Scientist creates Baroque music out of temperature data showing the reality of climate change

17 May 2019, 16:59

By Rosie Pentreath

This piece for strings representing climate change is as terrifying as it is beautiful.

Seismologist and viol player in Los Angeles Baroque, Dr Lucy Jones, has created a piece of Baroque music to represent global temperature changes from 1880 to the present day.

In Nomine Terra Calens or In the Name of a Warming Earth is a work for four string players featuring a cantus firmus (‘fixed song’) base line that represents global temperature data as pitch.

Subtitled ‘The Warming of the Earth Since 1880’, the piece starts on the B flat just below middle C in the cantus firmus line, and has a whole note for each year all the way up to 2017.

Through this cantus firmus, Jones has created an audible – and rather difficult to ignore – sonic representation of where global temperatures have headed: as the temperature rises, so do the notes. The effect is strangely beautiful, but predictably terrifying.

The base line goes up (or down) by one semitone for every 0.03-degree temperature change. The piece ends with all parts (including the cantus firmus) in unison on the F an octave-and-a-half above middle C, which represents the 2017 global temperature. That’s a pretty scary jump in pitch from that low B flat starting point, and hearing it makes the rise in global temperature strikingly tangible.

View of sunlight over Earth taken from space
View of sunlight over Earth. Picture: Getty

“The basic data for the temperature of the earth, averaged over the whole atmosphere is terrifying,” Dr Jones writes on her website. “The world is warming and the rate at which it is warming is getting faster.”

Dr Jones explains that being a musician alongside her day job as a seismologist allows her to “sometimes hear the data” and describes this musical representation of the data as being “like a graceful minuet accelerating into a frantic jig.”

Jones has produced a video to go with the composition (see above) and it includes helpful indicators of global events that have impacted temperature over the years.

“The music was written to convey the reality of the human-caused warming of the earth,” Jones clarifies in the piece’s video introduction. “You can hear the increase in temperature and the acceleration in the increase in the last few decades.”