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Climate Signals: Connecting Science to the Extreme Weather in Your Backyard

By Nithin Coca

One of the biggest challenges in in raising awareness about climate change is visualizing it: More often than not, it is made up of subtle, hard-to-sense changes. Climate Signals, a new tool from Climate Nexus, aims to address this with a real-time, Web-based, visual database for climate-related events and impacts around the world.

Though in the beta phase, the tool is already impressive. It includes historical events – such as the Great Chicago Heat Wave of 1995 – as well as modern ones, such as Hurricane Matthew, which is barreling up the East Coast with a rare force and power.

Climate Signals allows us to understand how modern events are connected to climate change, and how historical ones could become more frequent if we don't curb greenhouse gas emissions quickly.

Unlike other complex scientific databases, Climate Signals is user-friendly, visual and intuitive, with a useful search function as well. It allows us to connect two things – extreme weather and climate change -- through scientific data and powerful visualizations in ways that, until recently, were a challenge. For example, the fires devastating much of California:

Previously, this type of information could only be accessed by scientific specialists. The idea is to bring complex climate information to everyone, building a bridge between science and citizens, and empowering all of us to act. From the Climate Signals website:

"The relation between individual extreme events and broader climate trends can be very complex. Climate Signals cuts through that complexity by drawing a line from current events through a hierarchy of signals connected to the anthropogenic increase in atmospheric GHG concentrations."

This type of tool can be incredibly useful for businesses as well. Increasing environmental risk is becoming a major factor in business decision-making. Seeing how different regions are being affected by climate change can help companies better understand how their bottom line can be impacted by extreme weather events.

Moreover, businesses have access to wide-ranging information about climate change (and most, unlike ExxonMobil, do pay attention to this information). Climate Signals could also be a place where firms can share information about what they are seeing around the world -- for example, along the increasingly complex supply chains nearly all of us rely on every day.

We know – clearly – that we need to act. Having access to better information, and putting that information in the hands of everyone, can help us figure out how best to allocate often limited resources. I'll keep an eye on Climate Signals as a valuable tool to follow global climate impacts as they become more severe, frequent and widespread in the coming years.

Image credit: NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory via Wikimedia Commons

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Nithin Coca is a freelance journalist who focuses on environmental, social, and economic issues around the world, with specific expertise in Southeast Asia.

Read more stories by Nithin Coca