One of the biggest problems with climate change is not whether it's happening or not — it's that it is conceptually difficult to grasp. Even among the vast majority of people who understand that mankind's obsession with pumping million-year-old plants and animals (that is, oil) out of the ground and releasing that ancient stored carbon all at once into the atmosphere has consequences, it is hard to wrap your head around how each of us contributes to changing the entire planet's climate. But like a mountain's worth of trash, it wouldn't have happened without each one of us doing our part.
Like plenty of other concepts that we know to be true — from the idea of infinity, to the fact that our tiny planet orbits around a giant ball of flaming, exploding gaseous sun, to the incredible basic chemical dance that goes on automatically in our bodies — you can intellectually understand things that are still hard to fully realize. (My mind was blown in college biology when we spent a whole class on the common-but-amazing action of cellular sodium-potassium pumps.)
For University of Minnesota undergrad Daniel Crawford, the way to truly understand climate change and transmit that understanding is through a seemingly unrelated medium — music. Taking information he learned in a class taught by a geography professor Scott St. George, he used the idea of data sonification to create two musical compositions. The second of the two, "Planetary Bands, Warming World" is above.
To be clear, Crawford is translating actual climate data from NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies into music. In the most recent piece of music above, the focus was on the northern hemisphere, and specifically about how the arctic is feeling climate change more severely than other places.
"Each instrument represents a specific part of the Northern Hemisphere. 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. The pitch of each note is tuned to the average annual temperature in each region, so low notes represent cold years and high notes represent warm years," says Crawford.
The original "Song of a Warming Planet," above, was Crawford's first project that used climate data, and as you can see, it was just him and his cello. In this first piece, the projection for how much higher the temperature will climb translates into notes out of the range of human hearing — a disturbing metaphor.
Why climate data into music? “Climate scientists have a standard toolbox to communicate their data,” says 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.”
Related on MNN:
- 10 reasons making music is good for your brain
- Scientists make music for cats
- Why do we like listening to sad music?