Saturday, December 12, 2009

Data Walks - a #climatedata proposal

In response to the UK Met Office's recent data release and Manuel Lima's call for visualisations, there's been a flurry of #climatedata activity in the last couple of days, including some revealing visualisations. Though I'm looking forward to playing with the data myself, this isn't a post about visualisation. It's a simpler proposal for a way to make the data tangible.

Global warming is ultimately a question about change in a single measurement - temperature - over time. One way or another, it can be boiled down to a line graph. How best to make that line tangible? Visualisation is great, but how else could we feel those changes, especially over time? One way would be to walk the data. We could make a kind of giant line graph, in the form of a path or road, then walk from 1850 to 2009. According to the Met Office's graph - remixed above with a picture of my local landscape - this would be a fairly undulating journey, but the last half especially would be a distinct and noticeable climb. Building this path at a walkable scale seems like hard work though. It would be much easier to use the paths we already have. So, here's a recipe for a #climatedata walk:

  1. Make a graph. There are all kinds of options here. The Met Office graph shows global difference from a long-term (1961-1990) average. You could for example use local data only, or use raw average temperatures rather than difference from average. You would also need to select a year range from the data - want to walk the whole century or just post-WW2? All the data choices should be made clear to any walkers.
  2. Fit to landscape. This is the tricky part. The idea would be to find a walkable route with changes in elevation that fit your line graph well. Finding a perfect fit will be very difficult, but finding an OK fit should be possible. This will involve some scaling questions: how long will the walk be, and how much elevation will it cover? Accessibility, ergonomics, experience design, affect - lots of juicy design decisions here. One crude but easy fitting procedure would be to begin with a route, find its elevation profile, then scale the graph to fit the start and end points of the graph to the route start and end, then note the points where the path and the graph intersect. Maybe some GIS / maps people could help with software tools here for route finding and fitting?
  3. Tick marks. Walk the route and mark it out in order to make the whole thing legible. Mark out years or decades, as well as temperature variation (elevation). One option for paths with an imperfect fit, would be to notate the difference between the path and the graph at certain points, as well as points where the path and the graph intersect.
  4. Walk. Again you can imagine many ways to do this, ranging from big organised public walks, to smaller private ones. Of course walking often leads to talking - and in a different way to, say, looking at a graph.
I should emphasise that I haven't even tried this, yet, but I hope to - Canberrans, if you're interested in helping organise a walk here, let me know. Wherever you are, if you do try it, let me know - also feel free to adapt / refine / repurpose the procedure. Could be fun, even informative - at the very least, you'll walk up a hill.


gef said...

How's about on Regatta Point? A nice embankment, clear of trees, very public. We could use my Garmin GPS to map the data. Film a time-lapse from the opposite bank.

Leigh Blackall said...

Just parking a link to that relates to this post. Sorry if its already in the post, I looked but didn't see it.

Leigh Blackall said...

woops, forgot about blogger comments and long URLs.. the link was to Infosthetics

sportsbabel said...

hi mitchell: i have been wondering about the ability to do a similar kind of thing with aerobic exercise equipment (ie. stairmasters and the like)....can the participant feel the line of climate change data graph as a series of tensions while exercising? i suspect it would require some arduino hacking of a stairmaster console or something like that -- skills i certainly don't have -- but thought i'd at least float the idea in your direction...

Anonymous said...

What happens to that graph, now that the data has been proven to have been fabricated?