Climate Feedback

Google Earth warms

google earth logos crop.bmpThe British Antarctic Survey and the UK’s Met Office have released a pair of new layers for Google Earth that depict the effects of climate change across a 3D map of the globe. In one fell swoop, this about doubles the amount of climate content that’s easily accessible from the Google Earth Gallery and Showcase pages.

To check out the maps, download and install Google Earth, then click here to download and open the map file (in KML format) from BAS and here for the Met Office map. (If Google Earth doesn’t run when you click those links, you’ll have to run it yourself and open the KML files from the File menu.) They will load into the ‘Places’ bar on the left – checking boxes there displays the content.

Both maps make good use of the program’s time-series tool: as you watch an animation or drag a slider, BAS shows Antarctic ice shelves receding over recent decades, and then the Met Office steps in with a color-coded overlay of expected future warming under a medium-emissions scenario. There are also ‘push-pins’ in both layers that, when clicked, pop up photos, videos and text on climate impacts around the world.

Hours of fascinated clicking may or may not ensue, but the animated 3D globe definitely works well for representing the big scope of global warming in space and time – at least to those interested laypeople who can jockey the occasionally perverse controls. (Word to newcomers: skip the play button in the left-hand panel, which just flies you around helplessly. To start the time series, you want the one that appears at the top of the screen after you click the left-hand checkbox ‘Vanishing Ice Sheets’ or ‘Temperature Animation’. Note also that you must reach the 21st century before the Met Office push-pins will appear.)

What’s missing from this particular Google Worldview is much sense of the rich complexity of climate data and the science that produces it. Outside the climate world, ecologists studying bristlecone pines at the University of California have posted a terrific KML file demonstrating how they use the program to collectively record their fieldwork. They include a tree-by-tree data set of coordinates and photos alongside notes such as “not a good site – dead cow here”.

Are there any climate science or geoscience labs making maps that cool – and would they consider going public?

Anna Barnett

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