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Listen To This Graph: You’ll Hear ‘A Song Of Our Warming Planet’

By Ryan Koronowski on July 8, 2013 at 2:28 pm

"Listen To This Graph: You’ll Hear ‘A Song Of Our Warming Planet’"

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Climate Progress shows a lot of graphs, because they are often the most direct way to communicate data. But they are not the only way, and some people prefer to learn in different ways.

The folks at Ensia share a new way to understand the pace of global warming: musically, through the ears.

Daniel Crawford is a student at the University of Minnesota, and wanted to find a better way to explain the graphs that show how temperatures have increased over the last century. So he took the raw data of yearly surface temperatures from NASA and used a technique called “data sonification” to put that information to song.

“Climate scientists have a standard toolbox to communicate their data,” says Crawford. “We’re trying to add another tool to that toolbox, another way to communicate these ideas to people who might get more out of music than maps, graphs and numbers.”

Here is his performance of “A Song Of Our Warming Planet” on cello:

While the higher and higher notes are striking, even more jarring is how low notes just disappear as time goes by. It is similar to the problematic increase in higher overnight low temperatures during heat waves, with ordinary lows being a rarer and rarer respite from the higher and higher highs.

The lowest note on the cello, open C, corresponds to the coldest year on record — 1909. Each halftone up the scale translates to about .003 degrees C. As the data erratically — but obviously — show the increase in temperature, the song increases in pitch, note by note. It’s not a perfect scale because that is not how weather and climate work. But the trend is obvious.

There are other ways to grasp this concept. Some time ago, the folks over at Climate Central featured a video that showed a man walking his dog in one direction across a graph.

The man’s path was the trend – it was directed and it is easy to see where he is going. The dog, however, runs all around much more erratically than the man’s path — the dog represents specific data points. While the dog is sometimes walking in a different direction than the ultimate destination, the dog is heading there too.

Just like the gradual increase in pitch of Daniel Crawford’s song demonstrates the warming trend, a man and his dog provide an offbeat explanation of how year-by-year temperature data can spike and dip but the warming trend is clear.

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3 Responses to Listen To This Graph: You’ll Hear ‘A Song Of Our Warming Planet’

  1. Dan says:

    This is very important. People do not think or feel in the same way. Discovering new and subtle ways of communicating challenging concepts is vital and this has a simple beauty that is well worth sharing. Thanks to Daniel and the team at Minnesota

  2. Zimzone says:

    A great exercise in comparative analysis.

    Parts of our Nation right now are ‘hitting high C’ with daily high temps as the rest of us busily burn our fossil fuels on a congested road to nowhere.

    Climate change isn’t going away; but we may be!

  3. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Who knows what sort of imagery finally gets through to people. From the artwork coal in the cot, interpretive dance, to all sorts of analogies.

    It is clear that the want to be 1% ers do not get global warming, perhaps getting them to realize the potential profits. Global warming is going to change things, pretty much everything.