Latest NASA GIF Showing Change in Earth's Temperature Shocks Internet

An innovative visualization of climate change has caught the attention of internet users after going viral on Reddit this week.

Re-shared on Monday by Reddit user thepositivepandemic, the video from NASA intelligently presents monthly global temperature anomalies between the years 1880–2021. In the popular Reddit community r/interestingasf***, the video now has over 44,000 upvotes and thousands of comments.

The graphic was originally developed and published in 2016, but an updated version was shared by NASA on March 7. The graphic presents temperatures based on the GISS Surface Temperature Analysis (GIGSTEMP v4)—an estimate of global surface temperature change.

Statista reports that the Earth's surface temperature in 2020 was around 0.98 Celsius degrees (1.76 Fahrenheit) warmer than the 20th-century average. A global anomaly in surface temperature may cause an increase in sea level, a decrease in arctic ice, and a growing number of weather-related catastrophes, including storms, floods and droughts.

The internet was seriously impressed with the presentation of information. One Reddit user said: "Exceptionally good method to communicate a huge amount of data...relatively speaking," while another wrote: "Awesome visualization. Very cool way to rotate the perspective of the time axis at the end."

The visualization was designed by Professor Ed Hawkins from the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the U.K.'s University of Reading. ​​

Hawkins told Newsweek: "The spiral shows that global temperatures are increasing and that this change is particularly rapid over recent decades. We know that this change in climate is due to humans, mainly through the burning of fossil fuels. Our global choices about how fast we reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the coming years will determine where the spiral goes next."

When it comes to the challenge of effectively communicating climate change, Hawkins' animated climate spiral mixes decades of data and historically observed changes with a simple and effective graphic that resonates with a broad audience. The original version went viral in 2016, and a version was even used in the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics that year.

Now updated to include data up to the end of 2021, Redditors expressed shock at the outcome of the information. One user said: "Very sad but this chart is so well done," and another wrote: "Well that went from neat to depressing real fast."

"The reasons why it is popular again now are the same as before," said Hawkins. "It is intuitive, eye-catching, and different. The animated nature of the graphic tells a story about how temperatures are changing with a visual surprise at the end."

Last week, NASA warned that thawing permafrost could free microbes locked away for thousands of years and could have some serious consequences for humans. While Democrats were forced to apologize for a banner comparing climate change to 9/11 at a rally in the New York State Capital in Albany.

Nasa climate spiral
A still of the GISTEMP Climate Spiral. The explanation of the rise in global surface temperature has shocked the internet. NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio