Duke University Climate Change Researchers Fail Geography 101
June 26, 2012
I read a recent report from Climate Central that attempts to illustrate temperature change in the US. You can find the report here. I’ll keep my review brief: I think it sucks. The main reason I don’t like the report is because the researchers decided to aggregate temperature change by State.
Why is this a problem? It doesn’t make any sense to map these data by State. Why couldn’t the researchers have taken a little time to think about an appropriate geographical scale? A quick web search using keywords “map” + “climate” would have revealed that there is an existing geography for these data called U.S. Climate Divisions. The US Climate Divisions aren’t ideal so they could have used Level III or IV Ecoregions or perhaps interpolated the data onto a high resolution spatial grid and created an animation. Or they could have called or emailed a geographer who knew what they were doing instead of stumbling blind into geographical data analysis. They could have placed a call to Glen Macdonald at UCLA who published a terrific report on drought in the US Southwest with maps of temperature change and drought indices in the US. There are dozens of other researchers who could have helped them create a good map. But, in the age of Google Maps everyone thinks they’re an accomplished cartographer.
Here’s the map produced by Climate Central:
Here’s are three better options for mapping US climate data:
Click on any of the 3 images above to link to the source. The last map above is one of several images that form an animation of climate simulations in the Pacific Northwest. The animation is used by in a Climatology course at the University of Oregon.
Using the US Climate Divisions or Ecoregions or a high resolution grid would have allowed the researchers to produce a much more nuanced and informative map. Aggregating these data by State is an oversimplification that likely disguises important spatial patterns of change and may be misleading readers.
I noticed that the 2 PhDs who were listed as authors on the report are affiliated with Duke University. Duke is obviously an excellent university but, like many universities in the United States, it has chosen not to offer a Department of Geography. What a shame.