University of Minnesota undergraduate student Daniel Crawford has composed a piece of music based on temperature data – at different zones of latitude on Earth – since 1880. He calls his composition “Planetary Bands, Warming World.” Each performer in the video above represents one of four zones in the Northern Hemisphere: near the equator (cello), the midlatitudes (viola), the upper latitudes (violin), and the Arctic (violin).
High notes correspond to high temperatures. Lower notes correspond to lower temperatures.
Listen, and see if the piece evokes for you what Daniel said he hopes will be “a more visceral response” to climate data than what we sometimes get reading or seeing charts and graphs. As Crawford said, music:
… can hit people on an emotional level.
An article in EOS – the weekly science magazine of the American Geophysical Union – explains how he did it:
To get the range of musical notes, Crawford turned to a data set created by the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies of average temperature changes in the Arctic since 1880, the year when temperature observations started to be reliably gathered. He then translated the pitch range of a violin to the range of temperatures seen in the Arctic over the past 135 years.
To match musical notes to temperature, Crawford mapped the lowest annual temperature recorded in the Arctic since 1880 to the lowest note a violin can play and the highest annual temperature to around the highest note a violin can play. Given those bounds, he then calculated the exact pitch corresponding to different temperatures in the data set.
Because Arctic temperatures shift the most rapidly, Crawford used the relative temperature change represented between, say, an A and a B on the musical scale as a baseline shift between pitches for all the other instruments. Then, using similar data from NASA for the other zones in the Northern Hemisphere, he created his musical score. Thus, each shift in pitch for all four instruments represents the same shift in temperature in the data set.
As time progresses in the climate change data set, so too does time progress in the song. As temperatures in the data set rise or fall, each instrument’s pitch follows along.
By the last few measures of the piece, each instrument’s pitch rises considerably, conveying an average rise in temperature across the Northern Hemisphere.
Bottom line: University of Minnesota undergraduate student Daniel Crawford has composed a piece of music based on temperature data – at different zones of latitude on Earth – since 1880. He calls his composition “Planetary Bands, Warming World.”
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.