News•August 2, 2017
A History of Global Warming, In Just 35 Seconds
By Brian Kahn
Last year, there was the temperature spiral. This year, it’s the temperature circle that’s making the trend of global warming crystal clear.
A new video shows the rhythm of global warming for countries around the world, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Bars representing each country’s annual average temperature anomaly pulse up and down. It's like watching a heartbeat on a monitor.
Rather than staying steady like a normal heartbeat, it’s clear that temperatures for more than 100 countries are climbing ever higher on the back of increasing carbon pollution. While there are individual variations in how hot any year is, the signal of climate change is unmistakable.
“There are no single countries that clearly stand out from the graph,” said Antti Lipponen, a physicist at the Finnish Meteorological Institute who made the graphic. “The warming really is global, not local.”
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While the temperature spiral showed the global average temperature, Lipponen’s animation uses NASA data to show individual countries separated by regions. The format invites you to look for your country or the place you took your vacation last year.
But step back to look at the graphic as a whole and it’s clear we’re all in this together. No country is immune from rising temperatures, let alone the other impacts of climate change.
It’s also clear that global warming is accelerating. In the past three decades (which starts around the 14-second mark in the video), the bars start pushing further and further from the center. Cooler-than-normal years start to become more rare and by the 1990s, they’ve almost disappeared completely.
The past three years have been the hottest ones ever recorded. A number of countries were more than 2°C warmer than the 1951-1980 baseline used in the graphic. That puts them well above the warming limit enshrined in the Paris Agreement, serving as a warning of how fast we’re pushing into new territory.
The world itself touched 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels for a few months in 2016. If global warming permanently crosses that threshold, it will likely cause small island states to be swallowed by the sea, coral to die and heat waves to become more common and severe.
Those numbers alone are abstract, though. Even plotted on a line graph, they fail to fully convey the trajectory we’re on.
Lipponen said he made the animation because he wanted a “nice looking, clear, and informative” way to convey that information in a way people can understand. Mission accomplished.
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