Climate Feedback

In search of the best climate graphics

Flipping through Dire Predictions, the terrific new illustrated summary of the 2007 IPCC report (reviewed here), has me wondering about the best climate graphics out there. Page after page of beautiful, clear charts and illustrations add up to a lot of power, making the whole book a visual standout, but it would be hard to pick out any individual pieces that really pop with imaginative information design. Meanwhile, even after another banner year for climate science in the media, none of the most recent finalists in Science’s annual image contest concern themselves with the warming globe.

So last week when I stopped by the conference ‘Representing Climate Change: Ecology, Media and the Arts’ at Cambridge University’s Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, I grilled their speaker on graphic design, Louise Moana Kolff, on other examples of great climate science visuals. (Click each image below to see the full-size original.)

Kolff praised the stylish Seed magazine (which collected ‘state of the planet’ graphics in this 2006 feature).


This is a reprint of an article that originally appeared in Seed magazine, Volume 2, Issue 4, April/May 2006. Included here by permission.

UNEP.jpgBut that, off the top of her head, is about all I got (she had lost most of her bookmarked faves with the recent death of her computer). Another great set of graphics I ran across not long ago is the UN Environmental Programme’s Vital Climate Graphics collection (see left) – but that’s not been updated since the 2001 IPCC report.

gapminder.JPGA more recent, and impressively info-rich, offering comes from the Gapminder website. Gapminder’s interactive graphs let you plot countries’ populations over time against variables like per capita income and life expectancy – or carbon dioxide emissions. Earlier this year they extended their carbon dioxide data sets back to 1820, nearly the start of industrial fossil fuel use (see right).

How about some help? Let us know if you’ve seen visuals worth shouting out. Here’s our top pick out of the NRCC archive: from a Commentary by Tim Lenton and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, it shows potential climate tipping points at different temperature rises, using color spread to represent uncertainty.


And one more from Kolff: her talk argued that even among activists and NGOs, there are too few design projects like this model green city from Greenpeace – ones that present ideas for mitigation or adaptation intended to engage the audience in solving problems, rather than just shocking them with impacts images.

Anna Barnett


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    mauri pelto said:

    Great post, I have been dreaming of utilizing the Gapminder type of display, which allows you to have four dimensions of informatiion, to display glacier change. Gapminder has an x axis, y-axis a time scale animation for displaying the change and a change in the size of the bubbles to illustrate a fourth principle. The power of such compelling graphics cannot be overestimated. It would behoove us to spend more time as you note in displaying our graphics in a manner that is both easy to comprehend, dynamic and visually compelling. We do have many beautiful graphs and charts in the IPCC etc. but unlike gapminder they are not interactive. The interactivity generates understanding. you can observe the change of related factors in three dimensions through time.

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