Jet Propulsion Lab, Nature Conservancy Offer Useful Online Climate Visualization Tools

Journalists and scientists looking for new tools to help the public “visualize” climate change and its impacts have two more useful resources readily available to them.

Much work is under way in the field of climate change “visualization” given challenges in communicating effectively with a lay public on complex science and policy issues related to climate change. There are likely to be major new developments and advances in this field over coming months.

Two specific new tools:

The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and California Institute of Technology have developed an online climate change “time line” allowing users to readily track changes in sea ice, sea level, carbon dioxide emissions, and average global temperature. Users merely drag a slider across the years, decades, or meters, as the case may be, to show differences. The sea level rise slider shows effects in the southeastern U.S., the Amazon Delta, Northern Europe, and Southeast Asia. The site links to JPLs global climate change website.

Another recently released visualization tool is the site developed by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), The University of Washington, and The University of Southern Mississippi. TNC says the site “enables technical and non-technical audiences alike to easily and intuitively access leading climate change information and visualize the impacts anywhere on Earth.”

Choose a state or country and see past and predicted climate change “likely to occur in a given area,” including climate history and impacts on landscape. Users can zoom out or in, examine mean temperatures or precipitation values for a specific time period, save graphics files to a computer, and save zip files providing documentation and citation information. The site uses high, medium, and low emissions scenarios to project changes out to 2100.

In using such sites, it’s wise to be conscious both of their great communications potentials and of their inherent limitations: For instance, the wide variability in regional estimates between the models suggests caution is in order in drawing too many conclusions at a regional level. Experts agree that climate models still have a ways to go before providing actionable sub-national regional forecasts with any degree of certainty.

And, Oh, Yes! Be aware: These new tools can be somewhat addictive … and lots of fun for your own edification and for spiffing-up your presentations to audiences.

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