Atlas of the invisible: using data to map the climate crisis | Climate crisis

IIn a new book, Atlas of the Invisible, geographer James Cheshire and designer Oliver Uberti redefine what an atlas can be. The following eight charts reveal some of the causes and consequences of the climate crisis that are difficult to detect with the naked eye but become clear when data is collected and visualized.

Fasten your seat belts

The likelihood of turbulent air in flight. Photography: Oliver Uberti / Luke Storer, Paul Williams and Manoj Joshi, University of Reading

The United States Federal Aviation Administration reported just nine serious injuries due to clear air turbulence on 1 billion passengers in 2018, but the risk remains because neither captains nor their flight instruments can see the air. waved before them; instead, they rely on other pilots and flight dispatchers to warn them. In recent years, meteorologists have alerted aviators to bigger bumps to come this century. Simulations show that as the climate crisis makes jet streams more erratic, the chances of encountering turbulent airspace will increase, especially in the fall and winter along the busiest roads. All the more reason to reduce transatlantic flights.

Brightness levels

Light emission data for 2012 and 2016
Data on light emissions for 2012 and 2016. Photograph: Oliver Uberti / Nasa-NOAA Suomi-NPP VIIRS

In recent years, a revolutionary light sensor and the advent of algorithms to suppress moonlight and other natural variables have allowed satellite images to be comparable from night to night and from year to year. to the other. Here, we’ve combined light emission data from 2012 and 2016 to reveal where the lights turned on (yellow), where they dimmed (blue), and where they stayed the same (gray). From these diagrams, it is possible to see the effects of war, economic development and urbanization. More than 25 million homes in India have received electricity since Narendra Modi was elected prime minister in 2014, while rural areas in China are darkening as coastal cities light up.

Heat gradient

Heat gradients over time indicate warming
Gradients of heat over time indicate warming. Photograph: Oliver Uberti / Met Office Hadley Center Hadcrut. 4.6

One of the main misconceptions about the climate crisis is that the warming will be uniform. Deniers cite a cold front here, a blizzard there as proof that climate science is nonsense. Such bad faith arguments ignore the difference between weather and climate. Time blows through; the climate takes off its mantle and stays for a while. Each tile represents a year from 1890 to 2019, colored by how and where temperatures deviated from a reliable reference period (1961-90). Reading decades from left to right reveals an alarming pattern. While the heat waves and cold waves stain the grid, the tiles of the current century are flush with the warm tones. Including 2020, the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2005.

Ice is flowing

The pace of movement of Greenland's glaciers
The rhythm of movement of the glaciers of Greenland. Photography: Oliver Uberti / Nasa / JPL-Caltech; Polar Geospatial Center / Nasa CLUC

Under Greenland’s snow and ice dome, nearly 100 glaciers flow from a central ridge. Winding valleys to the east slow their speed, while heavier snowfall to the northwest fuels a straight race towards the sea. On this map, warmer colors indicate faster movement. Greenland has about 5,000 gigatonnes less ice than 20 years ago. Part of the problem is that once the melting starts, it’s hard to stop it. Puddles of hot meltwater eventually seep into the glacier. This softens and lubricates its base, speeding up its slide to warmer altitudes where the ice softens more and glides even faster.

A rough sea

Global sea surface temperatures are rising
The world’s sea surface temperatures are rising. Photograph: Oliver Uberti / NCEI IBTrACS (hurricane tracks); NCAR SODA (ocean currents); NOAA Coral Reef Watch (temperature data); Wikipedia (graphic)

This map views the world’s oceans as an interconnected body of water. Over the past 50 years, this singular mass has retained more than its fair share of the excess heat trapped by greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, sea surface temperatures are rising rapidly. In 2019, Arctic waters were 7 ° C above their historical average. Warmer water pumps more moisture into the air and disrupts air currents, resulting in larger, stronger, slower, and wetter storms. The number of tropical cyclones around the world has also increased, with most of the costliest storms occurring since 2005.

Carbon overhead

Card representing a week of flights over Europe
Map illustrating a week’s flight over Europe. Photograph: Oliver Uberti / ADS-B exchange

When we look up into a blue sky and see a white plume following a silver plane, airplane travel can seem harmless, if not pretty. A darker truth is emerging. Choosing to fly is one of the most carbon-intensive choices an individual can make. This card represents a week of flights over Europe. London-Istanbul return flight emits more CO2 than the average citizen in many countries will do in a year – and that’s not counting the doubling contrail effect.

In exhaustive detail

Nitrogen dioxide plumes on July 25, 2019
Nitrogen dioxide plumes on July 25, 2019. Photograph: Oliver Uberti / Copernicus Sentinel-5

Since 2017, the European Space Agency’s Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (Tropomi) has provided daily global readings of the levels of nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter in the atmosphere. Here we show plumes of nitrogen dioxide on one of the hottest days in Northern Europe in 2019. Air travel is largely responsible for the noxious wake between Amsterdam and London; the Alps cause an accumulation of industrial pollutants over northern Italy; Marseilles needs a strong wind to dissipate the vapors of the cruise ships; and high pressure conditions can cause city exhaust to swirl over the UK.

Burn scars

Data showing active wildland fires around the world
Data showing active wildland fires around the world. Photography: Oliver Uberti / Nasa / Companies

Farmers around the world have started fires to clear land for crops or livestock. In Africa, the red bands on this map reflect the shift of the seasons across the equator. In Russia, fire data tell a different story. Temperatures reached 38 ° C in the city of Verkhoyansk on the longest day of 2020. It was the hottest day on record north of the Arctic Circle. Such heat turned the forests into tinder; dry peatlands have become an underground fuel. In data from fire detection satellites, atmospheric scientists have noticed a disturbing pattern: Siberian fire sites in 2020 have lined up with many since 2019, suggesting they may not have – never to be burnt.


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