Today, the UK’s Met Office released a subset of a large record of global temperature readings. This data set has been at the core of a lot of scientific research supporting the idea that the planet is getting warmer, including the controversial IPCC Assessment Reports.
Here is the data currently available, representing decades of data from over 1,500 land stations. As you can read on the linked page, the Met is at work to get more of this data released as soon as possible. There is some urgency here – the hope is that hard, un-deniable numbers might finally put some of the ‘debate’ surrounding the issue to rest.
Manuel Lima from VisualComplexity wrote a convincing blog post today, suggesting that the data community (how’s that for a general grouping?) can offer a lot to this cause. I couldn’t agree more. The general public certainly won’t gain much from this pile of strangely formatted text files – but they might be swayed by some well built, innovative visualizations that communicate and convince. Certainly, we can do better than the current graphics:
In order for this to be effective, I’d suggest three things are necessary:
1) Easy Access. I would love to see the data set placed into some format which is easily accessible, to save the work of everyone having to parse the data individually. Google Spreadsheets? MySQL tables? JSON? All of the above? Edit – mySQL tables are now available, along with a Perl parsing script, in the climate data forum (http://climatedata.blprnt.com)
2) Coordination. It would be useful to have a central place for people working with the data to ask questions and to share results. Ideally, a repository of graphics and interactive tools could be made available to the public and to the press.
3) Dialogue with Climate Scientists. The IPCC has more than 2500 expert reviewers, 800 contributing authors, and 450 lead authors. These people know what information needs to be shown, and what stories need to be told. Any effective effort to produce visualizations from this data would benefit from their input.
How does this start? As a quick measure to help with suggestion #2, I’ve created an open forum where we can start a dialogue, discuss some of these questions, and hopefully come up with some answers. For now, you can access the forum here:
Please pass on this invitation to any data-folks you might now – and of course any climate scientists, journalists, or other curious types who might want to get involved.