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WIREs Clim Change
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Climate data empathy

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In the era of climate services, which provide globally complete data products in a ready‐to‐use form, the context of climate data is in danger of being neglected or forgotten. However, the historical and present‐day context imprinted on this climate data is important in its own right. The data depend on political, economic and technological factors, as we show with a range of data coverage maps. We term awareness of and sensitivity to this context‐dependence “climate data empathy,” and argue that context should be seen as a source of information to be communicated along with the data. Such context not only provides additional information about the data products, but may help in designing communication strategies and contribute more generally to raising awareness of the contingency of environmental data. Decision making should thus make use of both climate data and its context.

This article is categorized under:

  • Climate, History, Society, Culture > Technological Aspects and Ideas
Climate measurements also measure the needs of society. (Top left) Data coverage in 1947 for surface pressure (ISPDv3.2.9; Cram et al., ), upper‐air (CHUANv.2.1, Stickler et al., ), and marine data (ICOADS3, Freeman et al., ), (bottom left) stations from the total column ozone network of the IGY in 1957–1958 (London, Bojkov, Oltmans, & Kelley, ) as well as IGY world data centers, (top right) climate stations of the GCOS surface network (GSN; Peterson, Daan, & Jones, ) in 2014 and position of Argo floats (Roemmich et al., ) in the week of August 5–12, 2018. (bottom right) Density map of cell towers based on the public domain cell tower data available though OpenCell ID (Global Open Databases of Cell Towers, www.opencellid.org, accessed July 28, 2018, license: http://wiki.opencellid.org/wiki/Licensing). The point data of cell towers provided through this source was aggregated on a pixel level using a point density function
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Colonial data form part of current products on which decisions are based. German aerologists in the east African colonies in 1908, measuring vertical wind profiles using balloons (Brönnimann & Stickler, , photo provided by Hans Steinhagen, Lindenberg)
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