J. McKendry, G. Machlis

University of Idaho



In 1988, the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC). This action was in response to emerging concerns about potential global climate change. One year later, the US Global Change Research Program was established. In the nearly 20 years since, an abundance of research has been conducted, protocols signed, predictions made, and findings debated about the causes and consequences of global climate change. Most recently, extreme weather events (such as powerful Atlantic hurricanes and drought conditions in the American Southwest) and the accelerated melting of glaciers around the world have made climate change a more salient -- and politicized -- issue for scientists, policy makers, and the general public.

Numerous research reports, books, websites, news articles, and movies about climate change have been published. They often include graphs, tables, charts, photos, and maps to represent data and communicate concepts related to climate change. Since climate conditions, trends, and predictions are inherently geospatial, climate change maps have become common. Such maps can produce powerful and compelling images, such as predicted change over time in sea levels, CO2 emissions, or temperature. Hence, the cartographic quality of these maps -- their adherence to established cartographic design principles – is critical, especially where these maps are used in decision-making, policy, forecasting, and communication with the public.

This paper presents an approach to evaluating the cartographic design and quality of climate change maps. The authors will a) provide a rationale for systematically studying the cartographic design quality of climate change maps, b) present a synthesis from the literature (from cartography and visualization to meteorology and climate system modeling) relevant to critiques of climate change maps, and c) describe a methodology for evaluating the cartographic quality of climate change maps. The paper will conclude with a discussion of the implications of the research for mapping climate change information and the important contributions that cartographers can make to climate change research and policy.