ClimaTracker

ClimaTracker

Organisation: Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism (South Africa)

Publication Date: 04/06/2016

Applicant(s)

Size of team/newsroom:small

Description

ClimaTracker is an innovative geojournalism and data mapping platform that tracks and publicises the impacts of climate change in Southern African. It not only informs, but is creating a community of concern that can communicate around climate change, and particularly adaptation efforts. ClimaTracker uses scientific modelling data that charts temperature and rainfall variations caused by climate change from 1971 until 2099. It makes this complex scientific data accessible in an easy-to-use interactive vizualisation. Combined with cutting-edge journalism, ClimaTracker tells Southern Africa’s climate change stories at a mouse click. Will we have enough rainfall to sustain forests and agriculture? Will higher temperatures make some areas uninhabitable for animals and humans? Will today’s coastal towns be under water in future? These are the type of questions scientists are trying to answer by predicting how local climates and the global climate will change over the next decades. Climate modelling is a complex science. Carefully generated algorithms that try to consider all the variables are fed into powerful computers that calculate how climates might change. Climate models tell us that the future is bleak. The world is expected to warm by nearly three degrees Celsius by 2099, and Southern Africa will warm by nearly twice that global average, whether we are talking worst case or best case scenario. The data behind ClimaTracker is based on the worst-case emissions scenario, which scientists call “RCP 8.5”. RCP stands for Representative Concentration Pathways, referring to the concentration of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. ClimaTracker uses yearly averages and other selected data points within the larger data sets provided by scientists to create a sliding Climate Timeline that shows the expected trends of climate change expected in Southern Africa. The model specifically shows how rainfall and temperature has changed since 1971, and predicts how these are expected to change until 2099. ClimaTracker engages users further with journalism about how climate change is affecting the region in real time. Short articles are featured on the map itself, and in a blog portal at https://climatracker.oxpeckers.org/blog/. ClimaTracker is also linked to a portal of investigative articles on issues surrounding climate change, at https://oxpeckers.org/category/investigations/climate-change-tracker/. The platform shares user feedback and citizen reporting via a customised cloud-based user service platform. This acts a crowd-sourcing network to create a community of concern that shares knowledge and engages with policy. ClimaTracker is a project of Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism, supported by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and developed by ScienceLink.

What makes this project innovative? What was its impact?

ClimaTracker combines scientific modelling data and geojournalism in a unique platform aimed at highlighting climate change in Southern Africa. The data sets behind its Climate Crisis Timeline were sourced from modelling in a technical report by the Long Term Adaptation Scenarios research project. At 136 pages long, the report contains pages and pages of maps showing historical climate trends and projected changes over the years up to 2099. ClimaTracker obtained the modelling data from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and overlaid it into an interactive mapping timeline. A slider function called the Climate Timeline provides an easy-to-use data visualisation of changes between 1971 and 2099. The temperature timeline shows how much average temperatures have changed and are likely to change by in future. Scrolling through the timeline shows how Southern Africa will get hotter and hotter. Dark red indicates that temperatures are expected to increase by up to 5 degrees Celsius; light yellow means temperatures remain stable. Scrolling the rainfall timeline shows how patterns in different areas are expected to decrease (brown) or increase (blue) relative to the average yearly rainfall between 1971 and 2000. ClimaTracker uses yearly averages and other selected data points within the larger data sets in order to make the Climate Timeline responsive. The accuracy of ClimaTracker has been ensured through consultation with various experts, particularly the main brain behind the data, Professor Francois Engelbrecht (CSIR), as well as Professor Barend Erasmus, director of The Global Change and Sustainability Research Institute at Wits University. User feedback in M&E includes praise for "the honeycomb grid" and "the manual slider". The best part of the app, wrote one, is "controlling the slider myself to see how temperature and rainfall will change in my home city.” “It’s scary," said another, "opens ones eyes to the reality."

Technologies used for this project:

ClimaTracker is the most recent addition to the Oxpeckers portfolio of interactive web and mobile mapping platforms. The scientific modelling data it uses is unique in that it does not extrapolate from today’s data to predict tomorrow’s conditions; rather, it understands what affects temperature and rainfall, and is thus able to model accurately what happened in the past. Researchers then compared the modelled data to real data to confirm this, and so the model is able to predict future temperature and rainfall with accuracy. ClimaTracker uses yearly averages and other selected data points in the larger data sets in order to reduce them to just 400kb. This makes the platform very responsive, even on a cellphone. We simplified and compressed the ascii grid data for speed. ClimaTracker uses customised JavaScript programming language to translate the modelling data into an interactive mapping platform. Hexagonal binning was used to merge the data and create the "honeycomb grid". Leaflet js was used to create a mobile-friendly interactive map, and d3 charts for the data overlay. ArcGIS, OpenStreetMap and Stamen Design were used in the map design. Bootstrap was used on the front end framework. This includes toggle and zoom functionalities. The Climate Timeline slider has Play/Pause and manual functionality. Spiderfier js was used to deal with overlapping markers for geo-tagged articles. Articles on the map and associated blog are featured in Wordpress. Google Analytics was added for monitoring and evaluation (M&E). Zendesk provides for user feedback and citizen reporting via a customised cloud-based user service platform. This acts a crowd-sourcing network to create a community of concern that shares knowledge and engages with policy. ClimaTracker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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