Scientists can’t do everything by themselves. We need to engage the millions of citizens who are passionate about knowledge to help solve scientific mysteries and improve our understanding of the world around us.
Those with more technical knowledge might also contribute by communicating climate change in novel ways. Recently, Kevin Pluck (a software engineer) created a global sea ice spiral which gained widespread attention on social media – here he tells Climate Lab Book how he did it.
Over to Kevin…
On January 2nd I came across this graph by Arctischepinguin for global sea ice area and stopped in my tracks.
This should be an important news story, it’s about the world, the planet we live on simply melting in front of our eyes.
Inspired by the global temperature change spiral I wondered what those data would look like plotted on a circle. I had been experimenting with a language called Processing and figured this would be a worthwhile project. I downloaded the data files and explored their contents. It was a simple task to parse the file and filter out missing values – just needed to plot them on a circle.
After much tinkering I was able to produce my first draft and posted to reddit. After speeding it up, I posted to both reddit and twitter, where it was picked up by the UNFCCC twitter account followed by a piece in the Daily Mail. I also got an email from the office of Al Gore asking permission to potentially use it in his talks. This was very exciting.
At the end of January I updated the spiral to include a scale, a running low record tick mark and more subtle scale markers, posting it on twitter and reddit once more, where it reached their front page gaining 1.6 million views.
During a lunch time run I had the idea of adding two further spirals; the ice area of the Arctic and Antarctic, as it would show what makes up the global value. It took a while to perfect but once I had added a ‘radar scan’ type line with ‘comet tails’ to aid visuals, I posted it to be critiqued.
Although I did get some helpful comments it grew and had a life of its own. You can find the source code for all the above here.
The most important news story in the world needs clear and compelling visualisations, and I hope that these help communicate what is currently happening at the poles.