Berkeley Earth

WinterTchangeWant climate data? How about data going back to the 1700s and data for 40,000 locations around the world? If you need an example of “big data” this is it – and it’s free and openly accessible for students and educators (and anyone else interested!) and is called Berkeley Earth.

What I found particularly intriguing is that Berkeley Earth is an independent, not-for-profit organization and their data and methods are completely transparent and open to scientific scrutiny. They tell us exactly how they go about their climate analysis and, as mentioned above, provide all their data. Having the data available allows educators to design a plethora of activities for students to learn data mining, mapping and charting and analysis – all with real climate data.

To quote their “About our Data” page, “The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study has … combin[ed] 1.6 billion temperature reports from 16 preexisting data archives. Whenever possible, we have used raw data rather than previously homogenized or edited data. … [T]he current archive contains over 39,000 unique stations. This is roughly five times the 7,280 stations found in the Global Historical Climatology Network Monthly data set (GHCN-M) that has served as the focus of many climate studies. ”

TO-ClimateChangeFor interest sake, I navigated to the Results by Location page and looked up Toronto, shown here. Incredible! it states, rather matter-of-factly that, based on aggregate historical data, the mean rate of temperature change around Toronto is 5.38°C (±0.41) – higher than I expected, but that seems to fit the model for more northern areas seeing a higher-than-global rate of temperature change.

Interestingly, rather than reporting using specific data from individual stations, with all their inherent sources of error, Berkeley Earth have worked to reduce error by averaging with nearby stations, thus creating a series of averages based on latitude and longitude. For this reason, the data for Toronto are the same as the data for Guelph as they both represent the location: 44.20 N, 80.50 W.

I can envision having students who are new to the notion of climate change (Mmmm, my Gr 7s come to mind…), building a global picture of climate change themselves based on this data and some interesting mapping features in Google Sheets (which we, as a school, use). this sounds like fun!


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