A New Visualization Turns Global Warming Into Pop Art

If you forgot global warming was happening, worry not. A striking new visualization is here to remind you.

Antti Lipponen, a research scientist at the Finnish Meteorological Institute, has released a visual that I’m calling global warming bubbles (Earther managing editor Maddie Stone called it a climate switchboard, which is also a fair categorization). It shows the annual temperature departure from average (here defined as 1951-1980) broken down by country, from 1880 onwards.

And let me tell you, it pops.

The bubbles are color and size coded for easy reading with darker, bigger blue bubbles showing colder-than-usual conditions and brighter, bigger red bubbles showing hotter conditions. Watching the visualization makes it clear that global warming is both very much happening and, well, global.


Though some countries are heating up faster than others, each one is ultimately warming as humans put more carbon pollution into the atmosphere. Visualizing rising temperatures is a way to show both the most basic impact of climate change and how serious the problem is becoming.

“No matter how you visualize this data, it looks scary, especially the years 1980 to present day,” Lipponen told Earther. “Unfortunately, however, these bubbles won’t break when they grow too large.”

In recent years, there have been a few viral data visualizations of climate change. There was the temperature spiral, which broke down global warming by month. More recently, temperature stripes appeared showing the annual global average temperature in bold red, white, and blue.

But these visuals conveyed the global average temperature, an important but wonky-ass metric that nobody actually experiences. At its root, global warming and its impacts are all local, which is what makes this new visualization more visceral in some ways.


Lipponen also created a temperature circle last August that plotted the same country-level data in an ever-expanding circle. He said he wanted to learn some new coding techniques, which in part led him to this year’s bubble version.

The bubbles really do add a little extra something. Each country is easy to find (unless you’re the UK, Belgium or a handful of other countries which didn’t get included due to a coding snafu) and the visual effect is reminiscent of an animated piece of pop art by Roy Lichtenstein. They also express a similar sense of existential angst.


Managing editor, Earther

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Dense non aqueous phase liquid

As the resident comment section graph guy who likes graphs, how about this one as an example of perfect visualization: