When it comes to climate change, there are several photographs and visuals that prove the change in the environment. But now there is a new medium through which you can observe climate change: Sound.
“Data visualizations are effective for some people, but they aren’t the best way to reach everyone,” says geography professor Scott St. George. “Instead of giving people something to look at, Dan’s performance gives them something they can feel.”
A student at the University of Minnesota, Daniel Crawford, has used sound as a means to measure temperature. The final result of his endeavors is a song, titled “A Song of Our Warming Planet.”
“Thermometer measurements show the average global temperature has risen about 1.4 °F (0.8 °C) since 1880,” reveals a press release. “Typically, this warming is illustrated visually with line plots or maps showing year-by-year changes in annual temperatures. As an alternative, Crawford used an approach called data sonification to convert global temperature records into a series of musical notes.”
The press release elaborates:
Crawford based his composition on surface temperature data from NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies. The temperature data were mapped over a range of three octaves, with the coldest year on record (1909) set to the lowest note on the cello (open C). Each ascending halftone is equal to roughly 0.03°C of planetary warming.
In Crawford’s composition, each note represents a year, ordered from 1880 to 2012. The pitch reflects the average temperature of the planet relative to the 1951–80 base line. Low notes represent relatively cool years, while high notes signify relatively warm ones.
The result is a haunting sequence that traces the warming of our planet year by year since the late 19th century. During a run of cold years between the late 1800s and early 20th century, the cello is pushed towards the lower limit of its range. The piece moves into the mid-register to track the modest warming that occurred during the 1940s. As the sequence approaches the present, the cello reaches higher and higher notes, reflecting the string of warm years in the 1990s and 2000s.
Crawford hopes other researchers and artists will use or adapt his composition to support science outreach, and has released the score and sound files under a Creative Commons license.
“Climate scientists have a standard toolbox to communicate their data,” reveals Crawford. “We’re trying to add another tool to that toolbox, another way to communicate these ideas to people who might get more out of music than maps, graphs and numbers.”