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Using Climate Change Temperature Data, Cellist Writes 'A Song of Our Warming Planet'

Undergraduate and cellist, Daniel Crawford, composed a piece of music characterizing 132 years of temperature and climate change.

Data on climate change is typically compiled into trend markings, variable timelines, or graphic depictions that make the specific science readable or more easily digested.

Daniel Crawford, a cellist and undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, decided on a different method of characterizing the progression of climate of change: a solo composition. Entitled Song of Our Warming Planet, Crawford paired the notes of his composition with annual temperature readings from 1880 to 2012, as recorded by NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Todd Reubold, co-founder and director of online magazine Ensia described the framework of Crawford's piece:

The temperature data were mapped over a range of three octaves, with the coldest year on record (1909) set to the lowest note on the cello (open C). Each ascending halftone is equal to roughly 0.03°C of planetary warming.

In Crawford’s composition, each note represents a year, ordered from 1880 to 2012. The pitch reflects the average temperature of the planet relative to the 1951–80 base line. Low notes represent relatively cool years, while high notes signify relatively warm ones.

The result is a haunting sequence that traces the warming of our planet year by year since the late 19th century. During a run of cold years between the late 1800s and early 20th century, the cello is pushed towards the lower limit of its range. The piece moves into the mid-register to track the modest warming that occurred during the 1940s. As the sequence approaches the present, the cello reaches higher and higher notes, reflecting the string of warm years in the 1990s and 2000s.

Crawford hopes other researchers and artists will use or adapt his composition to support science outreach, and has released the score and sound files under a Creative Commons license.


"Climate scientists have a standard toolbox to communicate their data," Crawford told Ensia. "We're trying to add another tool to that toolbox, another way to communicate these ideas to people who might get more out of music than maps, graphs, numbers."

The message tucked within the composition is one that is becoming increasingly relevant, even in regions that have long challenged models that point to climate change. By using music, Crawford has stumbled onto one of its more essential roles, as remarked on by French novelist Victor Hugo: "Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent."

To download the sheet music or audio file, go to the original post at Ensia.

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