UKCP09 launches today

June 18, 2009

After several months of delay and some behind the scenes controversy, UK Climate Projections 2009 (UKCP09) launches today, June 18th, 2009.

From the press release:

The UK Climate Projections (UKCP09) are being launched on Thursday 18 June. UKCP09 provides the latest information on how continued emissions of greenhouse gases may change the UK’s climate over 21st century. The information provided by UKCP09 will be valuable to anyone with responsibility for forward planning in the public, private and voluntary sectors. UKCP09 comprises a package of information including, publications, key findings, user support and customisable output. This is primarily available on-line. Please note that the sites will not go live until the Secretary of State has finished his announcement to the House, sometime around 12.30.

* For access to the main technical information about UKCP09, and the full range of information and support, go to http://ukclimateprojections.defra.gov.uk.
* A gentler introduction is available at http://ukcp09.defra.gov.uk.

UKCP09 is accompanied by a training programme – Projections in Practice (PiP) – and more information can be found at www.ukcip.org.uk/training.

What is so interesting about these projections is the background controversy and delay.  They will be some of the world’s most advanced downscaled climate projection available, but the project has been delayed due to methodological criticism and claims of over promising.

The critique, coming mostly from climate modellers and chaos mathematicians, suggests that some of the claims are too ambitious and that the levels of uncertainty are too high to produce such granular predictions.

From a past issue of New Scientist, cited here:

At the Cambridge meeting Lenny Smith, a statistician at the London School of Economics, warned about the “naïve realism” of current climate modelling. “Our models are being over-interpreted and misinterpreted,” he said. “They are getting better; I don’t want to trash them per se. But as we change our predictions, how do we maintain the credibility of the science?” Over-interpretation of models is already leading to poor financial decision-making, Smith says. “We need to drop the pretence that they are nearly perfect.”

He singled out for criticism the British government’s UK Climate Impacts Programme and Met Office. He accused both of making detailed climate projections for regions of the UK when global climate models disagree strongly about how climate change will affect the British Isles.

Smith is co-author, with Dave Stainforth of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in Oxford, of a paper published this week on confidence and uncertainty in climate predictions (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society ADOI: 10.1098/rsta.2007.2074*). It is one of several papers on the shortfalls of current climate models.

Some authors say modellers should drop single predictions and instead offer probabilities of different climate futures. But Smith and Stainforth say this approach could be “misleading to the users of climate science in wider society”. Borrowing a phrase from former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Smith told his Cambridge audience that there were “too many unknown unknowns” for such probabilities to be useful.

Policy-makers, he said, “think we know much more than we actually know. We need to be more open about our uncertainties.” Meanwhile, the tipping points loom.

From issue 2617 of New Scientist magazine, 16 August 2007, page 13

There is no doubt that such projections will be welcomed by the scientific and policy communities.  One hopes that an adequate understanding of the uncertainties involved will also be appreciated.

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New Hans Rosling video at TED on the HIV epidemic

May 15, 2009

Hans Rosling, of GapMinder fame and earlier posts, just debuted a nice new video demonstrating the spread of HIV virulence in the world.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Rosling demonstrates how the truth behind the data is often more complex than it seems.  He uses the examples of Tanzania and Kenya, which have a dramatic variation in HIV incidence rates between the wealthy and poor (with wealthier Tanzanians remarkably more infected than the poor) and even with a country (with a single Kenyan province accounting for the vast majority of HIV infection rates).

This presentation raises a few extremely important points, with which readers of this blog will no doubt be familiar:

  • Resolution matters: Issues of data availability are endemic to development, but making policy and plans on averages is always, always, always a bad idea and invariably produces a poor understanding of reality.  This is true in spatial terms (Kenya) and social terms (Tanzania).  I would add temporal terms as well.
  • Visualisation matters: Even if you have the best data in the world, how you manage and present it makes as much, if not more, impact than the data itself.  Rosling is a master at this, a la Tufte in his earlier days.
  • Narrative matters: The impact of the data and the visuals are only as good as the narrative understanding that draws them together.

An excellent presentation as always.  I wish all development briefings were this clear.


Hans Rosling Video Gapcast: Swine Flu News versus Death Ratio

May 11, 2009

Hans Rosling, of Gapminder fame, recently posted a humorous and perspective-inducing video comparing the number of deaths from swine flu to those from tuberculosis.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The famous Swedish statistician compares the amount of media coverage for swine flu to that of tuberculosis, normalised by the number of deaths caused by each in a two week period.

Obviously swine flu has pandemic potential and could still make a break for the big time, in substance if not in coverage alone.  But this is nonetheless a lovely measure of calm in the midst of an otherwise pandemic-crazy,  catastrophe prone outlook.

Many thanks to Infosthetics for the tip.


OECD eXplorer online: beautiful and useful data visualization tool

April 7, 2009

oecd

The OECD recently announced a new version of its OECD eXplorer [stats.oecd.org], a well concieved and useful web-tool for analyzing regional statistics. The new online geographic visualization focuses on regional and state, has a range of powerful features, and a very useful and attractive user interface.  

The data is based on OECD Regional Database, containing 30 indicators measuring demography, economic and labour market performance, education, healthcare, environmental outputs and knowledge-based activities.

The tool lets you view trends over time through animation, explore the structure of regional economies through a scatterplot and a parallel coordinate panel, presenting very compelling stories bout the statistics through interactive visualization.  You can even load and explore your own data, write your own stories and share them with others.


Mapping disasters in 3D

April 5, 2009

  Vodpod videos no longer available.

Robin Murphy from Texas A&M University (TAMU) create software to reconstruct 3D scenes of disasters from 2d photographs taken by flying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s).

Picture this; an earthquake devastates a major Chinese city.  Rubble is everywhere, no one knows where the survivors are.  

A team of researchers suggests a new system may help first responders gain a better understanding of their environment through the use of flying robots and 3D reconstruction software.  

[The system] deploys several small unmanned air vehicles (SUAVs), such as AirRobot quadrotors, to take snapshots of the rubble. The pictures are then uploaded to a software program called RubbleViewer, which quickly builds a three-dimensional map of the area that users can intuitively navigate. More efficient than drawing by hand, this system is also cheaper and more portable than the alternative–using helicopter-mounted lasers to map the rubble.

Last time I checked “using helicopter mounted lasers to map the rubble” was still a tad beyond most humanitarian budgets.  But who knows what wonders the G20 stimulus package might provide?  In any case, it’s an interesting proof of concept that could be scaled to market over time, thus lowering the price and becoming potentially useful to combat-style first responders in urban environments in the future.


Oxford researchers create world malaria maps

March 26, 2009

snap

The Malaria Atlas Project recently finished a worldwide spatial database of malaria epidemicity.

The MAP team have assembled a unique spatial database of linked information based on medical intelligence and satellite-derived climate data to constrain the limits of malaria transmission and the largest ever archive of community-based estimates of parasite prevalence. To-date we have collated 14,710 parasite rate surveys (P.f. 14,393; P.v. 4618) from an aggregated sample of 2,979,627 slides in 84 countries. These data have been assembled and analysed by a group of geographers, statisticians, epidemiologists, biologists and public health specialists.

Worldwide maps here (warning, very heavy PDF’s).


New maps of risk show USA and China to top global ranking for economic loss due to natural disasters

March 11, 2009

maps

From the press release of the risk mapping firm, Maplecroft:

In 2008 natural disasters cost the world US$200 billion. Global maps, produced by risk specialists Maplecroft, show the United States and China to bear about 90% of this burden and be the countries most susceptible to economic losses.

Whilst the human impact of natural disasters is predominantly concentrated in developing countries, with 90% of deaths occurring in these regions, the increase in both frequency and severity of climate related disasters is increasingly impacting upon developed and emerging economies including China.

So far this century, more than 800,000 people have been killed by natural disasters, more than 2 billion have been affected, and damage costs total over US$800 billion. Whilst disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes can not be prevented, we can reduce the risk they pose to business and society by reducing our vulnerability. We can do this by mapping and assessing the risk, being better prepared and responding more effectively when potentially disastrous natural events occur. 

A PDF of the full press release can be found here.