the climate scientist Ed Hawkins.
Hawkins, a staffer at the U.K.’s University of Reading, used historical weather data from the Met Office to show how temperatures are literally spiraling out of control. Starting in 1850, the mercury steadily rises before undergoing an explosive leap in recent years. The viz ends in March 2016, which was the hottest March in known history and the “11th consecutive month a monthly global temperature record has been broken, the longest such streak in the 137-year record,” according to NOAA.
Global leaders recently pledged to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius in the future, a boundary represented here as a red line. (That goal will almost certainly fail; a less-ambitious limit of 2.0 degrees is also shown.) Hawkins, who credits colleague Jan Fuglestvedt for the spiral idea, explains why he made the animation via email:
I wanted to try and visualize the changes we have seen in different ways to learn about how we might improve our communication. The spiral appeared to present the information in an appealing and straightforward way. The pace of change is immediately obvious, especially over the past few decades. The relationship between current global temperatures and the internationally discussed target limits are also clear without much complex interpretation needed.