Minnesota developer’s data viz hack captures climate change


Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 10.33.34 AMWith all the differing opinions, mind-numbing statistics and political scrutiny, it can be difficult to see the subject of climate change clearly.

MyFutureClimate was created to help people do just that.

Developed by Richard Barnes and his virtual team as a project for #hack4good, a global hackathon series focused on bringing together expert engineers and designers to build solutions for the world’s pressing issues, MyFutureClimate makes it simpler than ever to visualize how climate change may affect your part of the world in five, 25 or even 75 years.

“MyFutureClimate develops a similarity metric for any location that is of interest to a user, and shows where a similar climate exists today,” says Barnes, who is currently pursuing a PhD in theoretical ecology at the University of Minnesota.

For instance, you can go to the site, type in Minneapolis and click “2090” to learn that the city’s future climate will be warmer and wetter, similar to present-day Fort Riley, KS.

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 10.36.30 AM

Barnes says the utility behind this app is twofold. For one, it provides the public with easy-to-understand visualizations of the direction climate is heading, according to popular models. Secondly, it helps policy managers inform their decisions. For example, MyFutureClimate might indicate that conditions such as precipitation and temperature at a local state park may no longer be viable for certain species, prompting relocation or other measures.

There are plans to refine MyFutureClimate going forward; Barnes says he wants to increase the quality of the design and draw out more data from climate models to incorporate a wider range of possibilities and scenarios, such as differing carbon pathways.

“There’s so much information in these models and we’re just kind of tapping the surface,” he says.

While he and his team continue to work on expanding and improving MyFutureClimate, Barnes insists that he has no notion of trying to make money off the product. The goal, he says, is to “affect the trajectory of society, or help other people do that.”