Spiralling global temperatures

Updates to this animation are now available

Spiralling global temperatures. Click for full size animated version.

The animated spiral presents global temperature change in a visually appealing and straightforward way. The pace of change is immediately obvious, especially over the past few decades. The relationship between current global temperatures and the internationally discussed target limits are also clear without much complex interpretation needed.

Data: HadCRUT4.4 from January 1850 – March 2016, relative to the mean of 1850-1900, available here

FAQ:
1. Features you can see:
1877-78: strong El Nino event warms global temperatures
1880s-1910: small cooling, partially due to volcanic eruptions
1910-1940s: warming, partially due to recovery from volcanic eruptions, small increase in solar output and natural variability
1950s-1970s: fairly flat temperatures as cooling sulphate aerosols mask the greenhouse gas warming
1980-now: strong warming, with temperatures pushed higher in 1998 and 2016 due to strong El Nino events

2. Why start in 1850? Because that is when the HadCRUT4 dataset starts, as we don’t have enough temperature data before then to reliably construct global average temperature

3. Are temperatures ‘spiralling out of control’? No. Humans are largely responsible for past warming so we have control over what happens next.

4. What do the colours mean? The colours represent time. Purple for early years, through blue, green to yellow for most recent years. The colour scale used is called ‘viridis’ and the graphics were made in MATLAB.

[Thanks to Jan Fuglestvedt for the idea to make a spiral.]

153 thoughts on “Spiralling global temperatures

  1. An information design issue: is it possible that the combination of spiral graph format and color coding subtly underplays the significance of the change by inducing a visual reading of linear perspective on the presented data form?

  2. Thank you for the great visualization of the global temperature change data!!
    Another interesting approach could be to place time scale on the third dimension, thereby creating an interactive 3-D graph. The end result will then appear like ‘the vortex of a tornado’ and will highlight the monthly gradient of temperature change over 1850-2016.

  3. Ed, this is highly informative and easy to understand. I would like to use a similar animation for my MPH Capstone project. What program or interface did you use to make this?

    1. Nevermind, I did not look hard enough at the information at the beginning of the presentation– MATLAB. Thanks!

  4. I think this is a nice graphic Ed and I think the data used is appropriate. However, the conflict I have for most scientists attempting to “prove” global warming is time scale. There is no dispute that our planet has been through cataclysms and dramatic climate changes in its history of ~4.5 billion years. Taking a sample of ~130 years and trying to draw conclusions about the dynamics of ~4.5 billion years is misleading and has led us to this political quagmire we are in today.

    Yes, lets clean this place up and start being more responsible about how we use our resources. “Fossil” fuels are antiquated technology and should be phased out, but their impact on GW is disputed.

    Where is the public discussion about the geoengineering programs going on all across this planet?

    1. Hi Nicholas,
      I have made no conclusions about the dynamics of 4.5billion years from the past 166 years. Most of the large variations in climate since Earth formed have been due to changes in the Earth’s orbit, which slowly varies its shape over many 10s of thousands of years – it has not changed over the past few hundred years so cannot be the cause of the observed increase. Changes in solar activity and volcanic eruptions cannot explain it either, but the changes in human activity (greenhouse gases, sulphate aerosols etc) can and, more importantly, we understand the physics of why.
      What geoengineering programs do you refer to?
      Ed.

      1. Thanks for the response; I appreciate your answers. Can you direct me to the studies which support the idea that solar activity and volcanic activity have not had an impact on climate over the past few hundred years. There have been several notable solar events (Carrington Event) and volcanic events (Tambora) that have undoubtedly impacted our planet within that time frame…

        RE geoengineering: I am referring mainly about solar radiation management or solar geoengineering. As I’m sure you are aware over the past several decades governmental organizations have been conducting aerosol spraying programs in conjunction with HAARP to manipulate weather and “protect us from global warming.” These programs have only recently become public knowledge, but I think we need to give them serious consideration when we are trying to solve the issue of “climate change.”

          1. In the report you refer to: “The forcing from stratospheric volcanic aerosols can have a large impact on the climate for some years after volcanic eruptions”. The chart they use to explain this information includes volcanic eruptions as a natural cause of climate change, but limits that variable only to changes in solar radiance. The data ignores all emitted compounds from the natural phenomena and only includes them as part of the anthroprogenic phenomena. Am I interpreting this incorrectly? It sure seems misleading. Thanks.

          2. Hi Nicholas,
            In Fig. SPM5, the natural solar irradiance bar refers to long-term changes in the sun’s energy output – it has overall increased slightly since 1750. Volcanoes are not included on that particular chart because they are episodic and so have not provided a long-term CHANGE in radiative forcing – of course, they cool the climate for a year or two after they erupt. Emissions of CO2 etc from volcanoes are considered part of the natural and continuous flux and exchange of gases within the whole climate system which have been occurring without human activity.
            Hope this helps,
            Ed.

          3. Report from the broad link you directed me to (http://www.climatechange2013.org) where I found: “Summary for Policymakers”, page 14, figure SPM.5 [http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/report/WG1AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf]

            I am truly trying to wrap my head around all of this and I appreciate sincere dialogue. I don’t want to be dismissed because I don’t agree with you; however, it is your site. My interest is in the truth and that is my agenda.

          4. Thanks. I understand that volcanic eruptions would not have a long term effect on radiative forcing; however, their emissions would seemingly have a dramatic effect. What still causes me pause is that natural emissions and anthroprogenic emissions would be extremely difficult to differentiate when our system of interest is the entire globe. In the report you refer to, I find nothing that quantitatively differentiates natural emissions from anthroprogenic emissions. How and where has the baseline for natural climate system emissions (and exchange) been determined?

  5. Great visualization!
    Is it possible to ad a time-slider, so the user can stop the animation and return to a specific moment in time? Or to slow down the animation? It would be interesting to play a little with the data. For me the animation is a little to fast.
    Thanks

    1. That’s the best one I’ve seen Clive, thanks for that.

      Perhaps you could superimpose the orbital variations (which we clearly
      know so much about) that Ed states above are responsible for
      past temperature variations ;-).

  6. Ed, This is a brilliant way to present the temperature information visually. I assume you will be updating this each month. I’ll be checking back and sharing with whoever will listen. Excellent work. Thank you!

  7. It is interesting to see the temperature development, starting in 1850. That was right after the Little Ice Age.
    What about starting in 1650, or earlier?

  8. The thing that always confuses me about the folks who work to deny statistical representations of climate change is this. Are these people saying that our present day economic model is sustainable? Are they saying that pollution doesn’t endanger health? Can’t we agree that polluting air & water is a bad thing? Even if, as they claim, there are problems in the data (and it appears to me from reading the comments that the creator of the chart had adjusted for these problems) I would say that clean air and water are necessary and desirable in of themselves.

    1. I don’t know anybody that doesn’t want clean air and water.

      What does pollution have to do with global warming? CO2 was only recently LEGALLY made a pollutant by the EPA in 2009. Despite being a necessary element for 99.9% of known life on this planet to exist, the EPA decided to classify it as a pollutant. If you have the will, think about that for a few minutes.

      Pollution is an entirely separate issue from climate change.

      1. The world, the environment, everything from economics to law has a “natural balance”.
        The climate also has its own natural balance. I’m sure that you would agree with me if I said that producing an excessive amount of CO2 would not be good for the environment? That it could even be detrimental to such environment? Considering what we KNOW about the effects CO2 has on this environment, that producing CO2 on current levels would seem to be an imbalance on “natural levels?” That it could even be causing this “global warming” phenomena?
        I think most people would agree that just because CO2 makes up a part of the atmosphere, that producing this gas in the amounts that we do now is not something that will lead to a brighter future? (A brighter future for EVERYBODY)
        Hope I have written this in a language that you understand. Since it doesn’t seem like you understood the scientific evidence that’s been produced by many reliable sources from all around the world.
        I honestly find it quite comical and puzzling how “Global Warming” is still up for debate. Maybe we can get back to the argument of the world being flat? I mean, since when I look out at the horizon, it seems to end!? I’m sorry, maybe that’s taking a bit too far.
        But I live in Australia, and have had to endure the efforts of Tony Abott trying to convince us that, “coal is the future.” (Another man that ignores evidence to the contrary)
        I honestly do not believe that somebody can be that stupid? Or is it just ignorance? I’d say that in Abotts’s case, there may have been a hidden agenda.
        I am curious to know what your opinion is on the issue of climate change and global warming?
        Oops I meant to say, “climate change.” What is your opinion on the levels of CO2 and its effects on the environment?

      2. Dear Nicholas

        The world, the environment, everything from economics to law has a “natural balance”.
        The climate also has its own natural balance. I’m sure that you would agree with me if I said that producing an excessive amount of CO2 would not be good for the environment? That it could even be detrimental to such environment? Considering what we KNOW about the effects CO2 has on this environment, that producing CO2 on current levels would seem to be an imbalance on “natural levels?” That it could even be causing this “global warming” phenomena?
        I think most people would agree that just because CO2 makes up a part of the atmosphere, that producing this gas in the amounts that we do now is not something that will lead to a brighter future? (A brighter future for EVERYBODY)
        Hope I have written this in a language that you understand. Since it doesn’t seem like you understood the scientific evidence that’s been produced by many reliable sources from all around the world.
        I honestly find it quite comical and puzzling how “Global Warming” is still up for debate. Maybe we can get back to the argument of the world being flat? I mean, since when I look out at the horizon, it seems to end!? I’m sorry, maybe that’s taking a bit too far.
        But I live in Australia, and have had to endure the efforts of Tony Abott trying to convince us that, “coal is the future.” (Another man that ignores evidence to the contrary)
        I honestly do not believe that somebody can be that stupid? Or is it just ignorance? I’d say that in Abotts’s case, there may have been a hidden agenda.
        I am curious to know what your opinion is on the issue of climate change and global warming?
        Oops I meant to say, “climate change.” What is your opinion on the levels of CO2 and its effects on the environment?

      3. Nicholas:

        Do you not see the relationship between CO2 and global warming?
        Have you not seen the levels of CO2 in our atmosphere and our global temperatures?
        You tell us to think for a minute. But have you actually read up on what you’re trying to argue?
        Ignorance is bliss, but ignorance won’t be an excuse and it certainly won’t help you if we keep going at current trends!! I don’t know what will happen exactly, but going by how frequently our extreme weather days are occurring, I doubt it’s gonna be a good outcome.
        Going by your argument, then it should be ok if we have 10% CO2 in atmosphere?
        How about 50%? Hell why not make it 100% CO2?? I mean, CO2 is part of our atmosphere right? And it’s only recently been put on the list as a pollutant?!?! So what the heck. That’ll be fine.
        Dear me!!! I just can’t understand the logic of people sometimes. Seriously. Let’s TRY take care of the place we call home. Please.

  9. Can’t we agree that polluting air & water is a bad thing? Even if, as they claim, there are problems in the data (and it appears to me from reading the comments that the creator of the chart had adjusted for these problems) I would say that clean air and water are necessary and desirable in of themselves.

  10. Ed,
    It’s been a few months since your spiral graph came out. I’ve been very curious to see how the ceaseing of El Niño would impact these recent months. Will you be updating the animation? If so, how often? Thanks for your work.

  11. Could you please update it to include the last few months (I read that July was yet again the hottest month on record, something I wish I hadn’t heard so many times recently), as we are still setting records, and it could stress the continued expansion of the circle?

  12. Might it not be useful to look at the same dataset, with the timeframe inverted — so the the most recent year is at the origin, and the earliest years outward?

    If the argument is that the format is artificially expanding the outermost circles, shouldn’t the inverted set look very similar?

  13. This site might be far too advanced to deal with my question; but I will ask it anyway.
    Deniers of climate change are often heard finding fault with the position of a particular baseline in a climate graph. The point of contention appears to be that the baseline is never properly set ‘where it should be’. Sometimes they insist it should be set at 0; if it is, then it should be set at a value that to me seems completely arbitrary. Are they or I making too much of a relatively unimportant aspect of these graphs? How is the baseline decided? Is it arbitrarily fixed? Does it, in fact, make any real difference where the wretched thing goes?

      1. Hello Ed

        Many thanks indeed. It’s very odd that understanding seemed to dawn almost immediately after my posting. It was followed by a touch of of embarrassment.

        Kind regards,
        Jeremy

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