Wednesday 11 June 2014

Visualising Climate Change

The fifth Communicating Climate Change event was held in May 2014 - an invitational workshop and public exhibition on visualising climate change.

As part of the workshop, we had an intensive session on visualising information, inspired by challenges faced by the UK's Environment agency. We asked workshop participants to suggest how to visualise information on one of the following twelve subjects:

1. Catchment visualisation tool
2. Displaying sea level rise projections
3. Displaying future flows information
4. Displaying climate projections for a particular geographical location
5. Communicating risk
6. What does an adapted business look like?
7. Business & Supply Chains
8. Habitat impacted by coastal squeeze and habitat creation targets?
9. Extreme weather events timeline
10. Financial impacts of climate/weather on the economy
11. Food security
12. How local authorities can adapt to changes in climate

Specially-designed A3 worksheets were used to capture their ideas, and they also produced concept sketches for their visualisations. The results are presented below.

Challenge 2: Displaying sea level rise projections

The group for this challenge proposed a video-based presentation, which would show different flood prevention options, and the resulting potential damage over time, linked to a graph representing sea level rise. 

The project would be an ambitious combination of different kinds of information, and careful thought would be needed in how to deal with the uncertainty attached. There seems to be great potential for this kind of localised information, and visualisations could help to promote discussion, as suggested by one of our keynote speakers, Prof Stephen Sheppard.

Challenge 3: Displaying future flows information

This group discussed the challenges of presenting 3D data (water volumes) in relation to 2D impacts (area covered). They point out an interesting difference between different audiences that could benefit from this information, in that they could be trying to understand their own questions, or could be unaware of the issues. They suggested that abstract diagrams could be more useful for, for example, policy-makers trying to understand flow data, whereas more "concrete" representations, such as water flow and relating area covered to familiar sized places would be more useful.

Challenge 7: Business & Supply Chains

Increasingly complex global supply chains are challenging to visualise. This group decided to focus on a cup of coffee as a way of explaining the impacts of climate change visually. Their idea was to allow the user to specify a particular level of global temperature rise, and relate this to costs and amounts of coffee produced. The use of a familiar item such as a cup of coffee can be a good way of relating abstract data to people's everyday lives.

Challenge 8: Habitat impacted by coastal squeeze and habitat creation targets

This group felt that an interactive map would be a useful way of showing this information, allowing people to explore the key impacts on biodiversity. They could select their own county / region, and would be shown abstract area-based displays to give an idea of the size of different kinds of habitat, compared to what would be lost due to sea level rise. These comparisons could be made from different years, and their idea is to include historical data to show how future projections relate to past  changes..

Challenge 9: Extreme weather events timeline

Focussing on the South West of England, this group decided to show a "weather map" display with different symbols for different kinds of extreme events, and different colours to indicate costs. This would also be linked to a timeline, showing the increasing frequency and damage caused by extreme events in the region. 

While they specified that they would produce a static diagram, this could also work well as a motion or interactive piece, so that the events on the timeline could be linked to those on the map. They also mentioned that videos and imagery from the different events could then be connected to the events, and maybe even show how communities have recovered after the event.

Challenge 10: Financial impacts of climate/weather on the economy

The specific impacts of one individual event were highlighted by this group. They focussed on the impacts of the winter 2013 / 2104 floods for Cornwall's economy. Their suggestion was that a tower graphic could be produced, showing firstly the causes of the floods, and then the impacts for different sectors on economic activity.

Challenge 11: Food security

The final group took on the challenge of food security, which is a complex and interlinked problem. They felt that a comprehensive and multivariate data set that could be interrogated by the user would be the best way of presenting this complex issue. Their solution would allow users to change different crops produced for food, transport, etc, and give feedback on the results of different combinations of inputs, given the impacts of climate and other pressures.

More information on the workshop is available on the European Centre for Environment and Human Health website:

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