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Here’s 133 Years of Climate Change Data Transformed Into a Haunting Melody for String Quartet

How one college student uses NASA data to create a musical representation of climate change.

image via vimeo screen capture

Everybody has a different learning style. For some, simply staring at a spreadsheet of data is enough to convey a sense of just how much this planet has undergone a temperature transformation over the last century and a half. For others, a color-coded map is what’s needed to impart that same lesson. For auditory learners, however, there’s this: A haunting composition for string quartet, created entirely from one hundred and thirty five years of climate data.


Entitled “Planetary Bands, Warming World," the following song was written by Daniel Crawford, a geography major at the University of Minnesota. With the help of his professor Scott St. George, Crawford sifted through global temperatures dating as far back as 1880, compiled by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in order to create his composition.

As he explains:

“Each instrument represents a specific part of the Northern Hemisphere. The cello matches the temperature of the equatorial zone. The viola tracks the mid latitudes. The two violins separately follow temperatures in the high latitudes and in the arctic.”

Every year that passes in Crawford’s song is represented by a single note on each instrument, while the pitch of that note corresponds to that year’s temperature. As listeners progress through the song and toward “present day”, the pitches steadily increase, offering an auditory example of our planet’s climate change.

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This is not Crawford’s first time turning climate data into music. In 2013 he composed “A Song of our Warming Planet,” That composition featured a similar note-to-temperature relationship, but was not split into regional zone as is his latest piece.

Ultimately, the goal of these pieces is not simply to offer a novel method for presenting climate change, but to demonstrate the compatibility between art and science, two fields not always known for working in sync. As Crawford’s mentor, Professor St. George, writes in the video description for “Planetary Bands...”:

We often think of the sciences and the arts as completely separate — almost like opposites, but using music to share these data is just as scientifically valid as plotting lines on a graph. Listening to the violin climb almost the entire range of the instrument is incredibly effective at illustrating the magnitude of change — particularly in the Arctic which has warmed more than any other part of the planet.

[via smithsonianmag.com]

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