As heat waves blanketed the much of the planet, particularly parts of the United States and Europe, a July 19 2022 Facebook video post described as “NASA’s climate spiral” spread in viral fashion as people discussed climate change and its tangible effects.
On July 20 2022, the “NASA climate spiral” video was also shared to Twitter, in the comments of a widely-viewed clip featuring a scene from the film Don’t Look Up, alongside a July 2022 British newscast:
NASA climate spiral pic.twitter.com/k9vT2OnPKL
— DannyCypher (@DannyCypher1) July 20, 2022
Both clips (the one shared to Facebook and the one shared to Twitter) were attached as standalone videos, and both displayed temperatures in Celsius (or centigrade). They were one minute and ten seconds in length, and demonstrated average temperatures from the year 1880 through 2021; neither clip led to additional information about its provenance.
A July 19 and 20 2022 CNN liveblog covered heat waves on both sides of the Atlantic, summarizing conditions in the sidebar alongside commentary from climate scientists about a deeply concerning trend:
- Scorching temperatures are sweeping across the globe, with the UK setting an all-time heat record and more than 100 million people under excessive warning or heat advisories in the US.
- In southern and western Europe, more than 1,100 people have died from the heat in the region, as wildfires continue to rage in France and Spain.
- Hot records are outpacing cool records by more than 10-to-1 so far this year. Climate scientists tell CNN this concerning trend has become more notable in recent years, and is what they would expect from climate change.
- “It’s fair to think that almost every heat wave that we see right now has some influence from global warming,” a climate scientist at Princeton University told CNN.
Several short news reports appeared on the liveblog, one of which involved record highs in Scotland on July 19 2022:
Scotland has seen a new provisional record temperature, after 34.8 degrees Celsius (94.6 degrees Fahrenheit) was recorded in Charterhall in the Scottish Borders on Tuesday [July 19 2022], according to the Met Office.
As for the “NASA climate spiral” clip, it was published to climate.NASA.gov on March 15 2022. A description explained the data visualization:
This visualization shows monthly global temperature anomalies (changes from an average) between the years 1880 and 2021. Whites and blues indicate cooler temperatures, while oranges and reds show warmer temperatures. As you can see, global temperatures have warmed from mainly human activities as time has progressed.
These temperatures are based on data from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). Anomalies are defined relative to a base period of 1951 to 1980.
A separate page published by NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio included a version of the video with Fahrenheit temperatures, and there, a description noted:
The [NASA climate spiral] visualization presents monthly global temperature anomalies between the years 1880-2021. These temperatures are based on the GISS Surface Temperature Analysis (GISTEMP v4), an estimate of global surface temperature change. Anomalies are defined relative to a base period of 1951-1980 … The ‘climate spiral’ is a visualization designed by climate scientist Ed Hawkins from the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of Reading. Climate spiral visualizations have been widely distributed, a version was even part of the opening ceremony of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
At the beginning of a lengthy and intense heat wave affecting significant portions of the planet, a video described as a “NASA climate spiral” began circulating on social media. The clip in question was published to climate.NASA.gov on March 15 2022, and illustrated the scale of increasing global temperatures between 1880 and 2021. The clip was correctly attributed to NASA, and the “climate spiral” descriptor originated with NASA’s own blog post.