Putting Climate Change on the Map: A Translation from Time to Space

By increasing the atmospheric CO2 content, man is changing the climate. This message is often given in form of rather abstract numbers, such as changes in the annual mean surface temperature. One of the difficulties to overcome when educating the public about climate change is to translate these abstract numbers into everyday experiences - a task that is not easy given the statistical and thereby abstract definition of the term climate itself.

However, climate does not only vary with time, but also with space, and people generally have a better idea of what it would be like to live in another place, than to experience an annual mean temperature rise of e.g. 3 K.

We used the IPCC AR4 model projections to translate the projected temperature change into a change of location: Each point on a geographical map is shifted to the closest location that in the year 2000 has the annual mean temperature that the point is projected to have at some time in the future.

With this method, it is possible to create a new kind of accessible and visually appealing illustration of climate change, answering the question: Where do I have to go today to experience tomorrow’s climate? Or similarly: If the climate wouldn't change, how would the continents have to move to experience the same change in temperature that is projected for the future?

It is also possible to answer the inversed question: Where would I (or the continents) have to move in the future to keep today’s temperatures?

On the next pages you find images showing the results for both ways of approaching this translation from time to space.

Feel free to download and use these files for your education and outreach activities, and to distribute this page to your colleagues.

The satellite images used here and on the following pages were provided by NASA’s Earth Observatory.