Last month the Washington Post published a nice article that detailed the deep water cooling system that the city of Toronto, Canada uses to keep itself cool. For the unfamiliar, deep water cooling at its simplest means sucking up very cold water from the bottom of a lake or ocean or wherever you can get very cold water, and then pumping that inland to absorb heat before cycling it back.
Of course, for the longer explanation—and what makes Toronto’s system different—you should read the article. And for our purposes it includes some nice illustrations that diagram just how that system works. The screenshot below captures the basic process I just described, but there are additional illustrations that do a great job showing just how the system works.
What I particularly enjoy about this style is how the illustrations of the building and similar are minimal and restrained. This allows the diagrammatic elements to come to the forefront, which is important to make the system understood.
Winter is coming? Winter is here. At least meteorologically speaking, because winter in that definition lasts from December through February. But winters in Philadelphia can be a bit scattershot in terms of their weather. Yesterday the temperature hit 19ºC before a cold front passed through and knocked the overnight low down to 2ºC. A warm autumn or spring day to just above freezing in the span of a few hours.
But when we look more broadly, we can see that winters range just that much as well. And look the Philadelphia Inquirerdid. Their article this morning looked at historical temperatures and snowfall and whilst I won’t share all the graphics, it used a number of dot plots to highlight the temperature ranges both in winter and yearly.
The screenshot above focuses attention on the range in January and July and you can see how the range between the minimum and maximum is greater in the winter than in the summer. Philadelphia may have days with summer temperatures in the winter, but we don’t have winter temperatures in summer. And I say that’s unfair. But c’est la vie.
Design wise there are a couple of things going on here that we should mention. The most obvious is the blue background. I don’t love it. Presently the blue dots that represent colder temperatures begin to recede into and blend into the background, especially around that 50ºF mark. If the background were white or even a light grey, we would be able to clearly see the full range of the temperatures without the optical illusion of a separation that occurs in those January temperature observations.
Less visible here is the snowfall. If you look just above the red dots representing the range of July temperatures, you can see a little white dot near the top of the screenshot. The article has a snowfall effect with little white dots “falling” down the page. I understand how the snowfall fits with the story about winter in Philadelphia. Whilst the snowfall is light enough to not be too distracting, I personally feel it’s a bit too cute for a piece that is data-driven.
The snowfall is also an odd choice because, as the article points out, Philadelphia winters do feature snowfall, but that on days when precipitation falls, snow accounts for less than 1/3 of those days with rain and wintry mixes accounting for the vast majority.
Overall, I really like the piece as it dives into the meteorological data and tries to accurately paint a portrait of winters in Philadelphia.
And of course the article points out that the trend is pointing to even warmer winters due to climate change.
Credit for the piece goes to Aseem Shukla and Sam Morris.
If you didn’t know, climate change is real and it threatens much of our current way of life. I don’t go so far as to say it threatens the extinction of mankind, because there are nearly seven billion of us and to wipe out every living soul would be a tall order. But, it could wipe out parts of our history.
If you didn’t know, the city of Washington in the District of Columbia was built on a swamp. Except, actually, it wasn’t. Most of the city was built on higher ground along the riverbank of the Potomac. True, there are low-lying areas affected by the tides and high water, such as the National Mall, but places like the Capitol were purposefully placed on high ground.
And that gets us to this article in the Washington Post. It takes a look at the impact of rising waters and flash flooding on the National Mall, home to some of the preeminent American museums. The article uses a map to show just how the museums are threatened by extreme weather events that will only increase in frequency as climate change ramps up.
The designer used colour to denote museums by their risk of flooding, and sadly there are several. But as the article describes, there are few short-term fixes that we can undertake to mitigate the risk of damage to the collections.
We’re back and there’s a lot to touch on this week. But first, as a prelude to some of the Hurricane Ida coverage, I wanted to briefly point our attention to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer from about two or three weeks before Ida struck.
The article focused on the US Army Corps of Engineers proposal to protect the back bay areas of the South Jersey shore, i.e. the areas between the outer barrier islands and the mainland. The article chose a few graphics from the report to draw attention to some of the proposed solutions, e.g. massive gates, new levee systems, and wetland restoration.
I wanted to focus on a different graphic in the report. This functioned more as an illustrated guide to the whole suite of solutions available to mitigating flood and storm surge disasters. Because, in the future, rising sea levels will threaten coastal communities. And as we saw just last week here in the Northeast, warmer seas plus warmer skies increase the potential for storms with crippling deluges.
The graphic shows how we can try to deal with surge waters from out beyond the barrier islands through to the back bay to communities inland both by protecting, adapting, and in some cases relocating.
All need to be on the table, because if last week showed us anything—not that many hadn’t been saying this for decades—it’s not just the bayous of New Orleans and Florida’s beaches that are at risk from environments and weather patterns altered by a changing climate, but even those areas more local (to the Northeast).
Credit for the piece goes to the US Army Corps of Engineers.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) latest report on climate change, which synthesised the last several years’ data. If you didn’t see that post, suffice it to say things are bad and getting worse. At the time I said I wanted to return to talk about a few more graphics in the release. Well, here we are.
In this piece we have a map, three technically. In a set of small multiples, the report’s designers show the observed change, i.e. what’s happening today, and the degree of scientific consensus on whether humans are causing it.
What I like about this is that, first, improved data and accuracy allows for sub-continental breakdowns of climate change’s impacts. That breakdown allowed the designers to use a tilemap consisting of hexagons to map those changes.
Since we don’t look at the world in this kind of way, the page also includes a generous note where it defines all these acronyms. Of course even with those, it still doesn’t look super accurate—and that is fine, because that’s the point—so little strokes outside clusters of hexagons are labelled to further help the reader identify the geographic regions. I really like this part.
I also like how little dots represent the degree of confidence. The hexagons give enough space to include dots and labels while still allowing the colours to shine. These are really nice.
But then we get to colour, the one part of this graphic with which I’m not totally thrilled. The first map looks at temperature, specifically heat extremes. Red means increase in heat extremes and blue means decrease. Fair enough. Hatched pattern means there is low consensus and medium grey means there’s little data. I like it.
Moving to the second map we look at heavy precipitation. Green means an increase and yellow a decrease. Hatched and medium grey both mean the same as before. I like this too. Sure, with clear titling you could still use the same colours as the first map, but I’ll buy if you’re selling you want visual distinction from the red–blue map above.
Then we get to the third map and now we’re looking at drought. Hatched and grey mean the same. Good. But now we have green and yellow, the same green and yellow as the second map. Okay…but I thought the second map showed we need a visual distinction from the first? But what makes it really difficult is that in this third map we invert the meaning of green and yellow. Green now means a decrease in drought and yellow an increase.
I can get that a decrease in drought means green fields and an increase in drought means dead and dying fields, yellow or brown. And sure, red and blue relate to hot and cold. But the problem is that we have the exact same colours meaning the opposite things when it comes to precipitation.
Why not use two other colours for precipitation? You wouldn’t want to use blue, because you’re using blue in the first map. But what about purple and orange, like I often do here on Coffeespoons? This is why I don’t think the designers needed to switch up the colours from map to map. Pick a less relational colour palette, say purple and orange, and colour all three maps with purple being an increase and orange being a decrease.
Colour is my big knock on these graphics, which unfortunately could otherwise have been particularly strong. Of course, I can’t blame designers for going with red and blue for hot and cold temperatures. I’ve had the same request in my career. But it doesn’t make reading these charts any easier.
Credit for the piece goes to the IPCC graphics team.
Earlier this morning (East Coast time) the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN’s committee studying climate change, released its latest review of climate change. This is the first major review since 2013 and, spoiler, it’s not good.
I’ve read some news articles about the findings, but I want to critique and comment upon some of the graphics contained within the report itself. This started going too long, however, so I think I will break this into several shorter, more digestible chunks.
And I want to start with the first chart, two line charts that lay out the temperature changes we’ve seen.
One of the first things I like here is the language. Often we might see these or similar charts that simply state temperatures from the year 1 through 2020. One of the common reasons I hear from people that deny climate change is that “people weren’t recording temperatures back in 1 AD.
They would be correct. We do not have planet-wide meteorological observations from the time of Julius Caesar. But in the year 2021 we do have science. And that allows us to take other evidence, e.g. dissolved carbon dioxide in ice, or tree ring size, &c., and use them to reconstruct the temperature record indirectly.
And reconstruct is the word the IPCC uses to clearly delineate the temperature data pre- and post-1850 when their observed data set begins.
The designers then highlight this observed data set, broadly coinciding with the Industrial Revolution when we as a species began to first emit extra greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. You can see this as a faint grey background and a darker stroke along the x-axis.
Additionally, the designers used annotations to call out the first main point, that warming in the last almost two centuries is far beyond what we’ve seen in the last two millennia.
The second annotation points to a bar, reminiscent of the range of a box plot, that exists outside the x-axis and almost embedded within the y-axis. This bar captures the range of temperatures reconstructed in the past 100,000 years. And by including it in the chart, we can see that we have just recently begun to exceed even that range.
In the second chart, we have the entire background shaded light grey and the whole x-axis in a darker stroke to remind us that we are now looking at the Industrial/Post-Industrial era. But what this chart does is do what scientists do, test whether natural, non-manmade causes can fully explain the temperature increase.
The chart plots the modelled data looking at just natural causes vs. modelled data looking at natural causes plus human impacts. Those lines and their ranges are then compared to the temperatures we’ve observed and recorded.
Since the 1930s and 40s, it’s been a pretty clear and consistent tracking with natural plus manmade causes. For years the scientific community has been in agreement that humanity is contributing to the rising temperatures. This is yet more evidence to make the point even more conclusively.
These are two really good charts that taken together show pretty conclusively that humanity is directly responsible for a significant portion of Earth’s recent climate change.
I’ll have more on some other notable graphics in the report later in the week, so stay tuned.
Credit for the piece goes to the IPCC graphics team.
Like I said yesterday, I wanted to compare cities, surprise, Philadelphia vs. Chicago. And so with some extra time I was able to finish this graphic that took the data from Climate Central to compare the two cities.
What you can see below is that Philadelphia has seen more significant temperature growth in both summer highs and summer lows. And, importantly, the increase in low temperatures, i.e. nighttime, has been greater than that of daytime highs. That means that we have less of an opportunity to cool down after a hot summer day, adding stress to the system.
Chicago on the other hand has seen less overall growth, though it’s still present. And there too we see the same pattern of greater increases in low, i.e. nighttime, temperatures than of daytime highs.
It’s remarkable to think that the flat where I lived seven of my eight years in Chicago had no air conditioning unit in the bedroom, only in the living room. It was, of course, an older concrete building from the 1960s/70s when, as the chart above shows, nighttime temperatures didn’t really require air conditioning.
But like I said yesterday, I’m just glad I’ve been able to crank the air conditioning the last several days.
First, I should say that I don’t have a lot to say about this graphic because I went back to the source because I was interested in another city and I wanted to compare the two. In other words, expect a small graphic follow up to this maybe tomorrow.
Anyways, over the last few years since returning to Philadelphia after eight years away in Chicago, I’ve had numerous conversations with different people about how “I don’t remember it always being this hot before”, which is particularly relevant as the Philadelphia region endures excessive heat. Thankfully, it’s not nearly as bad as the Pacific Northwest. Also I have air conditioning blasting next to me as I type this out, so, you know.
The common refrain in these conversations, however, tends to be less about how we have high temperatures and more about how it’s difficult to sleep at night. And there’s a reason for that as this article from the Philadelphia Inquirer explains, our average summer low temperatures are rising, and rising faster than our average summer high temperatures.
Of course you can probably already see where I was going with this. The Inquirer linked to their source and that’s where I’ve spent my time this morning, alas, I didn’t quite have enough to finish what I started and so this post will have to do.
Credit for the piece goes to the Philadelphia Inquirer graphics department.
Thankfully today’s forecast calls for cooler temperatures. Your author is not a fan of hot weather, which means being outside in summer is…less than ideal. It also means that the air conditioner runs frequently and on high for a few months. (Conversely, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I turned on the heat this winter.)
The problem is, the two biggest contributors to US carbon emissions? Heating/cooling and transport. In other words, heating your home in the winter, cooling it in the summer, and then driving your non-electric vehicle.
After the recent heatwave in New England, the Boston Globeexamined the impact of the heatwave on the environment. The article led with the claim it used four charts to do so. I quibble with that distinction because this is a screenshot of the second graphic.
I mean, it’s not prose text. Rather, we have three factettes paired with illustrations. At the top of this post, I mentioned the impact of transport for a reason. In an ideal world, in order to get carbon emissions under control one of the changes we would need to see is getting people out of their personal automobiles and into mass transit. Subways and light rail are far cleaner and can actually be cheaper for households than car ownership. And so we should be encouraging their use and building more of them.
Look above and you’ll see an icon of a subway car. Except it’s not. The graphic/factette is actually talking about rail cars full of coal that transport fuel from mine to generating station. Those look more like this, from James St. James via Wikimedia Commons.
Small, subtle details matter. And so I’d propose a new icon that tries to capture the industrial coal train, ideally something that I spent more than five minutes on.
But it breaks the linkage between passenger train and coal train, which is not ideal for the purposes of an article highlighting the environmental impacts of US households.
That all said, the article did a really good job with the other graphics it used. My favourite was this chart, decidedly not a combination chart.
It looks at the correlation between high temperatures and energy usage. But, instead of lazily throwing the temperatures atop the bars, the designers more carefully placed them below the energy usage chart. The top chart should look familiar to those who have been following my Covid-19 charts, a daily number that then has the rolling seven-day average plotted above it to smooth out any one-day quirks. The designer then chose to highlight the heatwave in red.
For temperatures, I like the overall approach. But I wonder if a more nuanced approach could have taken the graph a step farther to excellent. Presently we have a single red line representing daily average high temperature. But in the plot above we use red to indicate the heat wave of early June, five consecutive days of temperatures in excess of 90ºF. What if that line were black or grey or some neutral colour, and then only the heatwave was coloured in red? It would more clearly link the two together. And it avoids the trap of red implying heat, when you need to only go back to late May when the East Coast had early spring like temperatures near 50ºF, decidedly not red on a temperature scale.
Overall, though, it’s refreshing to see a thoughtful approach taken here instead of the usual slapdash throw one chart atop the other.
And the rest of the article uses restrained, smart graphics as well. Bar charts and small multiples to capture air pollution and EMS calls. You should read the full article for the insights and the feedback loops we have.
After all, it’s not that the heating/cooling is itself the problem, especially since the removal of CFCs since the Montreal Protocol in 1987 that banned those pesky chemicals that harm the ozone layer—remember when that was the big environmental issue in the 1990s? The issue is how we generate the electricity that powers the heating/cooling systems—and if you want to use electric cars, whence comes their electric charge—as if we’re using coal plants, that just exacerbates the problem. But if we use carbon-less plants, e.g. nuclear, solar, or wind, we’re not generating carbon emissions.
Two Fridays ago, I opened the door and found my copy of the New York Times with a nice graphic above the fold. This followed the announcement from the White House of aggressive targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
In general, I love seeing charts and graphics above the fold. As an added bonus, this set looked at climate data.
But there are a few things worth pointing out.
First from a data side, this chart is a little misleading. Without a doubt, carbon dioxide represents the greatest share of greenhouse gasses, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) it was 76% in 2010. Methane contributes the next largest share at 16%. But the labelling should be a little clearer here. Or, perhaps lead with a small chart showing CO2’s share of greenhouse gasses and from there, take a look at the largest CO2 emitters per person.
Second, where are the axis labels?
I will probably have more on this at a later date, but neither the bar chart nor the line charts have axis labels. Now the designers did choose to label the beginning value for the lines and the bars, but this does not account for the minimums or maximums. (It also assumes that the bottom of the lines is zero.)
For example, we can see that China began 1990 with emissions at 3.4 billon metric tons. The annotation makes clear that China’s aggregate emissions surpassed those of the US in 2004. But where do they peak? What about developing countries?
If I pull out a ruler and draw some lines I can roughly make some height comparisons. But, an easier way would be simply to throw some dotted lines across the width of the page, or each line chart.
This piece takes a big swing at presenting the challenge of reducing emissions, but it fails to provide the reader with the proper—and I think necessary—context.
Credit for the piece goes to Nadja Popovich and Bill Marsh.