Every month, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies publishes an update on global surface temperatures. It includes maps showing how temperatures throughout the globe have varied from the long-term mean over the course of a month or multiple months; and graphs depicting the evolution of the globe’s mean surface temperature over time.
Yesterday, the image to the left, reproduced from the NASA GISS graphs page, caught my attention. Each panel represents 30 years of climate information, with the rows (running horizontally) representing months, and the columns (running vertically) showing years.
So each colored square depicts how the Earth’s mean surface temperature departed from the long-term mean during a specific month in a particular year. The warmer the color, the warmer the temperature. (See the scale at the bottom for specifics.) The graphic also shows minima and maxima in the Sun’s activity cycle (“m” and “M” respectively), as well as El Niño and La Niña episodes (“E” and “L” respectively, with upper case or lower case indicating strength).
I found the three panels quite compelling, but I also realized that if I stitched them together in one continuous, horizontal graphic, the climatic warming trend would be clearer to see — and that the resulting image would also be quite beautiful, if unsettling. The result was the long, horizontal image that follows.
Many thanks to the people who participated in my little contest. As the comments section indicates, three people answered the question correctly.
Oh, and one last thing: the little gray squares at lower right in the 2010 column represent the months of November and December. The January through October period has already been the warmest such period on record, according to GISS. Check back here for the final verdict on 2010, which will probably be out in early January of 2011.
Here’s the original post from yesterday, along with the graphic I created using the three panels of climate data:
No, this is not a long-lost Piet Mondrian canvas.
A hint: I’ve taken three charts of climate data and stitched them together to form a single panel. I haven’t done it simply to create a puzzle. I think this way of depicting the data shows a climate trend more clearly than the original three charts viewed separately.
But where did the originals come from? What do each of those little colored rectangles represent? And what specific trend is depicted here? If you think you know, share your answer in the comments section below. I don’t have any prizes to give away. But if you get it right, I’ll share your accomplishment with CEJournal readers, along with additional details.
One last thing: I don’t mean to make light of what this graphic depicts. But when I viewed the original images this morning, I was struck by the beautiful way they depicted scientific — and unsettling — information.
– Tom Yulsman