Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist and professor at the University of Reading, is making waves after creating a viral gif that animates the rapid nature of global warming. In attempting to communicate scientific information in way that is easier to interpret, he plotted monthly temperature data from the UK MET Office’s Hadley Centre. Encompassing global temperature data from 1850 to 2016, it blends the CRUTEM4 near surface temperature dataset with the HadSST3 sea-surface temperature dataset. They essentially sample the distribution of uncertainty in the global temperature record while taking into account our understanding of factors affecting temperature observations that are non-climatic, such as urbanisation. Hawkins plotted this data as coloured spirals, each consisting of 12 points, with warmer temperatures moving outwards and colder temperatures migrating inwards. He also plotted red circles marking temperatures that rise 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius above the baseline temperature—this was calculated based on the average pre-industrialized temperature from 1850-1900. This gif, shared on Twitter over 3,200 times, is a startling data visualization of global warming that has clearly struck a chord.
Click on the gif below to animate.