A Really Big Graphic Gives Perspective On Earth’s Temperature

The average temperature on earth has always had its ups and downs. Changes in the tilt of the earth’s axis, volcanic activity, changes in solar activity and more have all helped make the planet warmer and colder over time. During the Paleocene Earth was so warm that crocodiles swam above the Arctic Circle. Just 20,000 years ago, it was so cold that thick glaciers covered Canada and about half of the United States.

Randall Munroe created this graphic to show us what the ice age would have looked like. Randall worked for NASA before quitting to become a full-time cartoonist translating science into more understandable graphics.

Usually scientists share that information about the Earth’s changing temperature in graphs that look like this:

If that’s as hard for you to relate to as it is for me, then you’ll probably like Randall Munroe’s illustration more. His timeline puts these temperature changes in perspective. To get you started, all the temperatures in the graph, whether colder or warmer are compared to the average temperature between 1961 and 1990. One degree Celsius is equal to almost 1.8 degrees Farenheit.




3 thoughts on “A Really Big Graphic Gives Perspective On Earth’s Temperature

  1. Studying this timeline was informative and entertaining. I’d like to think that it could change the minds of most global warming deniers. As a scientist, I would have more confidence in the accuracy of the graph and be more willing to send it to others to see, if you can supply some references to reliable published reports that you used.

    1. I checked around and then finally blew up the graph really big and found the sources Randall Munroe had used in tiny letters on the right side of the graph. Hopefully I read them correctly. I’m adding links to the papers that I found associated with the references.

      Shakun et al (2012)

      Marcott et al (2013)

      Annan and Hargreaves (2013)

      Hadcrut4 IPCC

      Hope that helps!

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