The underlying mission of my job is to safeguard lives and property through climate change adaptation based on science. In other words, to help society to prepare itself for risks connected with more extreme rainfall and temperatures.
For many people, “climate” may seem to be an abstract concept. I have had many conversations about climate, and then realised that people often have different interpretations. In my mind, climate is the same as weather statistics (which I realise can be quite abstract to many).
To avoid miscommunication, I want to make sure that we are on the same page when I discuss climate. Maybe it helps if I talk about more familiar and specific aspects, such as the temperature, rainfall, snow, or wind?
Data, facts, and climate
But I have a challenge because data and facts are often not valued and engaging. This is a general problem when it comes to climate change, as there are probably few other scientific disciplines that have shared more data then the climate science community.
There is a bounty of sites that will give you access to free and open data, however, the access does not necessarily mean that it’s easy make use of the information embedded in the data. Often it requires a bit of work and skills in order to download and visualize it.
For instance, there are some great web-portals, such as NASA/GISS, Global Historical Climate Network (GHCN), and the KNMI ClimateExporer. These portals are extremely useful for scientists and experts (they also give the contrarians numbers on which to build their misconceived ideas), but they may be too complicated for a lot of people.
There are also many stories about climate in the mass media these days, and I have started to ignore many of these reports because they are not all relevant. So, if climate is perceived as both an abstract concept and not always relevant, then it’s a real challenge to engage people in the question about climate change.
See how rainfall and temperature have affected you
On the other hand, people care about local issues where they live and have a direct connection to their lives. So perhaps the message about climate change is perceived as more relevant when people can see the historical temperatures and rainfall near where they live?
Based on these thoughts, we wanted to try to make a simple app without jargon, acronyms and technical terms that enables the (wo)man in the street to explore the precipitation and temperature measured in her/his vicinity.
One intention with this app was to start with a simple overview picture of the measured climate data. It is important not to overwhelm at first sight, but let people understand the depth of the data once they start to explore it.
The data is not perfect
When viewing these data, it is important to be aware that there may be an occasional error in the measurements, but showing the data and letting people explore it may bring such errors to our attention.
You are also likely to come across some records with a misleading trend estimate if you study the data, because there are some data records for stations that have been relocated during the period of measurement, the instrument has been replaced, or the observational practices has been changed.
The Open Climate Data Prototype (OCDP), shown in the iFrame below, has been designed for a project in Mozambique, but is being tested for Norway. We wanted to experiment with ways to make the climate information more easily available for people.
An open and interactive app
You can change the main settings of this app by clicking on the icon with three horizontal lines in the top left corner, for instance to change the region/country or the element. It also lets you study the metadata as well as summary statistics.
The graphics is interactive, and there are three tabs showing different aspects of the data. You can also explore daily, monthly, seasonal or annual temperature or precipitation for a selection of locations in different parts of the world (e.g. a selection from North America, Australia, Eurasia, Africa, Asia).
After we developed this prototype, we realised that there was a similar app called ACD-App (GitHub) of the Southern African Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management (SASSCAL). However, I don’t know if it is up and running as a web-based as well.
Both apps are developed in R and R-shiny, and can in principle run on a stand-alone desktop/laptop as well as on a server. SASSCAL is a joint initiative of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Germany in response to the challenges of global change, and is highly relevant to our capacity-building project in Mozambique.
Know the past before you can know the future
The study of past climatic variations and trends is necessary before we can make projections for the future. The historical data provide us with important clues about how different conditions interact, as well as being the basis for model evaluation. They are also important for studying the impact of local climate fluctuations on society, such as crop yields.