It has taken me nearly three years to get to this point of comprehending global climate change.
Now I am going to give you the best pictures and analysis that I can. This article is a scientific study that was fueled by advanced data processing techniques and insightful visualizations. All of the work that helped create this work can be found here.
The Changes We Are Feeling
Every day, we read and hear the headlines concerning global warming. Today, this is what I saw (Figure 1). There were all-time record high temperatures being experienced in Las Vegas and Phoenix. Over 20 million people were being impacted by this heatwave, which is so intense that certain airplanes cannot operate during the day.
Although this condition is terrible, the damage being done on planet earth is above the arctic circle. As I have continued to work with the maximum temperature data, I focused on the changes that have happened since the decade of the 1960’s to now. I wanted to understand how the maximum daily temperatures have changed during my 50 year lifetime.
Testing My Hypothesis By Flattening the Globe
Last Friday I was giving a presentation on this topic when it occurred to me that I have had a hypothesis brewing in my head for quite some time regarding the temperature changes that have occurred. The problem was that I had not visualized the hypothesis properly to easily explain it. Over the weekend I finally did it, and this section and the following images tell the story.
What I ended up doing is effectively flattening the globe to display data in a certain way. I used Tableau to slice the temperature data up into bands having a width of 1-degree of latitude around the globe. These 1-degree bands circumnavigate the globe and for any monitoring stations falling into the bands, the statistics of temperature change were determined.
Clearly, the number of monitoring stations in each band would be different, and hence the amount of temperature data would also vary from band to band. In the following figures, the size of each box represents the amount of data captured in each band, while the color and label represent the change in the average daily max temperatures at each monitoring station over 50 years.
Figures 2 and 3 show the distribution of data for each of these 1-degree bands, for the northern hemisphere. It is clear that most of the monitoring has occurred between 30 and 50 degrees of northern latitude because this is where most people live and where most of the monitoring network exists.
Although it is clear that the area of each successive band decreases as you go from the equator to the north and south poles, I wasn’t concerned with this because I did not want to project anything geographically. All I wanted to do was flatten the globe into a vertical 2-d plane and visualize the temperature data from the equator to the poles. If you are interested in understanding the challenges of flattening the globe, take a 6-minute break and watch the wonderful video at the end of this article.
Now that I had captured the data in the way that I wanted to, I processed it for the northern hemisphere to see if my hypothesis is right. Well, wait just a minute. I haven’t told you my hypothesis.
My hypothesis goes something like this. Temperature is a potential function and it flows from high potential (warm air) to low potential (colder air) in the absence of other more prominent driving forces. On any given day, the atmosphere is in a state of thermal disequilibrium which causes winds to form and air circulation patterns to develop. If greenhouse gases are causing the atmosphere to undergo additional heating, then the atmosphere will respond in such a way to distribute the extra heat due to thermal disequilibrium conditions existing.
The natural response in such a system is that the additional heat will flow from the already hot equatorial regions towards the south and north poles. I would expect that global warming would cause an encroachment of higher temperatures into areas that were previously cooler. In other words, the far northern and southern regions of our globe would be most seriously impacted by this intrusion of warmer air.
For this hypothesis to be true, I had to do a little data magic to be able to visualize the monitoring data on a vertical 2-D plane. Figure 4 through 7 are the results of this work. In some ways, these plots remind me of the concept of heat rising, as what happens in a hot air balloon.
When I first created these visualizations, I knew that I finally understood the data in a way that made sense to me. The environmental changes we are seeing are not random or unexpected. These changes are a result of changing atmospheric chemistry, thermodynamic disequilibrium, and many other factors like air quality that we, as humans living on this planet, have been partially (if not mostly) responsible for.
The Maximum Temperature Changes In 120+ Countries
I created a Tableau dashboard that I believe has finally allowed me to understand the changes that have occurred. This dashboard not only allows me to look at the geographic span of any country, it allows me to drill into what has happened at the individual monitoring stations within any country. This dashboard exhibits both the spatial and temporal changes I wanted to understand, and it does so in a way that allowed me to finally achieve the vision of what I started out pursuing so long ago.
In the picture slideshow below, there are dashboard prints from over 120 countries. I have decided to place them in a slideshow because it was easiest to do. You can view the results of any country by scrolling through the images. If you take some time to study and examine these results, you will be astounded by what has happened in certain places. The countries are placed in the slideshow in alphabetical order so it is easy to find them. Alternatively, if you want the whole package of graphics, you can download them by clicking here.
I encourage you to look around the globe to see what has happened on this beautiful planet. Examine Russia to see why they are dealing with lost cities due to permafrost melting. Do the same for Canada.
Go look at some of the smaller countries in the middle of the oceans and imagine what sea-level rise is going to do to them. Take some time to look at these results.
If you want to fully appreciate what I am saying, look at what has happened in Figure 8 at a monitoring station in the far northern latitudes. How in the world can this much change be tolerated and ignored?
A Very Nice Video About Map Projections
I am going to take a tour through each state of the United States in my next article. We have been relatively lucky so far, but we should be paying attention to what has developed in the bread-basket of our great nation. Thanks for reading.