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climate change

The art of turning climate change science to a crochet blanket

The art of turning climate change science to a crochet blanket

We welcome a new guest post from Prof. Ellie Highwood on why she made a global warming blanket and how you could the same!

What do you get when you cross crochet and climate science?
A lot of attention on Twitter.
At the weekend I like to crochet. Last weekend I finished my latest project and posted the picture on Twitter. And then had to turn the notifications off because it all went a bit noisy. The picture of my “global warming blanket” rapidly became my top tweet ever, with more retweets and likes than anything else. Apparently I had found a creative way to visualise trends in global mean temperature. I particularly liked the “this is the most frightening knitwear I have seen all year” comment. Given the interest on Twitter I thought I had better answer a few of the questions in a blog post. Also, it would be great if global warming blankets appeared all over the world.

How did you get the idea?
The global warming blanket was based on “temperature” blankets made by crocheters around the world. Their blankets consist of one row, or square, of crochet each day, coloured according to the temperature at their location. They look amazing and show both the annual cycle and day-to-day variability. Other people make “sky” blankets where the colours are based on the sky colour of the day – this results in a more muted grey-blue-white colour palette.
I wondered what the global temperature series would look like as a blanket. Also, global warming is often explained as greenhouse gases acting like a blanket, trapping infrared radiation and keeping the Earth warm. So that seemed like an interesting link. I also had done several rainbow themed blankets in the past and had a lot of yarn left that needed using.

Where did the data come from?

I used the annual and global mean temperature anomaly compared to 1900-2000 mean as a reference period as available from NOAA. This is what the data looks like shown more conventionally.

Global temperature anomalies (source: NOAA)

I then devised a colour scale using 15 different colours each representing a 0.1 °C data interval. So everything between 0 and 0.099 was in one colour for example. Making a code for these colours, the time series can be rewritten as in the table below. It is up to the creator to then choose the colours to match this scale, and indeed which years to include. I was making a baby sized blanket so chose the last 100 years, 1916-2016.

Because of these choices, and the long reference period, much of the blanket has relatively muted colour differences that tend to emphasise the last 20 years or so. There are other data sets available, and other reference periods and it would be interesting to see what they looked like. Also the colours I used were determined mainly by what I had available; if I were to do another one, I might change a few around (dark pink looks too much like red in the photograph and needed a darker blue instead of purple for the coldest colour), or even use a completely different colour palette – especially as rainbow colour scales aren’t great as they can distort data and render it meaningless if you are colour blind. Ed Hawkins kindly provided me with a more user friendly colour scale which I love and may well turn into a scarf for myself (much quicker than a blanket!).

#endrainbow colour scale (from E. Hawkins)

How can I recreate this?
If you want to create something similar, you will need 15 different colours if you want to do the whole 1850-2016 period. You will need relatively more yarn in colours 3-7 than other colours (if, like me you are using your stash). You can use any stitch or pattern but since you want the colour changes to be the focus of the blanket, I would choose something relatively simple. I used rows of treble crochet (UK terms) and my 100 years ended up being about 90 cm by 110 cm. You can of course choose any width you like for your blanket, or make a scarf by doing a much shorter foundation row. It goes without saying that it could also be knitted. Or painted. Or woven. Or, whatever your particular craft is.

If you look closely (check out arrows on the figure at the top) you can see the 1997-1998 El Nino (relatively warm yellow stripe amongst the pink – in this photo the dark pink looks red – I might change this colour if I did it again), 1991/92 Pinatubo eruption (relatively cool pink year) as well as cool periods 1929, and 1954-56 and the relatively warm 1940-46. Remember that these are global temperature anomalies and may not match your own personal experience at a given location!

Table with the colour codes used to make the global warming blanket

How long did it take?
I used a very simple stitch, so for a blanket this size, it was a couple of months (note I only crochet in the evenings 2 or 3 evenings a week for a couple of hours with more at some weekends). It helped that the Champions League was on during this time as other members of the household were happy to sit around watching football whilst I crocheted. Weave the ends in as you go. There are a lot of them, and I had to do them all at the end. The time flies because….

Why do I crochet?
I like crochet because you can do simple projects whilst thinking about other things, watching TV or listening to podcasts, or, you can do more complicated things which require your full attention and divert your brain from all other things. There is also something meditative about crochet, as has been discussed here. I find it a good way to destress. Additionally, a lot of what I make is for gifts or for charities and that is a really good feeling.

What’s next?
Suggestions have come in for other time series blankets e.g. greys for aerosol optical depth punctuated by red for volcanic eruptions, oranges and yellows punctuated by black for solar cycle (black being high sun spot years), a central England temperature record. Blankets take time, but scarves could be quicker so I might test a few of these ideas out over the next few months. Would love to hear and see more ideas, or perhaps we could organise a mass “global warming blanket” make-athon around the world and then donate them to communities in need.

And finally.
More seriously, whilst lots of the initial comments on Twitter were from climate scientists, there are also a lot from a far more diverse set of folks. I think this is a good example of how if we want to reach out, we need to explore different ways of doing so. There are only so many people who respond to graphs and charts. And if we can find something we are passionate about as a way of doing it, then all the better.

This is post has also been published here.

Edited by Dasaraden Mauree


Ellie Highwood is Professor of Climate Physics in the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading. She did a Bsc in Physics at the University of Manchester before studying for a PhD at Reading, where she has been ever since! Her research interests concern the role of atmospheric particulates (aerosol) in climate and climate change. She has led two international aircraft campaigns to measure the properties of aerosol and has been involved in many others. Research projects have considered Saharan dust, volcanoes, and aerosols from human activities. She has over 40 publications in the peer reviewed literature and a few media appearances. She also teaches introductory meteorology and climate change to undergraduates, and project management to PhD students. Previously she has been a member of RMetS Council and Education Committee, and Editor of Society News. She also writes a regular “climate scientist” column for the Weather magazine. She tweets as @EllieHighwood.

Science Communication – Brexit, Climate Change and the Bluedot Festival

Science Communication – Brexit, Climate Change and the Bluedot Festival

Earlier this summer journalists, broadcasters, writers and scientists gathered in Manchester, UK for the Third European Conference of Science Journalists (ECSJ) arranged by two prestigious organisations. Firstly, the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW) who provides support to those who write about science and technology in the UK through debates, events and awards. Secondly the European Union of Science Journalists’ Associations (EUSJA) who are responsible for representing 2,500 science journalists from 23 national associations in 20 European countries. EUSJA promotes scientific and technical communication between the international scientific community and journalists. This is mainly by organising events, workshops and by working with the European Commission in the interest of Science and Society.

The pre-conference networking event began a towering twenty-three floors above the ground at the highest Champagne bar in Manchester. Here the delegates were introduced to the notion of Manchester as a hub for science with a fly-by video of the ‘science quarter’. This stems from the library at the heart of the city and fans outwards to the south like a segment in an orange. This segment engulfs an impressive two universities, several hospitals and a science park.

Looking towards the south west of the city from "Cloud 23", the bar on the 23rd floor of the Beetham Tower, Manchester, UK. Image credit: David Dixon

Looking towards the south west of the city from “Cloud 23”, the bar on the 23rd floor of the Beetham Tower, Manchester, UK. Image credit: David Dixon

The following morning the conference began at the Manchester Conference Complex in the city-centre focussing on contemporary issues in science journalism and skills for professional development. The panellists and chairs were a mixture of academics and journalists, a range of nationalities and, with experience of the field of science communication. They were allowed to discuss a topic amongst themselves before the conversation was opened to all-comers.

The opening plenary began a discussion on how independent Europe’s science news is and how it can become hijacked by vested interests. For example, if a person writes a scientific story for a newspaper, are they biased by being paid by an external company to write that story? There was a consensus for openness in the funding process behind news stories so that the merits of the story lie in how impartial the writer is perceived to be as well as the content itself.

Although the second session of the day was focussed on the reporting of EU funded science (an 80 billion Euro question) it also gave delegates a chance to mention the elephant in the room – the Brexit. This is the will of a spectrum of people representing the whole political horseshoe for the UK to leave the EU. There was a feeling from the panel that the EU funding structure has allowed science to work on projects that are not just commercially viable in the short-term. The large benefit of cross-country collaboration in Europe was stressed repeatedly. This related to the general acknowledgement that in research the country of origin of specific researchers becomes irrelevant. These thoughts played into the much discussed post-Brexit question(s) – Will it be harder in time for the UK to access EU science funding given its determination to curb net migration and what exemptions (from the UK and EU) can be made for experts in their field? It was also discussed how the UK’s pot of EU science funding may be allowed to be divided up amongst other EU countries in the future. The discussion ended with a series of brief historical anecdotes of governments who favoured local policies/competition which have had a tendency to derail international collaboration. The main point being that research continued but the job was made harder.

The next two sessions focussed on starting a new publication and pitching your idea to an existing publication (sales idea). Using the case-studies of a range of recent start-up publications it was decided that what matters most for creating a publication is: focus, editorial quality, being online, design, collaboration and content.

The closing plenary was concerned with how to work for media that are sceptical about climate change – a place where a science communicator may be forced to go along with the editorial line against their own conviction. A conviction shared by the majority of scientists world-wide who say climate change is happening but argue over the rate that it is occurring. A good recommendation was not to preach but to state facts. The dangers of saying something sceptical as a way into the topic were debated. It was thought that this may backfire if the sceptical comment is later quoted as an expert opinion. At the end of the session the delegates pondered that if the building blocks of climate change were first conceived in 1896 how it is amazing to think that this topic is still controversial 120 years later!

For the final event of the day, the delegates made their way to the Bluedot festival at Jodrell Bank – a festival of music, science, arts, technology, culture, food and film in the shadow of the Lovell Telescope which was illuminated by Brian Eno using large scale projections to create a visual installation. Here the ABSW Science Writers’ Awards was hosted and this blog was short-listed for an award. It provided another great opportunity to network at this thought-provoking conference.

Final

 

An unlikely choice between a gasoline or diesel car…

An unlikely choice between a gasoline or diesel car…

I have recently been confronted with the choice of buying a “new” car and this has proved to be a very tedious task with all the diversity of car that exists on the market today. However, one of my primary concerns was, of course, to find the least polluting car based on my usage (roughly 15000km/year).

Cars (or I should say motor vehicles) pollution is one of the major sources of air pollution (particulate matter, soot, NOx, …) in urban areas. These often cause, during both winter and summer seasons, long and prolonged exposition to ozone or PMs which can have significant effect on the health of urban population. Besides, vehicles are also one of the most important sources of greenhouse gases emissions (around 30%). Extensive research in various areas (air pollution and monitoring in urban areas, efficiency of motor vehicles, mobility and public transportation, urban planning,…) are thus being conducted to help reduce the exposition to dangerous pollutants and emissions of GHG.

Manufacturers have been more and more constrained by new regulations to decrease the pollutant emissions (with EURO6 norm now in the EU) and the increase the efficiency of motor vehicles. Governments around the world and more particularly in Europe, after the financial crisis of 2007/2008 have introduced new subsidies to incite people to buy new more energy efficient vehicles. One of the main issues here is that often the more efficient vehicles are not necessarily the less polluting vehicles. Policies have been based on GHG emissions from vehicle consumption without consideration of the full life cycle cost and analysis and also on other pollutants emissions.

Thus if we take for example an electric car, the GHG emissions (and also other pollutants) are pretty low or close to zero as there are none released by the car itself. But we also need to evaluate the emissions from the electricity power plant (most likely to be a centralized one based on either fossil fuel or nuclear energy). Furthermore if the life cycle cost of the battery in such cars, are taken into consideration, the picture is not so black and white anymore as it has been pointed out by numerous studies (ADEME – sorry for the French link!). Besides electric vehicle remain quite expensive and not really adapted to all usage.

If we compare both diesel and gasoline cars, then it becomes a bit more tedious. Diesel engines consumes generally less than gasoline one. However their PM emissions, for example, can be quite high and hence they need really efficient filters to get rid of these pollutants. More stringent regulations have forced manufacturers to improve significantly the quality of the air coming out of their diesel engines but still remain on average more polluting than gasoline cars. Countries, like France, that have strongly subsidized the use of diesel in the past, are now finding it quite difficult to phase out these types of cars. And besides they are more efficient and hence emits lets GHG.

Coming back to my choice of cars then… The choice for me in the end was then between the long term or short term benefits. Using a gasoline car or an electric car (in a country where the energy is coming from renewables!) would be more ecologically sound if we drive mostly in urban areas. However if you are thinking about the long term benefits (with climate change) then you should probably opt for a more efficient diesel car.

All of this, points out that research still need to be conducted and new innovative ideas are really needed (like Elon Musk’s battery, maybe?) so as to bridge the enormous gap between having an efficient car, the life cycle analysis and living in a pollution-free urban environment. But of course…, the best solution is to use public transport or bikes… well this is not always possible!

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