Climate change’s chilling melody

Daniel Crawford turned 130 years of global warming and climate change into music, creating a pretty creepy melody.

Scientific communication has been extensively debated. Sometimes problems arise, as it is not always easy to talk about technical topics in a simple and accurate way, without generalising. Climate change is one of these topics. Accurate dissemination of scientific knowledge on that topic, using graphs to compare information, is often too technical and complex to be employed.


However, Daniel Crawford, a student at the University of Minnesota, tried a completely different approach. In 2013, while facing the challenge of sharing the latest findings on climate change, he converted the graph showing the annual variations of the global mean temperature into a series of musical notes, through a method called data sonification.


This method resulted in the melody of A song of our warming planet, a song where every note represents a year, the musical period represents a period of 20 years and the intensity of a note represents the temperature (low notes portray the coldest years, while high notes portray the warmest years).


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The project was created following a conversation between Daniel Crawford and his geography professor, Scott St George who stressed that:

Data visualizations are effective for some people, but they aren’t the best way to reach everyone. Instead of giving people something to look at, Dan’s performance gives them something they can feel. 

A few weeks ago, Crawford resumed the project to write a new and more complex piece of music: Planetary bands, warming world.


By analysing and reinterpreting musically the data provided by NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies coming from different regions at different latitudes, this time Dan used a string quartet, where every instrument represented a different region of the world. The data collected were converted in notes covering three octaves. The coldest temperature is represented by the lowest note and it gets higher every 0.5° C temperature increase. As explained by Crawford in the video:

The cello matches the temperature of the equatorial zone. The viola tracks the mid latitudes. The two violins separately follow temperatures in the high latitudes and in the arctic


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Professor St. George noted that:

Listening to the violin climb almost the entire range of the instrument is incredibly effective at illustrating the magnitude of change — particularly in the Arctic which has warmed more than any other part of the planet.

Daniels added that:

If weather climate predictions for the future are correct, just using the scale I’ve created for my instrument, the resulting notes would be out of the range of human hearing,

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